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Discontented Creatures

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.


What is this? I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me against all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this, I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.


-Luther’s Small Catechism


Dear People of God,


At the beginning of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams writes: “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” Fitting right in with the rest of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book series, this line is deeply funny while reflecting something true: we are deeply dissatisfied with the world as it is.


Now, some of this dissatisfaction is good and healthy. New eyes and fresh perspectives help us to identify problems in the way we live our lives and allow us to make corrections and improvements. Fatalistic apathy to the injustices of the world allows the corrupt to prosper and evil to flourish, and the history of God’s people is full of faithful witnesses standing up in righteous dissatisfaction for the poor and marginalized. But without the grounding of faith, even righteous dissatisfaction too easily gives way to cynicism and despair.


Over the past twenty years, I have noticed an increase in the cynicism of people my age and younger, especially on the internet. Darkly humorous memes about depression and life’s lack of meaning are often mixed with semi-serious statements about never bringing children into the world, wishing to have never been born, or even preferring dying to living. This is more than just mere dissatisfaction with the state of the world; it is despairing of life itself.[1]


While I don’t pretend to know all the reasons for our current malaise, I am increasingly convinced that this is yet another manifestation of the problem that has plagued humanity from the beginning: we resent being created by another.[2] We are not content to be mere creatures who owe our existence to another, but long to be masters of our own destinies, capable of creating ourselves anew without having to answer to anyone. Just as Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 succumb to the temptation to be “like God,” so we seek to liberate ourselves from every external imposition. Our lineages, our families, our traditions, and even our Creator become obstacles to our projects of self-creation and fulfillment, and so we each seek to remake them in our image, according to our individual desires.


But creatures don’t get to be masters of their own destinies. Creatures, by their very definition, gain their being and existence from their creator. As creatures, we have no say in the circumstances of our birth, and our lives are filled with events and limitations imposed on us by others. We are born to parents we do not choose, with bodies that often betray us, in communities over which we have little control. Our language, our culture, and even our preferences are not something we freely choose for ourselves, but are rather given to us before we are even conscious of them. We are not mindless robots, but neither are we absolutely free individuals; the choices we make over the course of our lives are always constrained by limits over which we have no control.


I can, for example, choose to attend one college over another, but only if the college will accept me. I can set my sights on being a professional athlete, but I will only succeed if my body and circumstances allow it. And while I can imagine endless possibilities for my future, both good and bad, only a very few have any chance of coming about. As an embodied and finite creature, I am confronted every moment with limits and circumstances I did not choose, and over which I have very limited power.


This is true not just individually, but societally as well. Several generations ago, there was great optimism about humanity’s ability to accomplish whatever we set our mind to. Scientific understanding was rapidly advancing, quality of life was improving, and it seemed we were entering a golden age of peace and prosperity. But now, after a century that brought us two world wars, the horror of nuclear weapons, and an increasingly inevitable climate crisis, that optimism is harder to come by. The unintended consequences of our attempts to remake the world according to our desires are now evident, and it is not clear that we have the resources or the resolve to address them.


Both as individuals and as a society, we are caught between the unstoppable force of our desires and the immovable object of our circumstances, and in this crush we are filled with rage, resentment, and despair. We lament the unfairness of our lives, and we lash out against every intrusion into our personal sovereignty. The world, our fellow creatures, and even the Creator become our adversaries in a battle that can end only in annihilation.


Were this the entirety of the story, despair would indeed reign supreme. But the confession of our faith and the witness of our scriptures is that the Creator was not content to stand back and watch this death spiral. Instead, God entered into the midst of creation in the person of Jesus Christ and placed himself into our hands. Having finally taken hold of our Creator in human form, we brought our battle to its inevitable conclusion: we put to death the Lord of Life. And then, when it seemed we had obtained our terrible victory, Jesus returned from the dead with the word of forgiveness on his lips. Having taken the worst we could give, he handed over his very self by means of a promise, overcoming our enmity and giving us peace.


Through trust in this promise, we are reconciled with our Creator and can truly live as creatures. No longer must we strive to be “like God” in order to justify our existence, but rather we can live our finite, limited lives in the web of real relationships and circumstances into which God has placed us. Rather than being affronts to our personal sovereignty, the creatures and relationships among which we live can finally become the gifts and callings of our loving heavenly Father who has created us together with all that exists. We can stop pretending to be little gods trapped in human bodies and get on with the business of living as real creatures in the creation God has given us.


Don’t get me wrong: living by faith in this way does not make for an easy life free of injustice or hardship. The world is still corrupted by sin and death, and we have total reconciliation with God only in faith, not sight. There will still be tragedies to lament, injustices to address, and trials to overcome. But as beloved creatures of the Father of mercies, we engage with these vocations in the confidence of God’s power to bring us into the good future God has promised. Though we may see little or no progress in the here and now, we do not despair, for our future is secured, and our Creator’s promise will not fail.


Your brother in Christ,

-Pastor John


[1] According to the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/facts/index.html) suicide has increased 30% over the past 20 years. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you are not alone! Please reach out to me or someone else for help, or call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. [2] I am indebted for this insight, as well as the inspiration for this article, to “Postmodernism for the Perplexed,” a recent episode from the podcast Queen of the Sciences. (https://www.queenofthesciences.com/e/postmodernism-for-the-perplexed/)

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