Longing for More
Experts mark the absence of desire as a sign of dis-ease. I know this to be true, personally, when it comes to the desire for food. There have been times in my life when I was so upset and so distressed that I could not eat. My normal desire for preparing and eating food disappeared as more pressing concerns occupied my heart and mind. During those times, I had all means to satisfy my hunger, but no desire to do anything about it.
Of course, there are other times where out of a matter of principle, for special focus or discipline, one might routinely abstain from food. Ironically, the desire to eat becomes more pressing and more overt when one willingly chooses to forego meals. And perhaps this heightened focus on food hints at the experience of those who deal with deprivation and near-starvation. Despite not having any means to satisfy hunger, the gnawing pangs for food grow louder and louder.
The experience of hunger and its absence serves to illustrate the complicated nature of human desire—desire that is often unwieldy and seemingly beyond one’s control. Coping with our innate desires is hard enough, but then there are societal values and pressures that blur the line between genuine need and want. Regardless, desire reminds us of the deep hunger or dissatisfaction that resides at the core of our being. These longings speak of a restless hunger for something more, even when we have abundance and are seemingly well-fed.
Arguments from desire are often invoked as evidence for the existence of God. The argument states that every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, and no creature can satisfy. Therefore, there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures, which can satisfy this desire. This “real object” is the being people call “God” or “a life with God forever.” Indeed, Saint Augustine, who was no stranger to unwieldy desire, confessed that “Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; Thou has made us for thyself and our heart is restless until it repose in Thee.”(1)
All the more compelling, then, is the assurance from the gospel writers that Jesus blesses those with deep desire. He blesses those who “hunger and thirst” for righteousness, and who long to be filled.(2) How remarkable that the unsatisfied, both with the state of the world around them and with their own selves, are the surprise recipients of blessing! And yet, as author J.R. Miller suggests, the blessing goes beyond desire itself:
“We would probably say, at first thought, that the satisfied are the happy, that those who have no desire unfulfilled are the blessed. We do not think of intense and painful hunger as a desirable state. Yet the Lord pronounces one of his beatitudes upon the unsatisfied, those who hunger and thirst. However, it is not in the condition of hunger, itself, that the blessedness lays, but in that of which hunger is the sign and that to which it leads. It is the token of life and health.”(3)
Like Augustine before him, Miller suggests that hunger and thirst is a sign that indeed points to something larger than desire, even as a state of longing itself demonstrates the pursuit of what it means to truly live and be well. The hunger and thirst for righteousness cannot be reduced to the desire for individual satiety. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness long for a cosmic reordering; it is the desire for all that is wrong to be set right and for a kind of justice that the world has never known. It is a desire voiced in the prayer on the lips of the hungry and thirsty: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is the stirring for justice and for a world set right. It compels a deeper imagination for what could be, and a will to enact what we imagine. Even as we often wander hungry and thirsty through a world with unmet needs and desires, we might see those yearnings as sign-markers prompting us to move beyond the trajectory of desire that begins and ends with our own self-fulfillment. Indeed, the desires we experience are reminders that all is not quite what it should be and that we hunger and thirst for something more, and someone more than ourselves.
(1) The Confessions of Saint Augustine, trans. by Edward B. Pusey, (New York: Collier Books, 1961), 11.
(2) Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness;” Luke 6:21, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.”
(3)The Master’s Blesseds (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1899), 83
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