Is longing for a better world inconsistent with the call to contentment? Does one have to stifle the longing for God’s shalom in order to be content? Scripture calls us to live in the tension of contentment and longing, of rest and hope. We should be content and rest in what God has already made us and provided for us in Christ (1 Tim. 6:6–8; Heb. 13:5) while we long and hope for what He has promised will come with Christ’s return (Rom. 8:23–25; Rev. 22:17, 20).
The danger of the extremes is always present. We often either whine like spiritual orphans as we wait for deliverance or relish God’s provision of earthly riches so much that we cease to long for the coming perfection. If material blessings quench our longing or if longing keeps us from appreciating our present reality in Christ, then we have swung to an extreme. Both living as though we have, or should have, paradise now (Deut. 8:12–20) and failing to appreciate God’s current provision dishonor God. We must remind ourselves daily not only of what God has done and is presently doing but also of what He has promised to do. As a result, we become grateful and content while still longing for what is to come (Heb. 11:39–40).
Even the beginning entailed longing for perfection, since man was created good but not perfect, with a possibility of rebellion. Before the fall, Adam, living in God’s good created world, enjoyed many blessings, but he didn’t have perfection. Had he perfectly obeyed, he would have obtained perfection for us all and brought an end to our longing. The entrance of sin marred what was good and ushered in evil, thus heightening the desire for perfection, where sin and evil would be eradicated and the good would become perfect.
Christ, the last Adam, accomplished what the first man failed to do. Because He obeyed even to death, His redemptive work deals with sin and procures perfection for us. Although we have tasted this victory and received blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3–10), sin and evil are still part of our lives and world because Christ’s victory is still being unfolded in history (1 Cor. 15:20–28; Heb. 2:8). Thus, we can be grateful and content because of what He has done while longing in hope for what is coming (Rom. 8:23).
Like the psalmist who cries, “How long, O LORD?” and yet simultaneously trusts God’s steadfast love and rejoices in His salvation (Ps. 13), we long for our deliverance and yet delight in God’s salvation because we know that, in Christ, the Lord has dealt bountifully with us and that we have a beautiful inheritance (Ps. 16:5–6). Our inheritance, a perfect union with God in Christ, will finally satisfy our longing (Rom. 8:17). Until then, we eagerly wait (Rom. 8:23–25) as we revel in this great salvation, the heavenly gift that we have already tasted (Eph. 1:13–14; Heb. 6:4–5).