Unsatisfied? Don’t Confuse the Symptom with its Source

I don’t think any of us enjoys being sick. I certainly don’t. But not all forms of sick are created equal. Some are far easier to put up with than others.

If I had to rank, by misery level, the symptoms that come along with the everyday bugs that tend to infect relatively healthy humans, I think vomiting would be highest on my list. That one is truly miserable, and it’s hard to do anything else when your body is focused on expelling its contents.

I think a fever would fall next on my list. It’s a less violent symptom, but it can be highly debilitating. Most other common symptoms allow a person to keep functioning at a respectable percentage of normal. But a fever can quickly take down even the most hardy and energetic of people. And if the fever is high enough, many of us become desperate to feel better.

For anyone with a fever, it’s easy to believe the fever is the problem. And since we have medications that can calm a fever, it can seem like a good idea to take them just to make ourselves feel better. But most of the time, a fever is not a threat to our health, and it’s almost never the actual problem. It’s an indication that our bodies are functioning as they should. A fever is both a symptom and a productive response–it’s trying to fight off the real problem. Ironically, when we try to make ourselves better by getting rid of a fever, we can actually impair our own ability to fight the real problem. A fever raises our body temperature, making the body less hospitable to infection. Getting rid of it can prolong an illness and lull us into a false sense of wellness and into resuming our normal lives, infecting others along the way.

Our lack of spiritual and emotional satisfaction in life is similar; it’s not the real problem. And like a fever, most of us are willing to try all kinds of interventions to try to make it go away. But all our efforts leave us feeling unsatisfied–sometimes less satisfied than we were before. That’s because our unsatisfied condition is a symptom of human sin–our rebellion against God. We have all inherited it from our ancestors and chosen it for ourselves. And we don’t have the power to eradicate it; only God can do that. That means all our efforts amount to merely striking out at a symptom that often gets worse the more we try to address it.

Here’s the good news: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). The work of atonement is done, and Jesus–the only one with the power to do so–has provided a direct and perfect remedy to the real problem.

It’s important to recognize that while our problem is solved, in his mercy Jesus has yet to bring his perfect and complete justice and grace fully to bear upon our world and to lift the curse that creates distance between us and him. That means we still live with a symptom that, if we pay attention to it, can help us recognize the real problem and live in anticipation of the full realization of our status as forgiven people made whole again.

Don’t be fooled. Your lack of satisfaction isn’t a problem for you to solve. It’s an indicator of a deeper problem that only God can solve. Let your unsatisfied heart pull you toward him and his ultimate redemption plan.

© 2018 Amy Simpson.