What is restlessness?
I just quickly took a glance at a dictionary definition of restless (I love the Dictionary function the Mac by the way); here's what I found--"[A person or animal] unable to rest or relax as a result of anxiety or boredom." I haven't heard too many conversations these days about cats or kangaroos being restless, so I will refrain from delving into this issue with animals. However, with these "tough economic times" restlessness is an everyday reality to the teacher who might lose her job in the latest round of layoffs, or the father who has lost 50% of his 401k in the past eight months. I am accused often of restlessness because I bite my nails; I simply argue that it's just fun. However, are any of us willing to go so far as to say that restlessness is actually sinful?
What is sin?
Before entering into thoughts of restlessness, it would be important first to define sinfulness seeing as how the idea or concept of sin is a bit muddled these days, often being played down to a weak slap on the wrist with a feather. A basic definition of sin is "placing something else, anything else, in the supreme place which is [God's]" (Erickson, 598). Sin is making anything else a god besides God.
Further thinking here requires us then to ask "What is God like?" because our definition of God is going to influence the magnitude of offense in replacing Him with something else. For example if we define God as Crest toothpaste, replacing Him with Colgate doesn't seem that bad. But if God is the God of the Bible, the God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, fully good, loving, just and holy, deserving of our praise and worship, replacing Him with our significant other or money or whatever is frighteningly horrible. Too often we are guilty of making God out to be as trivial as the former instead of recognizing the reality of the latter.
Sin can be an action, like stealing, where the object becomes greater than the God who is our Provider (Matt 6:25-34). Sin can be something we would consider part of our nature, like selfishness or greed. Jesus famously teaches that not only are adultery and murder sins, but that our lustful desires and unjustified anger are sins as well (Matt 5:21-30). Finally, I would venture to say that we all could quickly admit that we are imperfect people, never doing everything "right." If I am allowed to define rightness as always keeping God in his rightful place, then I can suggest that we are all sinners, and to this the Bible would agree (Rom 3:23).
Is restlessness sinful?
So back to the original question: Are any of us willing to admit that restlessness is sinful? Here I draw from the text in my class, which discusses various effects from sin. In it, the author writes how restlessness is one such effect:
Finally, sin often produces restlessness. There is a certain insatiable character about sin. Complete satisfaction never occurs. Although some sinners may have a relative stability for a time, sin eventually loses its ability to satisfy. Like habituation to a drug, a tolerance is built up, and it becomes easier to sin without feeling pangs of guilt. Further, it takes a greater dosage to produce the same effects. In the process, our wants keep expanding as rapidly as, or more rapidly than, we can fulfill them. It is alleged that in answer to the question, "How much money does it take to satisfy a man?" John D. Rockefeller responded, "Just a little bit more." Like a restless, tossing sea, the wicked never really come to peace. (Erickson, 635 bold added)
Are you restless?
I meditate on this because I do not think restlessness is relegated only to these "tough economic times." I saw it living in a fraternity house where the each night needed to surpass the next in how much alcohol was consumed. I went to a school where guys thought the next girl would be the "best they'd ever had." I interact with people now who think that buying a home will complete them, where getting married will solve all the problems. I see it in the classic example given above dealing with drugs, when a little fix becomes a large problem. And because "we are all sinners" I must really first look at myself and see that my restlessness is in how I will do in school, how I can support myself, how successful I will be in the church...yes, even in finding someone who I could call my wife. I am willing to admit several of I am sure many other issues in my life where I am restless and thus sin by replacing God with my little gods of success, money, and marital bliss. I guess I am wondering if you are willing to do the same.
Rest for the restless heart
It would suck if I just ended there, instead of asking "Where do we go from here?" The author of my text in this section only describes the effects of sin, but does not share what the solution is. I propose that even if I got straight A's in school (which I would be a miracle), I would want all the money; if I had all the money I wanted to take mad crazy people out for good food and drink I would want the big church; if I planted the big church with lots of people who love Jesus; I would want the amazing wife. Something would always be nagging at me. I would remain restless.
The only answer I know of to restlessness is rest and the Bible gives the only solution that I personally know of--Jesus--Who leads us into our complete rest in God now and forever. Jesus said,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:28-29)
In our labor He calls us to Himself for rest. In our burdens He beckons us to Himself for rest. As Moses led the people of Israel through the wilderness to the Promised Land, Jesus leads us through the depth of our sin by His death on the Cross in order that we might find rest in God, the ultimate, final, eternal Promised Land (Hebrews 3:7-4:13).
Augustine sums this up well in his Confessions as he reflects back on a life filled with restless pursuits, including a strong desire to hook up with women, writing poignantly over 1600 years ago:
Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.
In His Rest.