Hunger for God
November 6, 2011
Beloved in the Lord, grace and peace to you, in the name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we learn how to steer clear of a less well known way to ruin our faith in Christ. There are at least two major ways of making a shipwreck of our faith (1 Timothy 1:19). The first is better known than the second that we address today.
Now the better known way, as you may recall, has to do with lethargy and apathy – or drifting away from so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:1-3), that is, not practicing what we preach (Galatians 5:25). On this first way of losing our faith, we gradually quit going to church on a regular basis; then dream of attending a Bedside Lutheran Church; and finally quit going altogether – along with no longer saying our prayers, tithing, repenting, fasting, witnessing, studying the Bible, consoling the miserable or defending the poor.
In this drift away we try to get by on a minimum of effort, and then finally all of our faith slips away and is gone. The solution to this problem is the thunder of Matthew 7:21 – “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven.” We also hear that same thunder in 1 Corinthians 9:24 – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” And again it sounds forth in James 4:8 – “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” And for a final kick there is Hebrews 12:4 – “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood”!
But the other way of falling away, which we focus on today, is the lesser known way, and one that is very different from the first, coming from the opposite direction, if you will. This second way has to do with anxiety and distress, discouragement and exhaustion – where we cry out with St. Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8), or, in quiet despair, simply say – “Who can stand before you, O Lord?” (Psalm 76:1; Malachi 3:2; John 6:60). Either way, in this second case, excuses and arrogance quickly give way to despondency and shame. On this score, Christianity is simply too much for us. We would like to follow God in Christ Jesus, and yet we can’t. We get started alright, but then we fall away from the path of righteousness, and we do so repeatedly. The Christian way seem so far beyond us. Garrison Keillor once said that it isn’t “for the timid” [The Wittenburg Door 82 (December 1984 - January 1985) p. 20] – and for many of us timid people we can’t help but agree, albeit reluctantly.
Balancing the Burden
But not so fast! Something is missing. While exertion certainly has its place in Christianity, focusing just on it neglects a wonderful complicating factor. In his blessed Beatitudes, the Lord Jesus tells us about it. He says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – and not just the righteous in word and deed – are also blessed (Matthew 5:6)! Note carefully that it’s hunger and thirst that are being blessed, which are much less than full-blown righteousness. But how can this be – doesn’t that slight righteousness?
The Lutheran author from
Hungering is Enough
So hungering is enough! Just think of it. If you can’t follow God, just wish you could. Don’t rebel and give up on him (Romans 3:11)! Be a want-a-be Christian if not a devout one. Hunger for what you wish you were. Just as a deer longs for [ערג] water (Psalm 42:1) – so long for God. And then you also will waylay your fear over losing your faith in God through Christ. Halleluiah!
So ערג [arag] for God – long for him; pant after him; hunger for him, for by so doing you will keep your faith alive, even though it be only the size of a little mustard seed (Matthew 17:20)! And Martin Luther (1483-1546), who championed faith in Christ, in 1528 reinforces this longing or ערג as being at the heart of faith:
For it happens, indeed it is so in the matter of faith, that often he who claims to believe does not at all believe; and on the other hand, he who doesn’t think he believes, but is in despair, has the greatest faith (Luther’s Works 40:241)!
Startling as that may sound, the fact of the matter is that faith is a hungering after God and not an abundance of trust in him – but just a hoping (Hebrews 11:1)! We might even call this hunger a “joyful insanity” [Knut Hamsun, Hunger (1890), trans. Robert Bly (1967) p. 144]! We might even with Kierkegaard say that before God we can’t ever say, “I am – a Christian” (KW 22:136)!
Becoming – for Now
Ten years earlier, Luther states how all of this could possibly be:
The whole life of… faithful people… is nothing else but prayer, seeking and begging by the sighing of the heart,… always… striving to be made righteous,… never possessing… righteousness, but always awaiting it as [what] still dwells beyond them, and always as people who still live in their sins (LW 25:251-252).
So this leniency has to do with the fact that we are dreadful sinners – unable to follow through (Matthew 26:41; Romans 7:18. 8:3).
Luther elaborates upon his striking preference for becoming righteous over being righteous in three other passages:
• The life of the saint is more a… desiring than a having; more a becoming pious than a being pious…. Hence imploring, desiring, searching is the true essence of the inner man (LW 14:196).
• This life… is not godliness but the process of becoming godly,… not being but becoming, not rest but exercise…. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed (LW 32:24).
• This entire life is a time of willing to be righteous, but never achieving it, for this only happens in the future life (LW 25:268).
But with all of the pressure God puts on us, it’s hard to imagine that he would settle for these yearnings of ours. Luther disagrees:
This life is… not purity, but purification; we have not yet arrived,… but we are all on the road…. God is satisfied to find us busy at work and full of determination (Sermons of Martin Luther, ed. J. N. Lenker, 2:212).
Christ Shines Brightly
So because we are not pure, we must look for purity elsewhere. And because we aren’t the light, we must look for it elsewhere. The good news is that Christ is our light (John 8:12; Revelation 21:23). For in his death divine grace and eternal life are given us:
Through [Christ]… you are granted grace and life, but it cost him much… since he paid for it most dearly with his own blood and life. For it was not possible to overcome God’s wrath, judgment… and all evil things, and indeed to gain all benefits, unless God’s righteousness received satisfaction, sin was given its due, and death was overcome (LW 52:280).
Because Christ brings all of this about, he is our light. Therefore we don’t sing the famous song, “This Little Light of Mine” (1920) by Harry Dixon Loes. For Christ’s sacrifice for us is what shines in the darkness and lifts our burden (Psalm 81:6; Matthew 11:30). It’s the only word that can sustain the weary (Isaiah 50:4)!
So receive him today. He is here for the weary in his Supper. By faith he even carries us up to the Altar, like a stretcher, as Luther says (LW 35:66), to eat and drink and have abundant life, freed from the fear of punishment for our sins (John 6:56; 10:10).
But that doesn’t mean not fearing him who gives us salvation! For we get it from no one else (Acts 4:12). That’s why when we fear him, we have no wants (Psalm 34:9), for our biggest concern has been settled – which, in the end, is why we hunger for God. Amen.
(printed as preached but with some changes)