A well known psychiatrist once led day long seminars for small groups of folks who were wanting to make sense of life. They attended his seminars because he was an existentialist, a therapist who searched for meaning in a meaningless world. He was known for his view that we all long for something that is not available in a world without God. And because there is no God, the best we can do is admit our plight and create a purpose to live for.
The psychiatrist began his seminars by asking each participant to approach every other participant and to briefly complete a sentence that begins with two words: “I want”. The participants came to the day ready to think hard and dig deep. By the end of the half hour required for each person to complete the sentence to every other person in the room, everyone was in tears. Good! That was the teacher’s intent. Only when humans face their lostness in a pointless existence will they adapt by coming up with a purpose whose achievement provides the satisfaction available in this meaningless existence.
Thoughtful atheists who have not lost touch with their humanness agree: “everyone wants something that is not available in a world without God!” But most folks remain firmly out of touch with that desire.
Two thoughts come to mind. One, I wonder what Jesus had in mind when He shouted to a crowd of worshippers, not of Him, but of tradition:
“Any one who is thirsty may come to me” (John 7: 37).
I think we can assume Jesus was calling out from us the deep thirst within us that we’re afraid to face, both a longing to be loved at our worst and a desire to live every day with transcendent meaning, a purpose that matters now and will bear fruit long after we’re gone. Better to face only that thirst whose quenching we can manage. But when pride yields to humility and we come to Jesus for all we need, facing our deepest thirst because an opportunity to realize the goodness of God. Put me in the room with that psychiatrist and I might be the only one crying tears of joy and hope. No one loves me with pure unconditional love except Jesus and nothing profoundly matters other than the larger story Jesus is telling, a story I can tell by how I relate, the story of divine love.
That’s one thought. Here’s another. How often do I, and lots of other Christians, make known a lesser thirst when we pray? How often do I, and countless others, gladly appreciate the blessings God provides that makes life comfortable, assuming we’re thirsty for nothing more? What I think happens all too often is this: during Sunday worship we thank God for life with Him that guarantees an eternity in the presence of Jesus in a world made new. Good! We’re saved by the blood.
But from Monday to Saturday we’re aware of a lesser desire that for six days feels as if it matters more. We want life to go well. We’re thirsty for the blessings of good family, good friends, good health, good money, and a generally comfortable good life. When these blessings are provided, we’re thankful. When some are taken away, we pray for their return, with no felt desire for what God thinks is a greater blessing. Of course our thirst for this-world blessings is legitimate. And of course it’s right and good to pray for them, and to thank God for whatever good things He provides for us to enjoy.
But this-world blessings are, in God’s estimate, “second things”. And when we’re out of touch with the “first thing” of revealing Jesus-like love, sacrificial love for God and others, by how we relate no matter whether blessings come or go, we tend to be prematurely content with an abundance of blessings or frustrated and bewildered when life gets tough. God’s ways make perfect sense to our small minds when His ways line up with our second thing desires. They make no sense when our loving God doesn’t seem to care about the blessings we long for to make our lives pleasant and comfortable.
Christians, we need to dig deeper, to discover the Spirit-implanted thirst to respond to God’s Cross-revealed love by loving Him and others the way Jesus loved us, even when every second thing was taken from Him. When we came to Jesus with that thirst, rivers of living water will flow from our hearts into others. And that brings both joy and meaning.