RESTLESSNESS

 If there is one characteristic that appropriately describes the current sorry state of man, it is an all-pervading sense of restlessness. Restlessness is an inner state of being characterized by unrest, despair and aimlessness. The picture that comes to mind is one of the churning waters of the sea in stark comparison to the still quiet waters of a lake. To deal with the unrest within, man comes up with many a solution- he changes jobs, spouses and houses; goes on vacations to escape from the internal hell he constantly endures and develops hobbies and addictions. Once the transient excitement of the changed circumstance or the ecstasy of the addiction passes, he reverts back to his restlessness, hoping there would be an answer to his woes.

Perhaps the restlessness is a sequel of the technological revolution, which has surrounded us with devices that are capable of amazing things, thereby saturating our finite minds. Perhaps it is due to the fact that we live in an age where knowledge has become far too widespread for comfort and man has no choice but to achieve more and know more, which is far too cumbersome. But then when we examine the Bible, we find restlessness being used to describe the third human being on earth and the first one born naturally- Cain. The story of how Cain became a ‘restless wanderer’ on earth during the prehistoric era illuminates the root cause of restlessness.

— Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”——-Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. ——–The LORD said, “What have you done? —— Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:3-12; emphasis mine)

Cain’s life was characterized by a half-hearted devotion to God, which paved the way for lack of brotherly love, deceit, violence and murder. He chose to bring ‘some’ of the fruits instead of the very best fruits, which he knew God deserved. God rejected his half-hearted offering but did not reject him, rather warned him that his primary devotion to God must be demonstrated in his actions which needed to be right and that he must overcome sin, failing which sin would come to rule over him. Cain however ended up letting sin rule and found himself in dynamic with God and God’s creation that was not intended to be. This adverse dynamic would ensure that his efforts would never yield ideal results and he would always be dissatisfied and hence a restless wanderer on earth.

Saint Augustine is credited with perhaps the most famous quote on restlessness outside of the Bible.

Saint Augustine, who lived in the 4th century, was one of the most powerful influences on the spirituality and theology of the early Christian Church. Augustine’s life as a young man was characterized by loose living and a search for answers to life’s basic questions. He would follow various philosophers, only to become disillusioned with their teachings. At this time, Augustine went to hear the preaching of Saint Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, which led Augustine to a new understanding of the Bible and the Christian Faith. Some time in the year 386, Augustine heard the voice of a child singing a song, the words of which were, “Pick it up and read it. Pick it up and read it.” He thought at first that the song was related to some kind of children’s gam; but realizing that this song might be a command from God to open and read the Scriptures, he located a Bible, picked it up, opened it and read the first passage he saw. It was from the Letter of Paul to the Romans. Augustine read: ‘Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.’ (Romans 13:13-14). Reading this scripture, Augustine felt as if his heart were flooded with light. He turned totally from his life of sin. Later, reflecting on this experience, Augustine wrote his famous prayer

You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you (1). 

Augustine nailed it- we were made for God, and like Cain, when we reduce ourselves to anything less than being fully consecrated to God, an adverse dynamic is created with God and his creation here on earth where we live, leading to restlessness within. What follows is a pattern of wandering from situation to situation, leading to the apt description of ‘restless wanderer’ that was used of Cain.

It is here that Jesus’ words become meaningful,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28,29)

Fortunately there is a solution, and when man turns to Christ and gives himself fully to him, rest is within reach.

 

  1. Adapted from https://www.midwestaugustinians.org/conversion-of-st-augustine/
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