Hunger and Thirst

Nature_Mountains_Misty_hills_017805_The primary position of the Christian heart is to be hungry and thirsty. We cannot come to the Father except through Jesus Christ, and we cannot come to Jesus Christ except through our hunger. “How hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven!” (Luke 18:24) When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he needed to gain eternal life, Jesus told him to go and sell all he had and to come follow Him. Why did he need to sell all he had? Because he needed to hunger for Jesus, not be filled up with his material wealth! “The original sin is not primarily that man had ‘disobeyed’ God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him, and Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God.” (Schmemann, “For the Life of the World”) Man walked with God in the Garden, and yet he allowed Satan to tempt him to hunger for the forbidden fruit, the only fruit that was not a gift from God to man. Man ceased to hunger for God alone.

All of our desires are ultimately an echo of our eternal hunger for the Father. We can blunt this hunger with the things of this world. We can fill ourselves with the bread that perishes and, always, be hungry again. But Jesus came to be the bread that satisfies. He came for the sick, those who lack and have hunger, not for the healthy, who are in need of nothing. People who are full of the world have no need for the “Bread of Life.” All our life is a cultivation of this hunger for the Father. Heaven is presented as banquet. The Lord’s Supper is the center of Christian worship. In the Old Testament, the Passover was salvation through a meal. The Israelites ate their meal as God redeemed them from the hands of their slavers.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) C.S. Lewis writes about a desire for something throughout his life. Words could not contain this intense longing, but he decided to term it, “Joy.” The experience of longing for something “other” is cited as the means to his conversion. One memory from childhood in particular showed this longing. He looked out from his room through a window on a rainy afternoon–his brother was off in a boarding school and he had no playmates–and saw the distant hills and was struck with this hunger. “I lift my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” This desire, and even the desire for the desire, repeated throughout Lewis’ life and was better than any other experience he had ever had. When he began to discover the power of Theism to account for this desire and the narratives he found throughout history (of human desire, fulfillment, despair, etc.), he was able to come to God in his mind and his heart. We can only come to God in this hunger. Look at the example of Lucifer: instead of hungering for God, he allowed himself to hunger for glory, the desire to be “like God.” This illustrates the key to our hunger, it must result in complete surrender. When we are hungry, we will give anything to be fed. When we hunger for Christ, and recognize the hunger as our need for him, we will offer up our very lives. Esau sold his birthright for a cup of soup. This is the position of greatest worship and humility: to hunger, to thirst, to seek. The worship is in the receiving and the simultaneous surrender.

“‘Holy’ is the real name of God, of the God ‘not of scholars and philosophers,’ but of the living God of faith. The knowledge about God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of God leads to this one, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: holy. And in this word we express both that God is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, and that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him.” (Schmemann, “For the Life of the World”)

We are in the last couple weeks of the season of Lent. This season is in the Church calendar precisely to encourage us to remember our hunger as, ultimately, a desire for Christ. We acknowledge our depravity and His holiness. We empty ourselves in the discipline of fasting so that we can experience a deeper longing for Him. This is especially important in the west where we rarely experience hunger: “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” (Proverbs 27:7) We read in the Psalms, “As a deer pants for water, so my soul pants for You,” but we do not even know what it is to be thirsty! So we throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ and desire the desire for Him. I remember the strangest experience of hearing people who hungered for the Bible and talked about voraciously consuming Scripture in their devotions. I hungered for that hunger! God used even my hunger for hunger and, after years of this desire for a desire, I have been tearing through the Bible. My new found longing is sweeter than the Cinnabon Cinnamon Roll at the airport. As we come into Holy Week, let us renew our desire for Christ; our desire can never outstrip His provision. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus is the first and last of God’s word, man lives by feasting on Him.

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