My parents were not big fans of the Rolling Stones. When Keith Richards and Mick Jagger wrote the song that would become their first No. 1 hit in the United States, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” people were appalled at its graphic frankness. The car radio would be turned off by my dad. Yet the song actually echoes a surprising biblical theme: the places we often seek satisfaction in life fail to satisfy. The natural inclination is to look in two places — appetites and consumerism.
We work to satisfy our appetites for love, power, success, food and drink, sex and other pleasures. Even sleep. We think to ourselves, “If only I had more …” Consumerism feeds those appetites. A constant stream of enticements creates a feeling of urgency over things we really don’t need. So when we want to feel more satisfied, we think like consumers and focus on something to acquire: “If I just had that …” But like those before us, we discover that our best attempts to satisfy ourselves only leave us with a gnawing hunger.
Most Christians accept the fact that following our own appetites and the whims of consumerism will not bring us true satisfaction. Yet too often we approach God as though He is the answer to both our natural appetites and consumerist desires. Rather than asking God to transform our desires, we expect Him to either take those desires away or become the “product” we’re searching for. Jesus came to earth to give us more than satisfaction on our terms. Repentance and faith are much more than “transactional requirements” for a good life. Jesus is not a quick fix. His plan for re-creation of you and me is not a superficial afterthought.
In many ways, knowing Christ actually intensifies our longings as God shapes them into what He wants us to desire. He wants to satisfy our longings in far greater ways than we can imagine. The problem is that we want God to fill that vacuum on our terms. Now! We 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. The complete redemption of creation in the new heaven and new earth. Didn’t the Apostle Paul write, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)? Didn’t he also talk about our reality in this earthly life as the “now and the net yet” in Romans 8? We have the blessings of God’s peace and Jesus’ redemption now. Yet we wait for them to be fully visible. We wait for our true identity as God’s children to be fully revealed.
The Apostle John in Revelation 7:14-17 indicates the followers of Jesus arrive in heaven hungry and thirsty, finally satisfied as they are led to streams of living water to have their appetite completely satiated. Like a depleted marathon runner, we hunger and thirst along life’s way, even suffering during the race. We’re sustained by Christ, the Living Water and Bread of Life, but still in need of what God promises us when we are truly and eternally satisfied. Jesus does not merely want to satisfy our every longing, He wants to transform them.
Perhaps we need to let go of our pursuit of satisfaction and open ourselves to all the other things Jesus intends to do in and through us and for us. When we reorient our lives around Christ instead of expecting Him to orient himself around us, we’ll stop wondering what is worth living for. We’ll stop scratching every itch that comes along.
Christ will never disappoint us. We can embrace the unsatisfied life precisely because we know that our longings will one day be met. Desiring what God desires, we can be sure we will receive what Jesus has promised, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
So from God’s perspective, there is a hint of truth in that old Stones song. Complete satisfaction can never be met in this earthly life. But through Christ, whose perfect obedience and atoning death has opened heaven’s doors to believing sinners, satisfaction to excess is coming soon.
Until then, I’ll probably still turn the radio off if I know my kids are listening to that song. And they’ll probably respond like I did. “Hey dad, at least it’s not ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.”