Hunger and Thirst for God

Life_in_Tension_web“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, Where is your God?” (Ps. 42:1-3 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The great irony of faith is that we approach God out of our poverty, not riches. Babylon and Egypt were among the riches of nations in the Ancient Near East because of the benefits of irrigation, while Palestine was mostly poor and best known for its deserts. Yet, it is in the wilderness that we get to know God (Card 2005, 16).

What do the law and the prophets say about satisfying the hunger and thirst for righteousness?

The Law. Hunger and thirst were unknown in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis we read:

“And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.” (Gen. 2:8-10 ESV)

In the Garden of Eden was an abundance of food and water. Righteousness consisted of living in direct communion with God. Hunger and thirst arose when God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden on account of sin (Gen 3:23). Consequently, hungering and thirsting for righteousness can be seen as mourning over the sin that separates us from God.

We see this idea prominently displayed in the blessings associated with the Mosaic covenant. Seeking a renewed relationship with God is caste in terms of obeying the laws of the covenant. Moses writes:

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full.” (Deut. 11:13-15 ESV)

If one obeys the law, God will send rain and you gather a full harvest and have plenty to eat—be satisfied. Likewise, if one reluctantly obeys the law or disobeys the law out of disrespect for God, then hunger and thirst follow:

“Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.” (Deut. 28:47-48 ESV) [1].

Consequently, it is fair to conclude that under the law one reaps what one sows in respect to one’s relationship with God! In fact, hungering and thirsting for mere physical things, not God, is subject to judgment (Exod 17:3) [2].

The Prophets. In the law, one reaps what one sows. In the prophets, the wise are clever and the foolish are ignorant of the ways of the world. For example, we read in Proverbs:

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Prov. 25:21-22 ESV)

Because God rules over both heaven and earth, understanding the ways of the world is an aspect of wisdom that God grants to the faithful. In this case, the wise feed their enemies and offer them drink because they will feel an obligation—will they perhaps become friends?

In the prophets, we also see hunger and thirst used in a more metaphorical way. For example, Jeremiah prophesies a new, more enlightened form of leadership:

“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15 ESV)

The good shepherd is, of course, Jesus himself (John 10:11-16) but here we see hunger relieved through “knowledge and understanding” rather than through physical consumption. This metaphorical view of hunger and thirst clearly shows the influence of the creation accounts and pictures heaven as a return to Eden. In Isaiah, for example, we read:

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isa. 55:1-2 ESV)

Eden is, of course, a place where water and food are abundant. And when we hunger and thirst for God’s fellowship, heaven is not far off (Rev. 22:17).

[1] This theme is repeated over and over (e.g. Deut. 8:11-16).

[2] This is, in fact, the basis for the curse for not accepting the new covenant in Christ.  Paul writes:  “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom. 1:28 ESV)  To be given over to one’s passions is a curse and it leads to self-destruction because both the mind and the heart are corrupted by sin.

REFERENCES

Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

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