Have you ever seen one of those cartoons involving a desert mirage? The main character goes wandering through the desert, dying of thirst. Suddenly he sees what appears to be an oasis, filled with beautiful blue water, a palm tree, and luscious coconuts. He is saved! He dives into the water, swims a few laps and takes a big, delicious mouthful of the life-giving liquid.
But then something terrible happens. The mirage fades. What he thought was an oasis is just another patch of the hot, endless desert sand. He was mad from sun exposure, and wanted water so much that his mind convinced him it was there. In disgust, he spits out a huge mouthful of sand and continues on his way, disappointed.
We laugh at such a scenario, but for a traveler in the desert, being able to get water quickly becomes a matter of life and death. I recently saw an old episode of the Twilight Zone in which two men trek through the desert, their packs full of stolen gold, trying to make it to the nearest town. One of them loses his canteen, and the other graciously offers him water — at the price of one drink for one bar of gold. Soon, the man is more than willing to pay the price.
In America, where we regularly bathe ourselves and flush our toilets with enough clean water to drink for days, we forget how precious drinking water has always been and is throughout the world. It is for good reason that God often appealed to the Israelites through images of water. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55:1).
The image of water is powerful because it touches on one of our deepest biological needs. It also reflects spiritual truth: just as our bodies need water, so our souls need God. C.S. Lewis once said that “God designed the human machine to run on Himself … God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” In the words of St. Augustine, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in Thee.”
The whole of human history has been one giant scramble for happiness, and sadly, most of it has consisted of an effort to find happiness apart from God. Solomon, said to be the richest man in history, wrote his book of Ecclesiastes as a confession that despite having unspeakable riches, accomplishments, learning, sexual gratification (he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines!), all in much greater excess than most of us can even dream of, he had found it all to be “meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
Apparently, in the thousands of years since he wrote those words, we have learned very little. We do all kinds of irrational and destructive things, searching for satisfaction. As the old saying goes, we spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t want to impress people we don’t like. In America there is a national obsession with personal net worth. All kinds of sexual practices which damage the body and spread disease are defended by those who refuse to give them up. The covers of women’s and teens’ magazines scream with appeals to sexual desire and the dream of a perfect relationship. Thousands of people follow the lives of celebrities, dying to live vicariously though their glamorous, and presumably happy, lives, while the celebrities themselves divorce and die and take drugs to dull their own pain. The list goes on and on.
The problem is that no pleasure seems to last or satisfy. Songwriter Rich Mullins once noted, “Everybody I know says they just need one thing/ What they really mean is they need just one thing more.” We dive into a new relationship, new school, new city, new activity, new identity, and find temporary happiness. But inevitably the novelty wears off, and we come up spitting sand.
Where can we find happiness that lasts? Where can we find hope that will carry us through hard times, and indeed transform our view of them so that they are not hard, but glorious? Where can we find water to satisfy our souls?
“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him'” John 7:37-38. Jesus understood that the deepest need of mankind was not for happiness itself, but for God; knowing God would bring happiness, but that was not the point. The person who looks for water finds only sand, but the person who seeks the Eternal Well finds water that satisfies.
Peter exhorted his readers to “crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” 1 Peter 2:2-3. Psalm 63 says of praising God, “My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods.” The book of Revelation describes the union of Christ and His church as a wedding banquet. By contrast, Proverbs 26:11 describes a person who refuses to give up his vain searching elsewhere: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”
The good news is that satisfaction is to be found in God. The bad news (it only seems bad in the beginning) is that we must leave our folly behind if we seek Him. We can’t feast with our mouths full of filth. The Bible instructs believers to die to sin and live in Christ precisely because going to God at all is a kind of death. We must abandon ourselves and our feeble efforts to accept His life and work. ” ‘For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it’” Luke 9:24.
Any pleasure worth having is gained by pain and sacrifice; is it any wonder that ultimate satisfaction requires nothing less than death?
Copyright 2000 Nathan Long. All rights reserved.