A Blessed Hunger

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled. Matt. 5:6

This text begs for an answer to the following questions: What is hunger? What is righteousness? What does it mean to hunger and thirst after righteousness? How do I experience the satisfaction of being “filled”? What constitutes the blessedness in this hungering and thirsting?

First then, What is hunger? Most of us have never experienced real physical hunger; but think of people who have eaten the flesh of dead comrades to stay alive. Think of women who have eaten their own children. Hunger is painful. Hunger is craving for something we desperately need in order to live.

There are various kinds of hunger. There is a hunger for knowledge, some deprive themselves of physical comfort and even necessities to gain knowledge. There is hunger for artistic or aesthetic expression. The artist Van Gogh voluntarily suffered many physical deprivations in order to express himself in his paintings. There is also a hunger for fellowship with friends ana family. But the most basic, fundamental hunger of all is the hunger for righteousness.

What is righteousness? Righteousness is to be right with God; to be approved and accepted by God. This is precisely what we do not have. This is the supreme deprivation. We lack the righteousness that brings us into favor with God and without it we cannot live. It is the supreme need of our life.

That we lack this righteousness is clearly taught in the context of this verse. The first verse of the beatitudes clearly implies that we are spiritually bankrupt and destitute; we are vagabonds and prodigals deprived of a spiritual home and alienated from God.

But you say, “We do have righteousness. We are believers and have the righteousness of Jesus by faith. We are no longer deprived; so we need no longer hunger and thirst.” But I do hunger and thirst still! How must we explain this continuing painful hunger?

There are, I believe, two closely related aspects to this hunger. The one is that although we have the righteousness of Jesus, we must still be continually appropriating it. In our faith life God has so ordained that we should live daily out of the appropriation of Jesus’ righteousness just as we daily appropriate food and drink to satisfy physical hunger and thirst. We must be constantly laying claim to the righteousness of Jesus. We who are God‘s children know this by experience. Our daily sins overwhelm us, our failures distress us. We sense our incompleteness and inadequacies. Doubts and fears trouble us. Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed by our feelings of guilt that we need to seek the counsel of friends or pastors. This counsel can be very helpful, but there is one thing we should do first—lay claim to the perfection of Christ for us—His perfect obedience and His atoning death for us. We must find our peace and adequacy in Him and not in ourselves. His righteousness is the foundation from which we can work out our anxieties and problems. On it we can cope with life‘s difficulties from a position of strength and hope.

On Christ the solid rock, I stand All other ground is sinking sand.

Another related aspect of this hunger, for right standing with God, is our hunger for personal righteousness. That too is a painful hunger. It is the desire to be holy—to have a moral, ethical character that is pleasing to God. We also experience this in a real way as Christians. In the morning we face the day with fresh resolves to put on the whole armour of God, and to put up a valiant fight against selfish. ness, pride, indolence, envy, and all the temptations of the flesh. But every evening we must confess with tears how little ground we have gained, and sometimes how we have even retreated and lost ground to the enemy.

We have considered up to this point the painful hunger. But the Lord promises that such hunger shall be satisfied. The next question then is, “How do we experience this satisfaction?” To have any particular need satisfied there must be the adequate and proper provision for that need. Let us imagine a man sitting in a stalled car in the middle of a desert. He has some protection from the hot sun and wind, some food, and above all, $500.00 in his wallet. But—he has no water. Even if he had a thousand dollars in his wallet, and the car futl of food, without water, he would die of thirst.

We know that our great need is for the righteousness of Jesus. Only that righteousness satisfies. It is good to remind ourselves that because we are often like the Israelites of Jeremiah‘s day who forsook the fountain of living waters and hewed themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that could hold no water.

I suspect that often when we feel anxious and become aware of our inadequacy and failure, we start looking within ourselves to find some basis for satifaction. We unconsciously try to foster a good feeling within ourselves by searching for some good, some merit, something we are or do that will make us acceptable to God, to others, and to ourselves. We will not find it there! That does not mean that we should not examine our hearts and probe into our motives and feelings. The Psalmist himself says, “Search me O God and try my heart and see if there be a wicked way in me . . . .” But if we are trying to find true and lasting satisfaction in ourselves because of what we are and have done, we will not find it. Only the perfect righteousness of Jesus truly satisfies.

I look not back, God knows the fruitless efforts The wasted hours, the sinning, the regrets I look not inward, that would make me wretched For I have nought on which to stay my trust. But I look up into the face of Jesus There my heart can rest, my fears are stilled And there is joy and love and light for darkness And perfect peace and every hope fulfilled.

How do we experience this satisfaction? The first blessed satisfaction we experience every time we take hold of the righteousness of Jesus and appropriate it by faith, is peace with God. God has nothing against us. He is our Father. We are no longer restless wanderers, homeless vagabonds, prodigals out of fellowship with the Father. We are children in our Fathers home. We are reconciled to God.

This peace leads to peace with ourselves. The law cannot condemn us; conscience may no longer accuse us. We may lay all our doubts and anxieties to rest. We don‘t have to go to the ends of the earth as some young people literally do to find out who we are. We know who we are—the children of God. What a satisfaction that is! Now we can face the challenge of living as Sons of God. The devil and all his hordes cannot lay anything to the charge of God‘s elect. It is Christ Jesus who di ed and is risen again for our justification. We have the love of God and all the alien powers of the universe cannot separate us from that love. What a genuine satisfaction this is! There are many promises in the Bible that assure us of the immeasurable store-house of provisions God has for His children.

Though this righteousness of Jesus is the basic satisfaction, there is another added to it. It is the satisfaction of working out this righteousness in a life of consecration and obedience. When we have immersed ourselves in the river of God’s grace, we cannot be satisfied until we have extended ourselves as a gracious people to a suffering, needy world. When we have experienced the boundless love and forgiveness of God, we cannot experience true gratification until we have shown a loving and forgiving spirit to others.

Our final question is: What is the blessedness in all this? It does not mean that now all our troubles are over, and we are on a roller-coaster ride to heaven. We note that the gateway to righteousness is exceedingly “strait.” It is so narrow that we can only get through by leaving ourselves behind. Once we are on the road to heaven, we nnd it narrow to the end. And very steep! The Bible nowhere promises an easy road to glory.

The blessedness in this painful hungering and thirsting is in the knowledge that we are alive and healthy. It is well with our souls! Think of a person who is never hungry or thirsty. He is either very, very sick, or dead! Hunger pangs and growing pains go together.

When peace like a river attendeth my way, Tho’ sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say: It is well, it is well with my soul.

That is the blessedness of this painful hunger. It is a sign of spiritual vigor, and it leads to genuine satisfaction.

We must also experience this satisfaction. It is part of the blessedness. If we do not have peace, and do not know the love of God, then there is something wrong, too. Then we should ask ourselves these questions: Am I drinking of the fountain of living water or am I trying to find fulfillment in the brackish waters of my own broken cisterns? Am I willing to deny myself and walk the narrow road striving for a personal righteousness that is pleasing to God?

Shall this hunger go on forever and ever? Will we always be going through the cycle—hungering, thirsting, finding satisfaction, and yet always again hungering and thirsting? The Book of Revelation gives us the answer to that question. In Revelation 7:16, 17 we read, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore . . . for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their Shepherd, and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

We shall at last arrive at that moral and ethical perfection that delights God. We will be in perfect harmony with God and have perfect fulfillment of every hunger.

Miss Katie Gunnink, who plans to retire from teaching at the Reformed Bible College in 1978, gave this address lit its opening convocation in the fall of 1977.