What If Jesus Doesn’t Satisfy?

What if Jesus doesn’t satisfy? Personally, I don’t care for that question, and yet that question haunts me each time I pull up my unfinished drafts folder. This post has sat in the draft pile for more than a year with little more than the title, more specifically a question and a disconcerting question at that.

The question, for me, finds its origin both in my experiences and my bible study. My experiences seem to conflict with Jesus’s statement to the Samaritan woman in John 4, and each time I consider this question I am drawn to Solomon’s life narrative unfolded in Ecclesiastes.

Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes as a look back on his feeble attempts to be satisfied apart from God. He attempts to find satisfaction in just about everything and concludes that fearing God and keeping his commandments is the best option. However, each time I consider Solomon’s quest for satisfaction, I consider the people I have known that would argue they looked for satisfaction in God and did not find it there. As a result they rejected God and looked elsewhere. I’ve always struggled with knowing how to process their experience. If God is satisfying, why weren’t they satisfied when they looked to God? I have as well, at times, personally struggled with a sense of dissatisfaction.

In those moments, I wonder if God, in His sovereignty doesn’t allow some to be ever be satisfied. Maybe those people didn’t really truly search for God. Maybe they simply used God as a ruse to find contentment. Maybe they just used religion as a means of gaining acceptance. Questions such as these result in cliches and platitudes. “Well, you just didn’t do it right” or “You didn’t go to church enough” or “You didn’t read your bible enough” or “God would have satisfied if you had done it right”.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well. In those moments, I wonder what Jesus meant when he said, “whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14a). I struggle with what he means. At times, I possess what I would consider spiritual thirst. I still have longings. I still long to be satisfied. What does he mean that I will never thirst again? If he means that I will never have spiritual longings or spiritual hunger again, then apparently I don’t have that water or the eternal life that accompanies it. That potential conclusion unnerves me.

For me, the key to both this passage and the frustrating question were found in the later part of the same verse. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14b). The water that Jesus gives us becomes in us an unending spring or source for satisfaction. This does not mean that we will never have a thirst again, but that we will always have a spring within us to quench any thirst we may have.

Thirst for satisfaction will continue to rise, but we will always possess a spring of satisfaction. Granted, we often look to other stagnant, old, and nasty water to quench our thirst. We look to entertainment, drugs, alcohol, relationships, pornography, gaming, work, success, etc, but none of those sources bring lasting satisfaction. On the other hand, within us as believers, we possess, having been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, an unending source of satisfaction that can be tapped at any time.

Sometimes this satisfaction is less exciting. Let me liken this desire for satisfaction to food. (I like food. This illustration connects with me.) There are foods that are really enjoyable in the moment but their level of satisfaction does not usually last very long, sometimes not even as long as the meal itself. I love chocolate cake, but I’ve eaten chocolate cake before and regretted it before I got up from the table. It wasn’t healthy. It made me feel sick. The cakes value to my health or long term satiation is nominal at best – more likely harmful. On the other hand, if I were to eat a bowl of vegetables with slices of lean steak, I would feel healthier and satisfied for a longer time. The cake is exciting and fun in the moment with lasting regret. The vegetables and healthy protein aren’t as fun in the moment but have lasting value and satisfaction.

Let me draw the spiritual comparison. We tend to opt for the exciting and momentary satisfaction that is found in shallow entertainment, success, sex, and addictive substances and behaviors. Of course, not all of these things are immoral. In fact, most of them are probably good and healthy in their proper place and amounts. In the moment, they can seem more enjoyable. They are more dramatic. They are more exciting. For example, binge watching some show on Netflix is probably more entertaining than working through your bible study on Deuteronomy. In that moment, one of those two options can seem pretty exciting and the other less so. We tend to pick the one that has more excitement in the moment, with little or no thought to that moments lasting value or satisfaction. Yet, just like the cake, when we choose the temporary and shallow source for satisfaction, we experience momentary enjoyment with no lasting satisfaction. That’s why we always want to watch the next seasons episode. The one we just watched didn’t satisfy. Compound this fleeting satisfaction with the shame that comes, especially when the avenue for satisfaction was immoral in some way. Even though we know these various avenues will only momentarily satisfy, we foolishly crawl back to them. We’re quick to criticize and look despairingly on the drug addict, sex addict, and porn addict, yet fail to realize that we’ve just chosen a different addictive behavior. Our behavior may not carry as severe a consequence and may be more respectable, but it is an addictive behavior all the same and is keeping us from being satisfied in Christ.

Jesus promises that as we come to Him, he will place in us an unending source of joy and satisfaction (the Holy Spirit). That spiritual nourishment is always available and plenteous. Therefore, when we thirst, quench that thirst with the spring of water that is welling up to eternal life.

My simple prayer. Lord, give me a hunger for those spiritual disciplines that have lasting value and spiritual satisfaction. Help me to balance but still enjoy the blessings you’ve gifted us with in appropriate entertainment, food, relationships, and hobbies. Let me always grow both experientially and mentally in being satisfied in you. I want to better understand what that means. I want to more fully experience what that means.

4 thoughts on “What If Jesus Doesn’t Satisfy?

  1. Hi,
    It is not my intention to dispute or disparage what you have written, on the contrary, I desperately want it to be true.
    Unfortunately, I have never experienced any satisfaction or Joy, or comfort whatsoever in God. I have wondered for decades about the woman at the well. Did she ask? Did she receive fulfillment of the need thad had driven her to multiple marriages, (like me),
    How can knowing more about someone you have never met, (God), bring satisfaction? How can hearing that someone you have never met loves you, regardless how much, meet your emotional needs? How does saying a prayer because you’re afraid of going to hell equall a relationshio? Please help

  2. Hey Rebyor, I genuinely feel your pain. In no way do I respond lightly and would like to attempt some response. Of course a medium such as an online comment wall offers some inherent challenges 🙂

    I think it is fair to say that the woman was satisfied in Jesus. Her actions in the passage indicate that she ran to the town and drew all she could to Jesus because “he told me all that I ever did.” I believe there was an immense weight that was lifted from her shoulders that day, a weight characterized by shame and guilt due to her awareness of her own brokenness. There is immense freedom and joy, not in denying our sinfulness, but instead in acknowledging our sinfulness and brokenness and then receiving the forgiveness that is only truly found in Christ. The woman experienced that immense relief that day. Also, that day, she was granted the resources to always experience that freedom and relief from guilt and shame. Anytime we come to God and ask him for forgiveness he willingly, quickly, and graciously extends it to us. This is why the water would continue to quench her thirst.

    Your second line of questioning is so valid. I wish I could sit with you and share the peace that I’ve come to understand and experience. Here’s a go at it.

    We were created in the image of God. This image is not so much a physical or visible reality as it was a reflection of his character. One aspect of his character is that he is inherently a relational God. I believe that is why we so desperately desire and crave relationships, and yet they don’t seem to satisfy. Everyone fails us at some point. I believe and have experienced that this longing for relationship is only fully satisfied when we are restored back to God through Christ.

    Of course this knowledge and relationship with God is different than with others. He has revealed himself to us through His Word (the Bible), and we come to know him more intimately by looking there. I think we as well experience him as we surround ourselves with other genuine believers that love us like God loves us.

    As to the question about prayer. I wouldn’t agree that saying a prayer to avoid going to hell relates to a relationship. You would probably need to help me better understand that question. I’m wondering if someone has told you that you won’t go to hell if you say some prayer. While I think I know what they may be saying, I don’t think that’s the best way to think about it. Could you help me better understand what you mean by that question?

  3. I wonder if you are still there.
    I have never experienced any real satisfaction whatsoever from God/Jesus/ Christian life/ Salvation etc. I have found only dry, boring, trite, cliche religion and rhetoric. I can not imagine what you could possibly mean by experiencing intimacy with someone I have never met, (God), by reading ancient words from a page. Or experiencing a relation ship with someone I never met , (God), through(?) Other people. It”s absolutely true that the things of this world oly satisfy temporarily but temporarily is better than nothing. Christian disciplines are not like steak and Vega tables there more like air. They provide 0 satisfaction.
    I can’t understand how forgiveness equals satisfaction when, once again, as with all elements of Christian life, there is no actual experience of it. Only belief.
    So, you don’t experience love, only belief, nowhere near the same thing and just, simply, not enough. As far as I can tell after almost twenty years receive by faith” means the same as “do without”.
    I have found mostly nothing. Trying so hard not to give up. Barely hanging on.
    Belief in something that only comes after I die just doesn’t bring any kind of happiness. Please help

  4. Hey Rebyor. I’m still here, but as you can see I haven’t been too active on my blog lately 🙂

    1. As to cliches. I can fully understand the perspective that considers much of Christianity to be “dry, boring, trite, cliche religion and rhetoric.” It can often be that for a number of reasons. I suppose sometimes it comes off that way because it’s easier to throw those statements out than it is to think through a more thorough and helpful response. On the other hand, cliches probably become cliches because they possess some truth – “boring” as they may be. For instance “Jesus loves you and displayed that love by dying for your sins.” That probably comes off as a trite Christian phrase. However, I believe it to be true and the foundation for my life and present joy.

    Your response deserves so much more than I feel like I could provide in a blog post response. So then, I may need to add more later, but let me at least attempt a bit of a response. Bear with me as I offer a quick biblical account that may parallel your struggle.

    In John, Jesus tells his disciples he is about to leave. They become quite concerned because they don’t know what they will do without him. He promises to those that believe that he will provide another helper that will come to them. The challenge in this “helper” to our discussion is that the “helper” is the Holy Spirit who cannot be seen. He can be experienced but Jesus likens him to the wind. You can’t see him and you don’t know where he’s coming from but you can see evidence of his presence. Jesus says in John 14.

    “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16–18).

    The key to the Spirit’s presence is that we believe. Belief precedes a couple of things. Belief precedes the presence of the Spirit and belief precedes a more thorough and personal understanding of God. I know that kind of stinks from some perspectives. In essence, Christianity purports that you have to believe before you can understand. That does not mean, however, that belief is without some type of evidence. In fact, all of John’s Gospel is intended to offer evidence for Jesus as God. John writes in 20:31, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31). John offers proof after proof that Jesus is uniquely God. With that said, I suppose you still have to believe that the Bible is true to care what John says about Jesus.

    2. As to the experience of relationship. Of course, I start with the premise that I believe the Bible. I also start with the understanding that sin results in shame. We experience shame and brokenness due to our sinfulness. We probably don’t inherently understand that this sin separates us from God (“but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” – Isaiah 59:2), but I think most of us sense that something is wrong. We can’t define it or explain it, but we just understand something is broken. Therefore, in believing the Bible, it tells me that my sins can be forgiven through belief in Jesus Christ.

    as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12).

    In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, (Ephesians 1:7).

    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9).

    In accepting those truths, I not only believe myself to be forgiven of my sins, I experience the lifted weight that comes as a result of my sins.

    And as for the experience of other people. Other believers reflect God’s love to me. They forgive me. They unconditionally love me. They are relationally committed to me. They lovingly and graciously correct me. Of course, this doesn’t always go smoothly or correctly, but I experience God’s love as believers reflect God’s love to me.

    For now, let me leave you with what some might consider one final cliche 🙂 “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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30).

    I came to Jesus. I stopped depending on myself for satisfaction in life. I stopped depending on myself to work out my eternal destiny. Instead, I came to Jesus and I trusted that he could and would save me. In so doing, I have experienced “rest for your souls” and while I still often have a burden, that burden is much lighter.

    So then, I’m so sorry you’re barely hanging on. I have had many moments like that. Life really can be hard. I’m praying that God will allow you to understand and experience his love and forgiveness.

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