An important element to living with sustainable faith, to being expectantly unsatisfied, is understanding that what we experience is life under curse. Praise God that curse is temporary, and we are right to rejoice in this. But while it lasts, we are also right to grieve it. Living with the consequences of sin is supposed to hurt, and it does! The curse on humanity hurts Jesus’ followers as much as it hurts anyone. Before we focus on the blessings that come with living unsatisfied, it’s important to acknowledge this is not because of God’s design—it’s because of what we have chosen.
The Disney movie Pirates of the Caribbean contains a striking illustration of our kind of curse. Featured in the movie is The Black Pearl, a pirate ship whose crew is condemned to sail under a curse of living death. Stolen Aztec gold came at a very high price: the thieves were dead many times over, but they had not lost their lives. Neither had they lost their appetites. Until the curse was lifted by a blood sacrifice, they would eat and pour drink down their throats, but they could not enjoy the taste and would never be satisfied. They longed for true death; this living death was unbearable.
For people who are, as Paul puts it, “dead in your transgressions and sins” (Eph 2:1), living under a curse of our own, this is an apt picture. People need the intervention of God, who “made us alive with Christ” (Eph. 2:5). And while we are dead, we can pour all manner of things into our souls in the hope of either bringing us to life or killing us—but they all flow right through us.
For those who are alive in Christ, it can be tempting for us to focus so much on the blessings we have in Christ that we forget we still must live with the curse as well. Sometimes we live as if we believe that for Christians God casts a special kind of magic over the things we enjoy in this world and our experience with the good things in life should be superior to what others receive. This is wrong! Why would God want us to be satisfied with a world full of shadows of the real thing? Just because my family is a Christian family doesn’t mean they have the power to make me feel complete. Just because my house and car are purchased with funds I earned in honest work as a follower of Christ, doesn’t mean they will make me truly happy. And just because my church is full of people Jesus has forgiven, doesn’t mean I can find truly, completely fulfilling community there. God did not make us to be satisfied by these things.
Ignoring this reality can keep us in pursuit of satisfaction, with our heads down, so we miss the best parts of life. And it can drive some to despair. It’s far better to acknowledge the curse, grieve its effects even while we enjoy God’s blessings, and long for its end, as our patient God does.
My husband, Trevor, and I met in college in Illinois, and we went on our first date in March of my sophomore year, his senior year. We continued dating over the next couple of months, and we “defined the relationship” at about the same time he was graduating and moving back to his home state of Colorado, where he would work and attend seminary.
I still had two years of college ahead of me, and when the new school year started we found ourselves living 1000 miles apart, with this growing relationship that increasingly made us long to be together. For a year and a half, we saw each other as much as we could but felt more and more as if one of us was in the wrong place.
Finally, when our relationship progressed to the point where we were both getting serious about marriage, Trevor quit his job, put his seminary education on hold, and moved back to Illinois. At first he didn’t have a job or a place to live, so he stayed with a friend who had his own dorm room on campus. Trevor is a very tall man and hard to miss, so I’m not sure whether people thought he hadn’t graduated after all or just spent a lot of time with his friend, but somehow he was able to get away with an extended stay. Then, after he found a job and moved in with some friends who shared a house in the area, he became a legitimate resident of the state. Not long after that, we got engaged.
The distance between us didn’t keep us from falling in love, but it did cause us grief. And the more deeply we loved each other, the more that distance hurt. Eventually it became unacceptable, and it made Trevor turn his life upside down and move halfway across the country with no job and no home. We will do desperate things to be with the ones we love. I can only imagine what we would do now, after 23 years of marriage, if that kind of distance threatened to come between us for a long time.
Similarly, you could say we’re in a long-distance relationship with God. We have the curse between us—despite our status as forgiven people, we cannot yet stand in God’s actual presence. We cannot bridge the distance between us and God. Christ himself has become that bridge—we can be friends with God, spiritually reconciled to him. But we cannot live where he lives, cannot understand the world as he does, cannot achieve unimpaired intimacy with him for now. That distance hurts, as it should. And ironically, the closer we grow to him, the less satisfied we are by that relationship. The more frustrated we are by the distance between us.
Similarly, the more deeply we know God, the more uncomfortable we become in this world where righteousness rarely rules the day. The more the Holy Spirit produces his fruit in us (Gal 5:22-23), the more we struggle to feel at home here. “This memory of Eden haunts us all,” Sting sang in his song “Desert Rose.” We are indeed haunted not just by what was, but increasingly as our faith grows, by what will be.
In the light of this curse on humanity, it’s wise to have realistic expectations for what life will offer. We greatly compound our pain and invite disappointment when we expect it to deliver a kind of pervasive and persistent happiness and fulfillment it won’t. In fact, we may just spend our lives driving hard after something we can’t achieve—and missing out on what we actually can.
This post was excerpted from chapter 3 of my new book, Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World. If you want to read more, you can find the book here or wherever you buy books.
Taken from Blessed Are the Unsatisfied by Amy Simpson. Copyright(c) 2018 by Amy Simpson. Used by permission from InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.
© 2018 Amy Simpson.