By Stephen W. Hiemstra
With the fourth beatitude we move from tension with ourselves to tension with God. Beatitudes four, five, and six speak of God’s righteousness, mercy, and purity—which we can never fully attain. Our tension emanates from our finitude compared with an infinite God and our sinfulness compared with God’s holiness. Yet, we go on knowing that we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:28) and redeemed by His Son, Jesus Christ, because we hunger for God’s righteousness—a precious thing in a fallen world.
The fourth beatitude taps into deep physical and spiritual needs outlined in the words: “hunger and thirst for righteousness”. Hunger in the Greek, πεινάω, means both “to feel the pangs of lack of food, hunger, be hungry” and “desire something. strongly, hunger for something” (BDAG 5758) which bridges both physical and spiritual needs (Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21). Likewise, thirst, διψάω, in the Greek means both “to have a desire for liquid, be thirsty, suffer from thirst” and “to have a strong desire to attain some goal, thirst, i.e. long for something” (BDAG 2051). Righteousness, δικαιοσύνη, means the: “quality or state of juridical correctness with focus on redemptive action, righteousness” (BDAG 2004(2))
The Gospel of John expresses this symbolism best. Jesus says:
- “Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)
- On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-39 ESV)
The theme of need runs deep in John’s Gospel. Jesus first reveals himself to a couple of newlyweds in danger of being stigmatized for their poverty (not having enough wine; John 2:1-11). Our need is then contrasted with God’s super-abundant provision—of wine (John 2:1-11), bread (John 6:5-14), and fish (John 21:3-13).
Still, to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” speaks of extreme suffering: the most basic of human needs have gone unmet. The laments in the Book of Psalms provide the backstory of this beatitude . There we read: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1 ESV) And “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” (Ps. 89:46 ESV) . It is ironic that we are able to experience God best when we wander in the desert. As God tells Moses: “And you shall say to him [Pharaoh], The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” (Exod. 7:16 ESV) In other words, God was inviting the Israelite people to rediscover the God of their fathers through adversity—this idea must have blown Pharaoh’s mind! (Card 2005, 16)
The second beatitude affirms that the expectations of human needs will be met and exceeded. Jesus reassures the disciples later in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:31-33 ESV)
Amidst our suffering and need, Jesus gives the disciples permission to pray for the simplest needs in life: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11 ESV). Jesus’ God is one who cares deeply about his people. Even in judgment God cares for his people: the righteous are separated from the wicked by their attitude about and care for those in need (Matt 25:31-46).
 Christian songwriter Michael Card (2005, 19 ) writes at length about lament. A lament has two parts. The first part is cathartic–we pour out our hearts to God emptying ourselves of the anger, fear, hatred, and other vile emotions that we harbor. Once this catharsis is complete, then in part two are hearts are open to remember God grace and mercy to us in the past and we are able to praise God from the bottom of our hearts.
 Modern atheism feeds from this painful stream. Modern atheists question God’s provision and care: if God is all powerful and all good, then the existence of suffering and evil suggests that God is either not all powerful or not good or not both—he does not exist. In contrast, Jesus testifies that those who passionately seek righteousness will be satisfied. The Greek word here for satisfy, χορτάζω, means “to experience inward satisfaction in something be satisfied” (BDAG 7954). Far from deserting us, in life Jesus suffered alongside of us, on the cross paid our penalty for sin, and in resurrection became our guarantor. “While some continue to argue that Auschwitz disproves the existence of God, many more would argue that it demonstrates the depths to which humanity, unrestrained by any thought or fear of God, will sink.” (McGrath 2004, 184).
Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.
Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.
McGrath, Alister. 2004. The Twilight of Atheism. New York: DoubleDay.