I believe God is far less interested in our satisfaction than in our transformation. In fact, God often uses our unsatisfied longings to draw us deeper into life with him.
I’m an unsatisfied Christian. You could also call me a disappointed Christian, a restless Christian, a Christian who sometimes feels suffocated by the weight of my own unmet hopes and expectations, someone who just doesn’t buy the claim that knowing Jesus makes life everything we want and need it to be—or numbs our longings so we no longer feel them anymore.
I believe God is far less interested in our satisfaction than in our transformation. In fact, God often uses our unsatisfied longings to draw us deeper into life with him. But a popular message persists in Christian churches and media that claims once we enter into relationship with Christ, we will experience full and complete satisfaction and our hearts and souls will never again feel the hunger and thirst of longing or unmet need.
A hymn proclaims, “Hallelujah! I have found Him whom my soul so long has craved! Jesus satisfies my longings; through His life I now am saved.” A poet writes, “He satisfies continually, each moment of the day, His love can fill your longing soul, and care for you alway.” Classic devotional writer Oswald Chambers writes in his popular book My Utmost for His Highest, “When once we get intimate with Jesus we are never lonely, we never need sympathy, we can pour out all the time without being pathetic.”
This is baloney. While God truly is the only one who can satisfy our souls, he does not meet all of our needs here and now. Nor does he instantaneously make all other relationships in our lives irrelevant, or short-circuit the natural processes of emotional growth and developing maturity. God does not neutralize the effects of living in a world where sin is in the water supply and the air we breathe, corrupting even our prayers and our sense of his presence with us. He doesn’t take away our awareness of our ongoing need for him. He wants us to be very aware of that need.
There is truth in the claim that only Jesus is capable of satisfying us. Yet he does not offer us complete fulfillment here and now, outside his presence and living under a curse. When we follow Christ, we have access to the source of our true satisfaction, but we don’t stop needing that source or feeling that need. The suggestion that we do motivates many believers to bring a consumerist mindset to their faith, convinced Christ is here to satisfy them. It has set up many for disillusionment, discouragement, even abandonment of their faith when they realize God is not delivering on this supposed promise.
And why should he? God does not want us to be satisfied with life on a cursed planet. He does not want us to settle for the relationship we can achieve with him here and now—with our limited understanding and an unapproachable barrier separating us from his presence. He wants us to live in longing for the better world we were created for—one in which we will enjoy a restored creation, complete understanding, and unhindered access to him. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus surprises us by telling us that God blesses a specific group of people with a promise of satisfaction, and it’s not the ones who claim to have all they need now—it’s the ones who continue to hunger and thirst to see God’s righteousness reign in themselves and in all creation: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Bad News and Good News
At first glance this might look like bad news, and there is some bad news here: humanity lives under a curse of our own making. But that’s the age-old introduction to the gospel. As is always the case when God pulls back the curtain for a glimpse at his unfolding work, there’s very good news here as well. The unsatisfied Christian life is not merely a curse; it can also be a blessing. One of the ways unsatisfaction blesses us is by keeping us focused on our real reason for hope.
One of the ways unsatisfaction blesses us is by keeping us focused on our real reason for hope.
Feeling satisfied can so easily lead to feeling self-sufficient, believing our hope is in the things we own, the people we love, or our own selves. Or convincing ourselves we’re satisfied can cause us to lose touch with the longings we still experience, which God can use to motivate us to draw nearer to him and to engage in his work. When we feel unsatisfied, we are more likely to remember that we don’t have all the answers we need and we must lift our eyes to our wise and loving Creator. Embracing unsatisfaction as a permanent condition can help us maintain more consistent focus on God.
Absolutely everyone knows this world could and should be better than it is, and people who carry a vision for that better world can’t really settle for life as we know it. The ones who lose that vision can convince ourselves this is as good as we can hope for. For those of us who learn to live with our longings, without demanding they be satisfied, hope and anticipation stay sharp. When we become content to live unsatisfied, we grow more ready to join God’s plans rather than live for our own fulfillment.
As C. S. Lewis wrote, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
When prevailing Christian culture insists true believers are completely fulfilled, it’s natural to condemn the lack of satisfaction that so many of us feel—particularly those with a strong social conscience. When we feel unsatisfied it makes sense to assume this feeling indicates something is wrong in our spiritual lives. But it can mean something is right. God wants more for us; if our hearts beat in time with his, they will never be satisfied in this life.
Amy Simpson is a life and leadership coach, speaker, and author of Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World, Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry, and Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, all from InterVarsity Press.