Welcome back on this Thursday. Well, if you were to sit down with John Piper’s collected works, his thirteen-volume collected works, published back in 2017, and if you read the entire thing, beginning to end, you’d come across the word satisfy or satisfied nearly 1,500 times. Satisfy, satisfied — those loaded terms are all over those works, and they’re all over your ministry, Pastor John. But we rarely, if ever, read a definition of what you mean by the term, leading to Ralph’s question today.
“Pastor John, hello to you! I thank God for your ministry in my life. I have read many of your books and listened to many of your messages, especially those on Christian Hedonism. That idea revolutionized my relationship with the Lord. You have spoken about being satisfied in God thousands and thousands of times in your life. But I cannot find any reference in your works to where you have defined that term. To you, what does it mean to be satisfied?”
This is good for me to be pressed to ponder a term that I ordinarily use, because I consider it self-explanatory. Sometimes those are the very terms that would be most fruitful to at least try to put into words, or to relate to real-life experiences, so that we don’t just speak with empty phrases. So, thank you for the question.
Satisfaction in Scripture
I think the first thing to say is that it doesn’t really matter very much what John Piper means by satisfaction, but it matters a lot — I mean, it’s hard to exaggerate how much it matters — what God means by it when his inspired spokesmen in the Bible use the word. For example:
- Psalm 90:14: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
- Psalm 63:5: “My soul will be satisfied [in the Lord] as with fat and rich food.”
- Psalm 65:4: “We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!”
- Psalm 103:5: “[The Lord] satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
- Psalm 107:9: “He satisfies the longing soul.”
- Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
- Philippians 4:11–12: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be [satisfied or] content.” I know how to abound, and I know how to be in need.
- Hebrews 13:5: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be [satisfied] content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”
So, it’s not so much what I think satisfaction is that matters, but rather, What do texts like these mean? What did God intend when he called us in all those passages — and others — to be satisfied? What kind of experience are we talking about?
Let me try to get at what satisfaction in God, or satisfaction in all that God is for us, refers to.
Evil and Its Opposite
First, notice that the experience of satisfaction corresponds to desire and longing and yearning in the human heart. There would be no such thing as satisfaction if there were no such thing as desire. God created human beings as desire factories. Everybody has desires, longings, yearnings, wantings. God made us that way. Our problem as sinners is not that our desires are too strong, but that they are directed toward the wrong things.
That’s the essence of sin. That’s the essence of evil. Jeremiah 2:13: “My people have committed two evils.” What is that? Number one: “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.” Number two: “[They have] hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
That’s evil. Evil is to turn away from being satisfied with God as your fountain. All our desires are designed by God to be Godward desires, to move toward the fountain of living water. Even when we desire earthly things like food or friendship or praise or beauty, all these things are tastes of God’s goodness and pointers to God as the final satisfaction.
So, the first thing I would say about the meaning of satisfaction in God is that it refers to the experience of having our desire — longing, yearning, wanting — filled. And filled means not too little and not too much. Satisfaction in God is the experience where God is enjoyed as the perfect fullness that corresponds to the God-shaped desires of our hearts.
Second, sometimes I use the phrase all-satisfying, like “the all-satisfying God.” And by this I mean that there are no desires that, in the end, God will not purify and satisfy with himself. Even sinful desires have some vestige of legitimacy. God will rescue that fragment of legitimacy and cleanse it of all that is destructive and fill it up in the age to come. When this sinful age is over and the kingdom has fully and manifestly come, there will be no unmet longings, no unfulfilled desires, no dissatisfaction.
Third, there are many mysteries about what our experience will be like when we are totally perfected in the age to come. But for now, I want to stress that to say, “Jesus is all-satisfying,” does not mean that when he becomes our satisfaction, our desiring ceases. That would be a mistake to say that our desiring ceases.
Jesus says in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Now, I don’t think he means that when we are born again and receive him by faith, we never desire him again. I don’t think he means that. I think he means that finding Jesus to be the bread and the water that our souls have always longed for means our quest is over. We no longer look for a better drink or a better food. We have found our all-satisfying treasure.
But in this sinful age — and I’m including myself now, as a sinner, as remaining corruption within me needs mortifying — in this sinful age, where the heart of faith is always embattled, our experience of the satisfaction of Christ will always be imperfect, fragmentary, ever-changing, renewable, greater and lesser.
“Our problem as sinners is not that our desires are too strong, but that they are directed toward the wrong things.”
Christ remains who he is, right? He doesn’t change. He remains who he is: all-satisfying. And our new birth with new spiritual taste buds that know he is the all-satisfying one remains attached to him. We don’t lose him and then find him, and lose him and then find him. He holds on to us. We do not run away after some new fountain or new bread. But for now, our experience is up and down. It won’t be like that in the age to come. But how will desire and satisfaction be related in the age to come? Frankly, I can’t answer that fully.
Fourth and finally (and this is really important), the reality of love for other people, and especially compassion for those who suffer, demands that our satisfaction in this age of pain and sorrow be a dissatisfied satisfaction. Almost forty years ago, when I wrote the chapter on love in the book Desiring God, I said this: “The weeping of compassion is the weeping of joy” — or you could say, “the weeping of satisfaction” — “impeded [hindered] in the extension of itself to another” (125).
Now, that sounds paradoxical, “weeping satisfaction” — an odd phrase. But what it means is that when God grants me to know him as satisfying to my soul’s deepest needs, and then I look on a suffering person, my God-given satisfaction at that moment has in it the impulse to expand and include the other person in it. I want them in it. I want them to share it. Satisfaction in God is not indifferent to those who don’t share it. If we could, we would fold them into our satisfaction in God. But if we are hindered from that, it is our very joy, our very satisfaction, impeded in the extension of itself, that grieves. It is a peculiarly Christian form of dissatisfied satisfaction.
Four Facets of Satisfaction
Ralph, that’s my effort to clarify what I mean by “satisfaction in God.”
- It is a filling up of God-given, God-shaped desires.
- It will, in the end, leave no desire unfilled for God’s children forever.
- For now, the satisfaction in God is embattled and variable, and desires must be rekindled.
- For now, even the best experience of satisfaction in God is a dissatisfied satisfaction, when we are surrounded by the pain of those who don’t yet have it and the sorrows of this fallen world.