Contentment and the Consumer

By Stephanie Ismer

There is a Bible verse that refers to the emptiness of consumerism:
Because he knew no contentment in his belly, he will not let anything in which he delights escape him. There was nothing left after he had eaten; therefore his prosperity will not endure. (Job 20:20)
He pursued every delight, not letting any escape him. But then after he consumed it all, it was gone and there was nothing left and the dissatisfaction remained even when every delight has been consumed. Nothing could quench his lack of contentment. Why?

Contentment is included among the most important principles of life. In Hebrews 13:1-5 it is listed along with with brotherly love, hospitality, compassion, sexual purity, and freedom from the love of money. It is one of the practices or mental states that the Bible says will contribute to a happy and healthy life. Interestingly, whenever contentment is mentioned in the Bible, it has no material prerequisite, but instead is only listed alongside other valuable qualities, like godliness (1 Timothy 6:6). There is no implication that circumstances should have any effect on contentment. In fact, the definition of contentment seems to be associated with settling for something less than what might be wished for, saying "this is good enough" (2 Kings 14:10; Luke 3:14).

What then, is contentment? If, as the Bible implies, contentment is not dependent on having things, or knowing things, or comfort, or a sense of purpose, but is still a thing to be valued and gained, what constitutes contentment? It's one thing to say "this is good enough" and another thing entirely to really believe it and act accordingly.

Contentment has an opposite, a word that means "having a craving for possession." The word is covetousness. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus said this to his disciples: "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Colossians 3:5 also lists covetousness among the worst human behaviors, and calls it "idolatry."

Here we have an interesting correlation: idolatry and covetousness are linked; godliness and contentment are linked. Consider another passage, from Psalms 16: "The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply" and this, from the Book of Isaiah: " people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water."

A broken cistern is the ultimate portrait of futility. A person pours good, fresh water into the cistern, but the cistern is broken — the water flows out into the dirt and the ground soaks it up. This is what God calls an idol. It is something into which humanity pours its effort and love, its life and time, only to find that there is no reward or lasting gain. God compares himself, conversely, to a fountain which is continually giving.

What the Bible is saying is that contentment is a direct result of a relationship with the true God, the fountain of living water. Covetousness, and misery, on the other hand, results from following after idols, possessions that cannot provide happiness or contentment, and leave the pursuer just as empty-handed as he was before he gained the things he thought would bring him fulfillment.

This appears to be a principle of life. The creature needs the Creator in order to be content. I have found this to be true in my own experience, and I encourage anyone reading this to try it.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8

Image Credit: flattop341; "Contentment"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Sin-Evil

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Published 2-21-12; Revised on 1-19-15