by Jerry Root
Saint Augustine’s often quoted statement from his Confessions—“Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee”—assumes much about what it is to be human. Let me share at four thoughts.
First, if we are made by God, it stands to reason that since He is the source of our very being, we should expect to find something within us that longs to be connected to Him.
God is a God of grace and, properly considered, His grace is irresistible. Furthermore, He extends common grace to all. Every moment we breathe, in a world made by God and sovereignly ruled by God, is an exhibition and demonstration of His grace to each person.
Furthermore, every moment judgment does not fall on a society unresponsive to Him and unsurrendered to Him, or, in rebellion against Him, it is a demonstration of His grace.
Even when people try to fill the God-shaped vacuum in their souls with artificialities and the things moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, something of the grace of God is in operation. There is grace extended in the moment we come to see these things can never satisfy and the restlessness of our hearts is manifest once again.
God woos us to Himself through our heart’s restlessness. Augustine’s observations continue to have merit. Furthermore, scripture reminds us that it rains on the just and the unjust. God relentlessly continues to lavish creation with His grace and favor, and He is constant in His giving of grace that we might come to Him.
Sure, we can observe wars and rumors of wars and horrible atrocities in our world, but several things must be noted when we see these things. First, while the sorrows of this world are noteworthy, they are exceptions to the overwhelming demonstrations of the constancy of God’s grace, rather than the rule. Second, they testify to the fact that the people behind these atrocities are messed up and in need of God, and even in such a broken world He is beckoning us back to Him. And third, they reveal that we long for something better and our hearts are restless.
Second, if we feel disconnected from God, we can assume that something has gone awry and we feel the estrangement sorely.
What might have happened? Scripture is explicit: we humans have foolishly taken it upon ourselves to forge our way without respect for God and His plans for our lives. We are pea brains, and know so little given the complexities of just living in this fallen world.
An Omniscient God calls us to obey Him; and every act of obedience accesses for us the benefits of Omniscience. We can live beyond our own abilities. God has provided good for us. When we turn from Him, we only turn to that which will make us sorrowful. Such turning away from God, the decision to try and live our lives estranged from Him, is what the Bible calls sin.
But, even in our sin, His love never ceases. He sends Christ to forgive us our sins and extends to us a means of reconciliation with Him through Christ’s death and resurrection. He allows us to embrace Him as Lord and manager of our life and to begin the process of straightening up the tangled mess we’ve made of things. The restlessness begins to settle into resting in Him and enjoying His forgiveness and love.
Third, the gospel is truly understood to be “good news,” and we can assume if people hear it clearly presented, then they would at least be aroused by the message.
Anyone who has lived a moment of honest life knows he or she is messed up. The notion that God forgives our sins is so relevant in light of such honesty. Furthermore, honesty reminds us that each of us longs to be loved unconditionally. What can speak more powerfully to such heart-hunger than the message that God’s love is without condition? And, an honest awareness of our own futility in managing our lives and relationships finds respite in the message that this loving, and forgiving God also longs to be Lord of our lives and help us to set broken things to mending. The restlessness can find respite.
Fourth, in honest moments, most people, unless they are very pretentious, long to do better.
And, I think they long to talk about the deep things of life and how the broken pieces can be made whole again. It should be our pleasure to cultivate the kinds of relationships with others where we can talk about these deep things and the spiritual hunger that accompanies them. And, when we broach the subject with friends and acquaintances in a winsome way, it is really remarkable how much people are interested in talking.
I think Augustine got it right. It should come as no surprise that this should be the case. Jesus said to His disciples, “Lift up your eyes and see that the harvest is ripe and plentiful.” He wasn’t speaking about agrarian matters at that moment, but rather that people are spiritually hungry and long to hear about God’s love and grace. Jesus said everything was just fine with the harvest and that all was going as expected.
The problem was (and is) that there are not enough laborers willing to recognize that hearts are restless until they find their rest in God, and point them to Jesus.
Jerry Root is a professor at Wheaton College and serves as the Director of the Evangelism Initiative as well as being a faculty/scholar at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. Jerry teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in evangelism and Christian formation and is a visiting professor at Talbot Graduate School of Theology and Biola University.