How an unsatisfying life leads to spiritual freedom

August 29, 2018

I’ve been writing a lot about the topic of my newest book, Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World. I’ve been talking about various reasons that embracing our unsatisfied condition is the best way to live. But I haven’t really addressed this question:

How does being unsatisfied produce spiritual freedom?

After all, many of us orient our lives around seeking freedom through satisfaction. We figure if we could only put all our emotional and spiritual longings to rest, we would find the freedom that comes with total peace.

The problem is, our emotional and spiritual longings will not be completely met until all our needs are met. And our needs won’t be met until we live in the world we were made for (Rev. 21:1-4). So while we live in the here and now, the quest for total satisfaction is a futile chase. We can find, and know, the Source of true satisfaction, but we will continue to live in longing as long as we still live in need of his final redemption—of us, our fellow human beings, and our injured and bleeding world.

Acknowledging and accepting truth brings freedom (John 8:32). Because our best efforts can’t produce total satisfaction in this fallen world, freedom comes with giving up the chase and embracing our unsatisfied condition. It comes from renouncing our demand that God take away our longings and accepting his desire that we remain aware of those longings and the ways they point us toward him. It comes from laying down the quest that has occupied so much of our time, energy, and focus, letting it go, and learning to live in anticipation of God’s rescue.

Here are some of the faces of freedom that can come from embracing our unsatisfied lives:

Freedom from pretending: When we embrace our lack of satisfaction, we can stop acting as if we’re spiritually satisfied when we’re not. No more going to church with an ear-to-ear grin when our hearts are broken; no more trying to convince ourselves we have all that our souls want and need. It’s a wonderful and freeing thing to live with honesty and integrity.

Freedom from isolation: You and I aren’t the only ones who haven’t figured out the secret formula for total fulfillment and peace. We all live unsatisfied for now; we’re in this together. And when we accept and acknowledge our lack of satisfaction, it can motivate us to become more connected with and encouraged by the people around us, especially the church.

Freedom from futility: We can stop pursuing something we won’t find. We can say goodbye to the kind of discouragement that comes from trying one answer after another, only to find ourselves back where we started. Letting go of our own quest for satisfaction through anything other than our God and his future promises can liberate us into a new way of life.

Freedom from disappointment with God: When God doesn’t meet our expectations, it’s easy to believe he has let us down or to assume our expectations were too high. But the truth is, most of us expect far less of God than he actually has in mind for us. Asking him to satisfy our deepest longings through our current circumstances is like asking a doctor to treat cancer with pain killers. There’s great freedom when we stop expecting God to satisfy us completely here and now and realize he has something much better in mind and in motion (1 Cor. 2:9).

Freedom from the pressure of performance: Many of us are trapped by the belief that true satisfaction will come if only we can be good enough, get close enough to God, or find the right spiritual practices. The truth is, as long as there is distance between us and God, we will feel that distance. As long as we are living in a world cursed by rebellion against God, we will suffer the effects of corruption. When we embrace unsatisfaction, we can let go of trying to do everything we can invent to make this life totally satisfying; we can stop pursuing more and better interaction with God in the belief that we’re missing something. And instead, we can come to God through Christ, rest in him, and find a new kind of freedom.

Freedom from spiritual consumerism: We are consumers by nature and by culture. We want what we believe will make us happy, comfortable, and gratified. In many ways, our lives are built around acquiring what we are convinced will bring us what we crave. When we believe God offers complete and instant satisfaction to those who come to him, it only makes sense that we will approach God as consumers. Consumers come to God for what we believe he will do for us, rather than because he is God. Accepting our unsatisfied condition, and realizing God actually wants us to live with longing and anticipation, will free us to come to him on his terms (Matt. 5:6).

Freedom to live for something else: Ironically, living in pursuit of our complete satisfaction can be one of the least satisfying ways to live. Eventually we’ll discover that we can never have, feel, or enjoy enough of what we think will satisfy us. Putting ourselves at the center of our lives will always produce disappointment and emptiness. On the other hand, when we seek our satisfaction in God, while recognizing that we are limited in our ability to know and enjoy him now, we can orient our lives around the only one who will never disappoint us. Life can be a purposeful adventure when we lift our eyes from our own deficits and join God in his plans and purposes (Psa. 90:14). And he is more than enough.

So embrace your unsatisfied condition, and make your life about something and Someone else. You will find anticipation and yearning can make a lot of space for hope and meaning. Accept the freedom God offers you, and live in hope of the ultimate satisfaction his work will produce in you and his coming Kingdom will provide.

Amy Simpson

Amy Simpson is the award-winning author of Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World, Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry and Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (both InterVarsity Press). She’s also an editor for Moody Publishing, a leadership coach, and a … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24