It's often said in the circle that I grew up in that Satan attacks you the most right after a spiritual victory. The idea is often attributed to Charles Spurgeon, but I am not sure if it really goes back to him. True to the observation--times of spiritual lows often follow on the tail of spiritual victories. However, I have an alternate explanation as to why this might be based on my own experience--what I call "spiritual remorse."
Have you ever seen something in a store that you just "had to have"? I get this feeling mostly from books and music, and sometimes I succumb to the temptation to buy on impulse. Usually I feel bad about it afterward--a classic case of "buyer's remorse." But that's how things work. How often to we plan and save for some item--be it a house, a car, a stereo, whatever--with eager anticipation, only to experience buyer's remorse when we have pulled the trigger on the purchase? I think we've all felt that way before.
But the empty feeling accompanying buyer's remorse isn't limited to gathering material things. It also accompanies major life events. I remember thinking that once I graduated from high school, life would be good. Then it was college. Then it was getting married. Now it's getting a house. I keep setting goals, thinking that accomplishing these goals will make me happy. But they never do. (Granted, these things usually give a temporary sense of happiness, but it isn't lasting, just like that new car feels good for a little while and then loses its luster.)
My latest experience of let down has been related to graduating from seminary and moving to Washington. For six years, my wife and I longed for that day when I would be done with school. We hoped and prayed that we would be able to get a job in Washington, thinking that then we would be truly happy. So here I am, in Washington, with a great job and everything we wanted, yet I am not content. I hoped for this for so long and now that I have it, I don't know what to do.
Here is why I think this happens to us: because of the Fall we will never be truly content. God created us to enjoy a supernatural peace--what the Hebrews called shalom. Because of our rebellion against God, we will never experience (fully) the shalom that God created us to enjoy. That's why Paul says that we "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Rom 8:23 NIV) When we try to find fulfillment in possessions, career, relationships, or accolades, we are destined to be let down. Only God can give us the satisfaction (the shalom) that we desperately desire.
However, part of awaiting redemption is that we will never completely experience God's shalom in this life. We will experience genuine shalom, but not complete shalom. There will always be a part of us that yearns for the future kingdom of God. I wonder if this is why often we experience a spiritual let down after a spiritual victory. I wonder if it is kind of a "spiritual remorse." Just like we experience buyer's remorse when a possession doesn't satisfy us the way we thought it would, I wonder if we experience "spiritual remorse" because our spiritual experiences don't satisfy us the way they ought to. No spiritual experience this side of the kingdom of God can fully satisfy our need for shalom. Just a thought . . .
So what does that mean for us? Is there any way to be happy? I agree with the author of Ecclesiastes, "However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless. Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know for all of these things God will bring you into judgment." (Ecc 11:8–9) In Christ, we can experience the joys of the kingdom in part--and we should--but there will always be a part of us that yearns for more and will be disappointed until we are renewed.
"I believe in the kingdom come, then all the colors will bleed into one (bleed into one), but yes I'm still running. You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame (of my shame), you know I believe it. But I still haven't found what I'm looking for." (U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.")
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