Satisfied in God
Satisfaction in God is a peculiar sort of satisfaction. I found myself struggling to explain it to the youth last night, and then when I picked up Jonathan Edwardsís Religious Affections this morning, I found he was talking about the same subject. I imagine itís nearly impossible to explain to those who have never gotten a taste of it, which is a little annoying, because itís like a funny story that you end with ďYou have to have been there.Ē But hopefully those who have at least gotten a sampling of satisfaction in God will get what Iím talking about (and Iíll be leaning somewhat on Jonathan Edwards [Religious Affections, point XI] who clearly had a greater experience of it than I have so far).
Satisfaction in the world is a slippery thing. You have a craving for something and then you have it and you feel like, ďThat wasnít quite what I was hoping for.Ē C.S. Lewis talks this way about his pre-Christian sexual exploits. Maybe you have some recollection of a really great experience before, which has probably been elevated in your mind with distance from the actual experience, that youíre trying to recapture. Drug addicts, Iím told, call it ďchasing the dragon,Ē trying to relive the first thrill of the drug. The problem with worldly pursuits like this, whether illicit sex or drugs or food or thrills, is that they tend to give us a diminishing returnóthe more we indulge them, the greater the indulgence needed to maintain the same pleasure. And so satisfaction actually gets further and further away, like running on a treadmill you canít keep up with. And with each of these worldly pleasures, there tends to be a negative effect to some degree, which just gets worse the more we sink ourselves in them: Promiscuous sex leaves you empty and sometimes infected with disease. Drugs poison your body, fry your brain, and eventually kill you. Food (at least the really tasty stuff) hikes up your blood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar when eaten to excess. Thrills get more dangerous until youíre injured or killed. There are plenty of other examples: we talk about buyerís remorse and the after-holiday blues. ďMoney canít buy happiness,Ē we say.
Even the more rewarding, God-honoring pleasures have their limits. Music, to me, seems like a delight that is half-way between worldly and heavenly. I could expound at length the rapture of really excellent music, but thatís not really the point. And even music has a limit to the satisfaction it brings. I can listen to Natalie McMasterís ďEternal FriendshipĒ and be stirred and soothed and satisfied while it plays, but after 4 minutes and 27 seconds, itís done (and thatís even including the part with the steel guitar); and I can go back and listen to it again, but there is a limit to how much satisfaction I will get out of it, and I must be content. Maybe you have another art form that you would put in this category. I venture also to put marital intimacy in this category: not just sex, but real intimacy that is personal and emotional and even spiritual as well as physical. As with music, there is a certain transcendence possible here, without guilt or resentment or selfishness, that hardly seems to deserve being called worldly. But even so, there are limiting factors to the satisfaction we can experience.
Now consider the joy and satisfaction we can have in knowing God. Those who donít know God will at this point probably scoff at the idea that pleasure in knowing him can exceed everything weíve talked about so far. Those who have only known him a little may even have their doubts. But those who have gotten a decent look at his majesty, figuratively speaking, those who have let their minds marinate in the wonder of his holiness and his love for a while and who have been given the taste buds to savor his magnificence, those who have known God in this way, even for a moment or to a slight degree, will know or at least suspect that here is a satisfaction unlike anything on earth. When you have such a taste of God, whether in corporate worship with music (in which case the pleasure of the music serves as a sort of garnish to the main dish of intimacy with God, but shouldnít be confused with the main dish), or in prayer, in scripture reading, in quiet contemplation, or in seeing Godís power in the lives of others, and you are given not just knowledge about God but a taste for the sweetness of Godís excellencies, there is nothing else you desire. Future hopes of heaven aside, if I had to choose between going completely deaf to all sound and music or giving up ever again receiving a glimpse of Godís beauty in this life, I would have no hesitation. So in Colossians 2 and 3 when Paul talks about the difference between trying to keep a list of worldly religious standards and setting our hearts on things above, where our life is hidden with Christ, itís not hard to understand his meaning. A list of no-noís doesnít do anything to make me want to binge on sinful pleasures any less. But if I walk around still with the taste in my mouth of having feasted at Godís table, Iíll have no desire for sinful pleasures that rob me of that flavor. Who trades something more satisfying for something less satisfying? (The ultimate, of course, would be to walk around perpetually experiencing Godís beauty, so that it isnít just a lingering air of having been with God but a constant present reality. I havenít figured out how to do that.)
But I said that satisfaction in God is peculiar. I mean, on the one hand, itís genuinely satisfying, not like an overcooked steak that leaves you thinking, ďThat wasnít as good as I thought it would be.Ē Each time Iím given an experience of God, I know this is what Iím created for. That doesnít mean, of course, that every time I read the gospel story or sing a particular worship song I have that experience or satisfaction. And even though sometimes I think it would be nice, I must admit Iím glad it isnít something I can cheapen or manipulate. A real revelation of Godís majesty depends on God, and it truly satisfies. And yet we also get the feeling that weíve only scratched the surface, that there is so much more joy and pleasure and satisfaction to come as we dive deeper into the depths of Godís love. If our source of satisfaction is God, there is no end to it. Jonathan Edwards calls it an infinite ocean, and the amount of happiness we receive from it just depends on how wide we open our mouths. I find music very satisfying, but I know it will take me this far and no further. A relationship with God is both satisfying and yet without limit, like an experience of stirring beauty that rises higher and higher and you wonder when it will plateau, but it never does. Now, to be entirely realistic, I expect weíll only explore those heights so far while we live in a fallen world. We get distracted and our pleasure in God is mingled with the pain of our lives. I would be thrilled just to have a more regular experience of God as I have already experienced him. Maybe if I put the time I spend with him at a higher premium I would have higher hopes for the possibilities of our intimacy with God during this life. But whatever the case, we who have been allowed to know God firsthand, even in the smallest measure, look forward to our eternal life in his presence, the way a fish flopping in a puddle would probably look at the sea. Can you feel the anticipation? Oh yeah.