Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” These words are pretty profound and, even though Einstein wasn’t much a theologian, I think that this quote is packed with significance when it comes to looking at God.
One of the hallmark tenets of popular evangelical Christianity in America has been the crusade to “find your fulfillment in Christ”. Other related saying come to mind, such as John Piper’s iconic phrase that sums up his whole theology: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” This even has roots as far as Augustine, with his famous line, “My soul is restless until it rests in you.” There’s all kinds of talk about fulfillment, satisfaction, wholeness, completeness, etc. that is supposed to come when we trust in Jesus, and nothing else.
However, what if by telling people to find their fulfillment in Christ, we’ve told a fish to climb a tree?
I’ll put it a different way. Perhaps “finding fulfillment in Jesus” is a completely wrong goal to set. And by telling people that this is what they need to aspire to, we are setting them up for failure and disappointment, like judging a fish by how it climbs a tree. They’ll spend their whole life wondering if they are a “good” Christian.
“But, aren’t we supposed to be satisfied by Jesus alone?”
First of all, what does it even mean to be satisfied? Does it mean contentment? Does it mean that we do not long for anything anymore? The way that it is often presented is that we have a God shaped hole in our heart. However, we live in constant longing, searching for vain things to fill up this hole while, in reality, it is only when we allow God to fill this hole that our longing can cease. But here’s the thing: a life that is free from longing, groaning, and nonfulfillment is not a Christian life.
“Isn’t that kind of life the life of a nonbeliever though?”
Well, yes. But there’s a huge difference. The reality is that life is going to be full of longing and incompleteness no matter whether you’re a Christian or not. The question, then, is not if you will be dissatisfied, but rather what that dissatisfaction will look like.
The world lives in dissatisfaction because they are looking for something that they haven’t found yet. Those in Christ live in dissatisfaction because they have only tasted in part what is yet to be realized in full.
Think about some of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” It isn’t, “Blessed are those who are satisfied and fulfilled…” but rather, “Blessed are those who haven’t been satisfied yet… your day is coming.”
I also think of Paul’s words in Romans 8, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” The Christian life isn’t about getting our groanings to stop. That’s what popular preaching tells us today though. No, for Paul, Christians live in the tension of having glimpsed the glory that is to come in the face of Jesus Christ, but living in a sense of nonfulfillment until that day comes.
Thus, the paradox: we find our “satisfaction” in Christ by not being satisfied with the way things currently are.
Many of us are like the prodigal son. We know what our inheritance is, yet we are too stubborn to wait our time for it. So we take it before our time and end up ruining it altogether. This is the same temptation that Adam and Eve faced, being offered something good, something that they were destined for: being like God. Yet, they took it before their time and the results were disastrous.
How many of us our like Adam, Eve, and the prodigal son, knowing that fulfillment, wholeness, and satisfaction are coming to us, but too prideful to wait for it and so we demand it now?
Doing so leads to a Christianity with false expectations and, as a result, countless scarred believers who cannot reconcile the brokenness they feel with the call to be “fulfilled” in Jesus.
But what a blessing to be broken, so that we can attend to the brokenness in the world. What a blessing to be unfulfilled, so that we hold out hope for a future that is more glorious than we can comprehend. And what a blessing to be unsatisfied, so that we never settle for the state of the world as it is, but always long to make it into what it was meant to be—what it will be on the Day when we will be truly satisfied, whole, complete, and fulfilled.
So, you can find your fulfillment in Christ. But know that it is precisely a fulfillment that leaves you unfulfilled. Unless we understand that, we’ll have countless fishes floundering at the bottom of a tree that never should have been planted.