Amy Simpson has written an interesting new book. It’s called Blessed Are the Unsatisifed. I caught up with Amy recently to discuss her new book.
What did you write Unsatisfied and who is it written for?
Blessed Are the Unsatisfied is written for Christians who have frequently heard that they should feel satisfied because they’re in relationship with Jesus, but who are aware that they don’t actually feel that way all the time. In particular, it’s written for people who live with serious challenges to their happiness—mental health struggles, the loss of a loved one, the lingering affects of trauma or adverse childhood experiences, a pessimistic nature. In a sense, these are my people, and they tend to be the true realists when it comes to some of the trite messages we throw around in the church.
The book is about the spiritual freedom that comes when we admit the truth: We are unsatisfied people. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t all have some level of satisfaction in our lives and in our relationship with God. We do. But none of us is so satisfied that we don’t want more. When we embrace that reality, we find God blesses us in our unsatisfied condition.
I wrote it to bring what I think is important definition to this common saying within Christianity: “This world won’t satisfy you, but Jesus will.”
To be clear, I don’t intend to completely contradict that idea. It is essentially true—this world won’t satisfy us. And ultimately Jesus is the only one who can and will do so. But I do want to contradict the way this idea is often interpreted and applied within our culture. Many teachers and preachers offer this as a promise for here and now, suggesting to people that when they come into relationship with Christ, they will be suddenly completely satisfied and all their deepest longings will be fulfilled. And people are eager to believe a message like this, so it’s rarely questioned. But it’s not accurate, and perpetuating this idea is harmful to people and to the gospel.
For one thing, telling people they should expect full satisfaction here and now sets them up for a crisis—or even failure—of faith. When people believe a relationship with Jesus will neutralize their hunger and thirst and make their longings disappear, they’re bound to be disappointed. That’s not what Jesus does for us. In fact, in many ways our lives become less satisfying as we know Christ more closely—particularly if our lives have been built around the consumeristic pursuit of things we believe will fulfill us without asking us to change. We certainly can become less content to live with the barriers that still come between us and God. When people realize Christ has not delivered what they were hoping for, some simply decide Christianity “doesn’t work” and walk away. Faith in Christ is not a tool we put to use in our lives to see if it will make us happy, but we give people permission to approach it that way when we make these kinds of promises.
That’s another one of the issues here. This message encourages people to come to Christ as religious consumers. Rather than challenge a consumeristic approach, we essentially endorse it and ask people to simply redirect it from the world to Jesus. We imply that it’s appropriate to be in a relationship with God for what we can get out of it. This approach not only is not appropriate; it’s not effective. God does not live to fulfill our wishes and dreams, nor are comfort and happiness his primary goals for our lives. He wants to transform us, and we should not allow people to be surprised by that reality.
Another reason I wanted to contradict this message is because it encourages hiding and hypocrisy. This probably is the most personal reason I wrote this book. In my writing, speaking, and coaching, I’m often working with people whose lives have been affected by the disruption of mental health struggles—their own or those of someone they love. People who have been down this road—especially if there’s serious mental illness involved—have a much harder time convincing themselves their lives are satisfying and a relationship with Christ here and now is all they have ever longed for.
Most are living with at least some level of the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and this kind of false message complicates matters because it adds a sense of guilt or a sense that they are deeply flawed or doing something wrong. This feeling of dissonance produces a lot of unnecessary and pain and self-doubt in people, many of whom are closer to Christ than most because their faith has sustained them through deep valleys.
I want them, and everyone else, to know that it’s normal, and good, to be unsatisfied with what we can experience in this life. We have not yet achieved heaven, and God does not expect us to believe we have. He wants us to long for complete reconciliation with him, the lifting of the curse on this world, the full redemption of all creation, and life in God’s physical presence.
God does not stigmatize our lack of satisfaction the way we do. Some of the people God considers most blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. He rewards those who seek him, who are driven by an ongoing sense of longing. Revelation 7 paints an incredible picture of people reaching heaven and drinking deeply from springs of living water. Finally their hunger and thirst will be fully satisfied. I want us to live in this anticipation and let go of the pressure we place on ourselves and others, to have achieved this now.
You have criticized the God-shaped hole in the heart idea. But don’t you believe that Jesus fills something in us that can’t be filled by anything else? I mean, what about the text where He promises abundant life?
I do believe Jesus fills something in us that can’t be filled by anything else. In fact, I believe Jesus is, ultimately, that answer to everything that is wrong and all that we’re missing. However, the “God-shaped hole” idea has two problems: 1) It’s attributed to Blaise Pascal and he didn’t actually say it, and what he actually did say is far more complex and rings far truer: to paraphrase, our desire for the infinite can be satisfied only by the infinite. No amount of what is finite can fill that abyss within us.
I believe that is completely true. But it’s a far cry from saying we have a God-shaped hole just waiting to be plugged in the interest of completing us. 2) It’s terribly simplistic and, without coming out and saying it, it basically implies that God is merely a puzzle piece that completes us. It reduces Jesus to a mere tool made for our happiness, and it assumes he exists to plug into our lives, rather than the other way around.
Put simply, this is not the world we were made for. Jesus has so much more in mind for us. When we convince ourselves we should be satisfied here and now, we train ourselves to be content with lesser things. And we stop looking to God for what is better. We stop living in hope and anticipation of what he offers us. As we grow closer to God, he doesn’t want us to decide we’ve had enough; instead, he wants us to desire more and to look forward to life in his presence.
He does not want to merely satisfy our desires; he wants to transform them.
The other issue is that even our spiritual desires here and now are corrupt. We are self-centered people. We have a very limited perspective. So for Jesus to satisfy all those desires now would mean that he would shape himself around what we want. And Jesus will never do that. He loves us too much to conform to our corruption.
When we come to Christ expecting satisfaction, we inadvertently approach him as if he is the answer to both our natural appetites and our consumeristic desires. Rather than ask him to transform our desires, we expect him to take them away or morph himself into the solution we’re wanting. We approach him as either a product or a solution. And God is neither.
Repentance and redemption are more than transactional requirements for a good life. God is far greater than a quick fix, and his ultimate plan for re-creation and redemption is not a mere afterthought to a happy life. In some ways, a relationship with Christ intensifies our longings as God shapes them into visions of what he wants us to desire.
The trouble is, while we may want God to make our lives as fulfilling as we can envision, God envisions something far greater. He wants us to long for life in his presence and the full redemption of creation. And when we look to Scripture, at the lives of people who were very close to Jesus, we see that longing rather than the satisfaction we might expect.
So Jesus does not merely plug into our lives to “complete us.” And when we let go of our pursuit of satisfaction, we open ourselves to all the other things Christ intends to do in and through us.
Regarding the question about abundant life:
It’s important to acknowledge that we are living with serious limitations—all on our part, not on God’s. John 10 speaks to the kind of life Jesus offers us: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the word translated “abundantly” in the English Standard Version means “over and above, more than is necessary, superadded; superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon.” That’s a great way to live, and I dare say it describes what we’re all longing for. But is this something Jesus promises us, payable at the moment of belief? And what kind of abundance is he talking about?
It’s interesting to note that this is a passage where Jesus is describing his relationship with us by way of contrast. And in interpreting the verse, it’s important to pay attention to that contrast. In the preceding verses, Jesus compares his followers to sheep and warns them against predators and thieves. He contrasts his role as shepherd, who calls his sheep by name, with those who enter the sheepfold with the intention to do harm: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:1-3). Verse 10 is a continuation of this discussion, specifically describing the contrast between his intentions for the sheep and the intentions of thieves.
One of the ways we can recognize our shepherd is by recognizing his good intentions for us. Instead of destruction and death, he offers us life—and the best life we can possibly live! We have the beginnings of that life available to us now—life eternal, full of grace and forgiveness, infused with joy and peace. As with the living water and bread of life, we have been given access to a never-ending source of life—and not just basic existence, but a great, full life. However, we don’t yet have the capacity to fully grab hold of that life and consistently enjoy it in our current condition. We are limited by sin, sorrow, and suffering. Nothing in this passage indicates that we should expect unmitigated fullness of life here and now, in this physical existence.
John 10:10 is a description of what is available to us spiritually. I don’t believe we should expect to realize the full spiritual satisfaction of abundant life now. While we live in these bodies, on this planet, awaiting full redemption of God’s children and all creation, we live with barriers that do not limit God but keep us from seeing and enjoying all that God offers. We have not only an abundance of true and good life—we also live with unspeakable evil, injustice, temptation, bad habits, recognition of our own sinful state and the grievous limitations of human wisdom. Unless we have trained ourselves to ignore many of life’s realities, it’s a sobering and frustrating mix that will leave us unsatisfied with life as we know it. And it should.
In John 4, the Lord says the person who drinks from the water that He gives will never thirst again. Doesn’t that indicate a present tense fulfillment and satisfaction of some sort rather than an off-to-the-future it will happen when you die?
Eighteenth-century Baptist theologian John Gill wrote this about Jesus’ promise of living water in John 4: “Thirsty persons are invited to take and drink of the water of life freely, and are pronounced blessed; and it is promised, that they shall be filled, or satisfied; yet not so in this life, that they shall never thirst or desire more; for as they need more grace, and it is promised them, they thirst after it, and desire it; and the more they taste and partake of it, the more they desire it.”
I think many of use can attest to this reality: the more we experience Jesus and drink from the Living Water, the more we want to drink from that fountain. We don’t experience Jesus once and find ourselves wanting no more; instead, the longer we know him, the more we want.
Jesus offered the Samaritan woman a better source of water—a source of true sustenance that would lead her to full satisfaction in the eternal realm. I believe he offers us the same.
It’s important to notice that Jesus did not just offer her a cup of living water. As in John 10, there’s an important contrast here: The words Jesus used pointed to the difference between drawing water from a well and drinking it a cupful at a time, versus having access to an ever-flowing spring that means you’ll never have to go looking for a water source again. If drinking one cup of God’s life-giving water at the moment we believe would satisfy us forever, we wouldn’t need a spring.
Later in the book of John, Jesus again refers to the spring of living water, with John’s clear explanation: “Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (John 7:37-39). The Holy Spirit is our spring, and he this water available to us, offering us constant access to the source of eternal life.
In what sense, if any, do you believe Jesus fulfills or satisfies those of us who have chosen to follow Him instead of following the world and its pleasures?
I believe Jesus offers us full and complete satisfaction but we are unable to receive or experience it in full because of our limitations: we live in a sin-sick world, we live with a sin nature and more consequences of sin than we can even perceive, and we have not yet been remade into people who can live in the very presence of God. We are, as Paul points out, running in a long race.
Several years ago, my sister ran the Chicago Marathon. Because I live in Chicago’s suburbs, I had the privilege of watching the race and cheering her on. My oldest daughter, nephew, and niece accompanied me, walking and riding the subway from one neighborhood to another, positioning ourselves so we could encourage her at different spots along the way.
Early in the race, we got to see the first finishers cross the line. These were elite runners from all over the world (more from Kenya and Ethiopia than anywhere else), and their finishing speed was awesome. But even these runners, among the greatest in the history of the world, were exhausted when they finished. And like all the runners, they were hungry and thirsty.
Along the route, plenty of water stations gave the runners opportunities to hydrate. Energy bars and gels gave them calories and nutrients. But they were expending far more than they could consume. No matter how much they took in along the way, they would have been in desperate need of replenishment at the end. So that night we went out for some of Chicago’s famous stuffed pizza. My sister said nothing had ever tasted so good.
This image—the depleted runner—comes to mind when I think of these saints in Revelation, crossing the “finish line” into eternity. They have hungered and thirsted along the way, and they have suffered during the race. They have had access to Living Water and the Bread of Life. But they are still in desperate need of what only God can give. And now they will be truly, eternally satisfied.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul is frank about our awkward position in this life, sometimes called the “now and not yet.” We have the blessings of God’s grace and Jesus’ redemption now, yet we wait for them to be fully visible. We wait for our true identity as children of God to be fully revealed. We wait to live in a world we were originally designed for—a world without the heartbreaking pall of sin’s curse.
And while we wait, our spirits groan, along with all creation, and ache with hope for heaven: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (Romans 8:22-25).
Good question. If we are satisfied with the life we have now, why hope for anything better? If we have received all we need, why long for something more? Anyone acutely aware of our current position cannot be completely satisfied with the life we have now. As Christians, we are plugged into the true source of satisfaction, and yet we do not experience that satisfaction in full because it’s not the only thing we experience.
For many, C.S. Lewis’ definition of joy sounds more like frustration than something pleasant. What really is joy according to the New Testament? And didn’t Jesus and the apostles promise joy to the true believer?
In talking about joy, I think we often overlook the fact that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s something that is produced in us as we live in fellowship with the Holy Spirit and in obedience to God. Like love, peace, patience, self-control, and the other fruit of the Spirit, we experience joy intermittently (we aren’t always capable of displaying it) but as we grow in Christ, our lives tend to be marked more and more by joy. Yes, Jesus and the New Testament writers promised joy—but there is no promise that joy is the only thing we will experience or that we will always feel joyful.
C.S. Lewis’ definition of joy is rooted in the idea of anticipation. And I think there’s truth in that—joy originates in the fellowship of the Trinity and in our awareness that there is a life much better than the one we’re living now. Joy is much more than a feeling, and it’s much greater than happiness. Unfortunately, we often confuse it with happiness and expect that it should be the only thing we experience.
What would you say to the Christian teen who struggles with doubts about God. That He really exists and cares?
I would say that any Christian teen who struggles with doubts is a perfectly normal person who is facing an opportunity to grow in faith. God is so much bigger than we tend to give him credit for, and he is not threatened by our questions about him. I think battles with doubt often come at times when God is inviting us into a deeper relationship with him. Oswald Chambers wrote, “If you are going through a time of discouragement, there is a time of great personal growth ahead.” And people rarely grow in a linear fashion. We tend to take two steps forward, one step back, as the old saying goes. But every time we take a step back, we have an opportunity to commit more deeply to the path we’re on.
I find it encouraging to remember that people are not naturally drawn to relationship with God; God is the one who draws us to him and gives us the faith we need to believe and follow him. So if you are drawn to God, or if you want to have greater faith, take that as assurance that God is active in your life and the Holy Spirit is the one drawing you to him.
But I would also say this: Bring your doubts and struggles to God and to the body of Christ. As you seek God in prayer and in a community of healthy, caring believers, you will likely find that you’re not alone in your struggles and that both God and his people are more than ready to meet you where you are.
Dallas Willard wrote an article about being satisfied with the Lord. He attributed the many traps that Christian leaders fall into a result of not being satisfied with the Lord. You can read the article here: https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/156188-dallas-willard-why-you-re-dissatisfied-in-ministry.html – your book appears to contradict his point. Where is Dallas wrong in your view? Where is he right?
Actually, I don’t disagree with Willard. And while my book might appear to contradict his point, I don’t believe it does. Here’s the thing: In my book, I draw a distinction between being dissatisfied and being unsatisfied. I think this is an important distinction.
Dissatisfaction—particularly spiritual dissatisfaction—is not a healthy or helpful condition. Dissatisfaction is an active absence of satisfaction in a context where satisfaction is expected. It breeds discontentment, contempt, and a feeling of emptiness. Unsatisfaction is more like acceptance combined with anticipation. It is acknowledgment of desire without the demand that it be satisfied. It is a kind of openness that doesn’t ask for closure. And it can be a very healthy way to live.
So while I commend the experience of being unsatisfied (acknowledging that our experience with God is not all that it can and will be and that we always want more), I don’t recommend dissatisfaction. In fact, in a sense, my book was written to prevent dissatisfaction in believers because it attempts to refute the idea that we should be satisfied or that we deserve complete satisfaction. That belief, and that sense of entitlement, is what causes many people to go looking for something that will do a better job of giving them what they want, compared to Jesus who is often not interested in giving us what we want.
When we learn to be content with incomplete satisfaction here and now, we can stop the pursuit of those things which get us into trouble. My clarification would be that we do not reach a point at which we are satisfied and the work of seeking Christ is done. We need to continually seek satisfaction in Jesus. And my guess is that Willard would agree with me on that point.
What would you say to the Christian who says, “Yea, I agree with you. I’m not satisfied with God. I find no fulfillment in following Him or relating to Him. Reading the Bible, prayer, church is all boring to me. I think I can be satisfied by the world and the pleasures it has to offer.”
I’d say, “Good luck with that.” Any Christian who decides to go down this road is embracing deception and headed for an inevitable dead end. While we won’t find complete satisfaction in this life, through Christ we are plugged into the only source that offers true satisfaction to any degree. Seeking it in the world’s lousy substitutes is a bad idea and will leave us more desperate than ever. In fact, it will lead us right back into the spiritual prison Christ has freed us from.
If reading the Bible, prayer, and church are boring for you as a Christian, I suspect you are not engaging in true worship but are simply going through the motions and perhaps refusing to invite God to transform you. I challenge you to engage in worship and to invite God to truly work in your life. I suspect things will begin to change dramatically. But it won’t mean God will satisfy you as you are; it will mean he will begin to transform you, including your desires.
What has been the pushback so far on your book and how have you responded to it exactly?
I think this message can be uncomfortable for many people because it isn’t really what we want to hear. And at first glance it appears to contradict some of what the Bible promises. Yet when you look at the lives of people we can know through the pages of Scripture, it’s clear that even those who were closest to God were not fully satisfied with their experience of God in this life.
Think of the Old Testament prophets and of King David. The Apostle Paul is a prime example: his writings reveal a man who was intimate with Christ and very much unsatisfied by what he experienced. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” he wrote, wrestling with the question of whether it was better for him to live or to die. “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Phil 1:21-24). Paul knew his ministry was important, and he did not want to abandon the people who had chosen to follow Jesus because of his message. Yet people who are satisfied by the life they lead don’t wish for death.
I respond to pushback by reminding people of these biblical figures and by clarifying that I absolutely agree Jesus is our only true source of satisfaction. There is no other valid answer. And the limitation here is with us, not with him.
I think it’s also useful to hep people understand that being unsatisfied (not dissatisfied with Christ, but living in acknowledgment that he offers us so much more than we currently experience) is a very hopeful way of being. Frankly, I feel sorry for anyone who believes the life we live now is as good as it gets. Living unsatisfied means living in anticipation, and God blesses our eagerness for our full redemption. After all, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
How is the book doing so far in terms of sales and interest?
I have heard from many people who have said this book has offered a tremendous blessing, helping them embrace their longings and to channel their lack of satisfaction into a sense of anticipation. This has been especially true for people who live with challenges to happiness and who live with frustrations and griefs that will be fully addressed only when Christ makes all things new.
At the same time, this is not a wildly popular book. I guess I tend to write about things that people don’t really want to hear. But I do hope more people will take notice of this message a they reach those places in life where they realize the Christian life is not as simple, easy, or fun as they believed it would be. I hope it will help a few people learn to live unsatisfied rather than walk away.
Order Blessed Are the Unsatisfied on discount.