The Law of Diminishing Appreciation

  • Steve Hatter
Man reading his Bible

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to speak at our AGC Men’s Retreat. My good friend Marc Luiken and I shared the main speaking roles for the weekend and our assigned topic to address was “The Satisfied Soul.”  In the weeks leading up to the event, Marc and I worked to coordinate a coherent two-part message, with me addressing the problem—that is, what causes 21st-century men (even Christian men) to lack satisfaction in their daily lives—while Marc was to offer the biblical solution to the problem. The Bible speaks clearly and comprehensively about both the dearth-of-satisfaction problem and its solution. For my blog assignment this week, I want to offer up a few of my Scripture-based thoughts expressed at the conference.

King Solomon gave me the perfect launching platform to talk about the conundrum of finding authentic and lasting satisfaction for those who are created in the image of God—which is every human ever born—but who, at the same time, must live under the curse over all creation earned by Adam in the Garden of Eden. How are we to make sense of our soaring potential as image bearers of God, while also experiencing daily, and seemingly senseless, tragedy in a fallen world?

In considering the predicament, Solomon penned Ecclesiastes. Under the “pen name” Qoheleth, the ancient king wrote of his lifelong quest for understanding a person’s place in creation and whether there is lasting meaning to be found in terrestrial pursuits such as work, pleasure, wealth, and human wisdom. All of Qoheleth’s lateral searching led only to tragic dead ends, which he autobiographically chronicled as culminating in “vanity” (1:2). Moreover, the specter of inescapable physical death led Qoheleth to muse that all temporal life was pointless absent a single clarifying realization. To reach this clarifying realization, Solomon brilliantly employs the literary tools of the biblical wisdom genre wherein he begins Ecclesiastes with a clear problem statement in Chapter One, he then offers an autobiographical treatise on the dangers of seeking meaning in worldly things in chapters two through twelve, and he convincingly closes the book with the single solution to the problem in its final verses:

Problem (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3):

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!

All is vanity.

What does man gain by all the toil

at which he toils under the sun?”


Proof (Ecclesiastes 2-12):

Contains elegant wisdom saying more or less, “do not do what I did.”

Solution (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14):

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.

Solomon’s single clarifying realization was simply this: the primary focus of a person’s existence must be a right relationship with God, and “fear” of God must be the starting point of pursuing that right relationship. Proper fear of God begets attitudes and behavioral choices that enable a person to enjoy a healthy and growing vertical relationship with Deity, which in turn yields lasting purpose, meaning, and even joy amid misery (3:19; 12:8, 13–14).

As 21st Century Christians, we of course know so much more about God and His overarching redemption plan for humanity because we know of Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel. Yet, as I challenged the men, do we—even as believers—still chase after the things of this world in vain hopes of finding meaning in the ultimately meaningless?

I know that I have in the past and sometimes still do and that when I offered up my “Steve’s Law of Diminishing Satisfaction” as an example, there were many nodding heads in the room. What is Steve’s Law of Diminishing Satisfaction? Here is how I offered it at the conference:

Diminishing Appreciation is the experience of chasing worldly things, occasionally catching them, but even so, still feeling empty and envious. The emptiness then spurs a desire for more and better. But the “more and better” chase only leads to more emptiness. Satisfaction is utterly elusive. The worldly desire becomes the enslaving master. Hope gives way to despair.

Under this definition, I gave some examples of 21st-century diminishing appreciation in action and got more nodding heads: chasing after the elusive cool girlfriend, the starting quarterback job, the prestigious degree program, the high military rank, the house on the hillside, the ever more challenging (and expensive) hunt, the car, the plane, the bank account, the 401 K, etc., etc.

Finally, I offered what I think is always the first evidence of choosing the world over God which is “If only I, fill-in-the-blank” type of thinking.

If you are guilty of “If-only-I” thinking today, remember Qoheleth’s wisdom, but also consider this perfectly consistent and reinforcing warning penned by the Apostle Paul found in the New Testament book of Colossians:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

True and lasting satisfaction is only found in a right relationship with God. The right relationship with God is only found in saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ alone. As the Christmas season approaches with all the advertising that will pull you toward the things of this world, run back to God’s Word!