The Well that Never Runs Dry - My Thoughts on Spiritual Hunger and Thirst
On May 19th, 1884, four men set sail from Southampton (somewhere in the UK) on a small yacht. They were professional sailors tasked with taking their vessel, the Mignonette, to its new owner in Australia. As men reared to the sea, they were under no illusions about the dangers of an ocean voyage. Yet none of the Mignonette’s crew could have anticipated the full horror that lay ahead. And they certainly could not have imagined that their journey, and the ordeal they would endure, would leave a lasting legal and cultural legacy – a legacy that extends right down to the present day.
The ship’s crew consisted of the captain, Tom Dudley, a 31-year-old proven yachtsman. Ned Brooks and mate Edwin Stephens were likewise seasoned, sailors. The final crew member, cabin boy Richard Parker, was 17 years old and making his first voyage on the open sea. After about a month at sea, on July 5th, the Mignonette was capsized by a giant wave. Its crew escaped in the yacht’s dinghy but found themselves desperate. Adrift in an open boat in the South Atlantic, hundreds of miles from land, they had little in the way of provisions. They had no water, and for food, only two 1lb tins of turnips that were grabbed during the Mignonette’s final moments.
As a disclaimer, I must say that the following paragraphs contain gruesome details of the events that ensued while the crew of the Mignonette was stranded at sea. By July 17th, all supplies onboard had been exhausted. The men had resorted to drinking their own urine in a futile attempt to quench their thirst, but even that was a diminishing resource as their bodies became severely dehydrated. After a further three days, Parker could not resist gulping down seawater to ease his thirst; but he became violently ill, collapsing to the bottom of the boat with diarrhea.
At this point, the men were destitute and began to discuss “the custom of the sea,” a process by which the crew members would cast lots to choose a sacrificial lamb. Stephens put off any decision, but Parker seemed weaker than ever at daybreak. Significant looks were exchanged between captain and mate. According to their subsequent depositions, however, no lots were drawn. Instead, Dudley told Stephens to hold Parker’s legs should he struggle before kneeling and thrusting his penknife into the boy’s jugular. A chronometer case was used to catch the oozing blood, which was quickly dispersed between the three remaining crew-mates to moisten their parched mouths. Parker’s body was then stripped and butchered. The heart and liver were eaten immediately; strips of flesh were cut from his limbs and set aside as future rations. What remained of the young man was heaved overboard. Four days later, after 24 days adrift in the Atlantic, a passing ship rescued the men and nursed them back to health.
The infamous case of Regina v Dudley and Stephens has gone down in the annals of criminal law for over a century, raising questions of morality and necessity and what, if anything, could justify murder? In fact, it was in my first semester of law school that I was first introduced to the story. If you’ve made it this far, you may wonder why I brought this story up exactly. While I do enjoy long theoretical debates on human ethics and would indeed have one with anyone interested, that is not the intent behind today’s discussion. Today, I want to talk about (spiritual) hunger.
Full disclosure, I actually tried to fast for ten days in preparation for writing this and gave up after about three and a half, so that should give you some insight into where I am at. But my fasting was, of course, voluntary, and thus, my hunger could have been alleviated at any time. My point is that I’ve never been so hungry that I would kill a man, drink his blood, and feast on his raw organs to satiate my desire. But of course, I and every other human being have experienced some level of hunger. At its core, hunger is an innate survival response ingrained in all human beings. It is undoubtedly the single most relatable thing in our shared human experience, which is perhaps why it is such a constant theme throughout the Bible.
This brings me to my first question, what are you (spiritually) hungry for? A question which lends itself necessarily to another question, what does it mean to be hungry? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary says hunger is “a feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat.” We read in Matthew 5:6 that “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” This is one of the beatitudes, the blessings listed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3–11). The juxtaposition in the language here is interesting. The word “blessed” means to be happy or filled with joy. Yet Christ says we will be happy when we “hunger and thirst” for righteousness. From the definition, remember that hunger (and thirst) is associated quite closely with discomfort and subsequently the desire to alleviate that discomfort.
The word Matthew uses here in Greek is peinaó. The root of which is “peno,” meaning to toil for daily substance. In this context, the word is being used metaphorically. Of course, one does not physically feel the pang of righteous hunger, but perhaps we should. Imagine a world where men and women would ardently crave righteousness to the point of physical discomfort. It would seem that was the standard Christ Himself set for us, even before He gave his life on the cross. I am reminded of the scene of Christ weeping over Jerusalem. We read in Luke 19:41-44: “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Christ is brought to tears at the tragedy of Jerusalem rejecting their messiah. But he is not weeping for himself and the suffering he is to endure. Instead, he is grieving over the lost opportunity of the people to have peace and to be with God. We see a similar statement made in Luke 13:34, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Here again, we have Christ acknowledging his willingness (therefore God’s willingness) to forgive those who repent of their wrongdoing and follow him. Because of his steadfast desire for righteousness, Christ brought upon himself intense suffering so that we could be saved by his blood.
Now, fast forward 2022 years, and we as human beings still have every opportunity, while we are still breathing, to change our lives for the better. To repent of our sins and live a life for Christ. To hunger and thirst for righteousness. We read in 2 Peter 3:9 that “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” So take a moment to ask yourself what you’re hungry for, and if it isn’t righteousness, perhaps it’s time to reassess your appetite.
Now for my second question, perhaps more directed at people who claim Christianity as their religion, are you sustained by Christ and by doing the Lord’s work? In John chapter 4, we see the notorious encounter of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down at the well and asked the woman to get him a drink. The woman was stunned as Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with one another and responded saying, “how can you ask me for a drink?” Then Jesus replied in verse 10, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” What is living water, you ask? Fortunately, Jesus explains that too; in verse 13, he says: “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
If you claim to be a disciple of Christ, you know (or should know) that the living water Christ refers to is himself and the word of God. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross provided us with a well of redemption that will never run dry, should we choose to drink from it. The word of God (the Holy Bible) is an always relevant (Hebrews 4:12), entirely perfect source of wisdom that guides us in our walk with God. Christ himself was God and was the word of God in the flesh. He came to bring us redemption, water for our soul, to bridge the gap that our sin had dug between God and us. So my question is this, where are you going to quench the hunger and thirst of your soul? Is the word of God and the example that Christ set for us the standard that you live by? Are you drinking from the well of eternal life, or is your hope placed in the fleeting desires of your earthly life?
Often I find myself being what you would call an “emotional eater.” I go to specific “comfort foods” when I am lonely, missing my family, depressed, stressed, and when I am feeling many other emotions. One such comfort food of mine is a dish my mother used to make in my childhood that she called “macaroni and tomato juice.” We would fry up tuna patties and make a big pot of macaroni, and then drench it in tomato juice. This may not sound particularly tasty, but I promise it’s delicious! Nonetheless, to me, it is a dish I can truly escape into as it takes me back to some of my fondest childhood memories.
Eating is such a sensational experience, one of the few things in life that tickles all of the senses at once. That’s why gourmet chefs are so focused on the appearance of their dishes; I mean, if we’re being honest, no one would be fired up to eat a meal that looks like it was picked out of a trash can. Taste, smell, sight, touch, and even sound (think the crunch of a potato chip) are all a part of the eating experience, making it a particularly easy way to distract ourselves from whatever emotional strife we may be experiencing. My brother in Christ, Luke Speckman, recently drew my attention to the fact that an emotional relationship with food is not spiritually (or physically) healthy and at times can even border on idolatry. Perhaps my unhealthy relationship with food (and alcohol, another devious comfort food of mine) is why I put on 25 pounds when I was in law school. But let me not get sidetracked; the point I am trying to make is that the word of God, and the gospel of Christ, is the ONLY place we should go when seeking comfort! Easier said than done, I know, but as Christ said, those who drink from the wells of this earth will be thirsty again. If you keep going back to the same worldly things to find hope and comfort, you will consistently find yourself with an empty stomach and a thirsty soul.
Now to the next encounter in John 4, when Christ’s disciples return to him with food. The disciples urged him to eat, but Christ responded: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” The depths of Christ's sentiment in this passage are extreme but give us a deeper understanding of Christ’s heart for the church. Christ was willing to sacrifice his physical needs to help further the work that needed to be done for God. Obviously, this was expressed at the most extreme level through his sacrifice on the cross, but even before that, Christ found his will and motivation, his sustenance, through God’s work.
Another extreme example of Christ denying his physical need for food was during his 40-day fast in the wilderness while being tempted by satan. Luke 4:1-4: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. [Quite the insight from Luke here]The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
Let’s first acknowledge that forty days is a very long time to go without food; as I mentioned before, I couldn’t even make it past four days myself. What incredible faith and dedication from Christ to show us that, indeed, man shall not live on bread alone! The devil in this passage tests Christ’s commitment and faith in God, attempting to get him to feed himself and provide his own satisfaction (sometimes referred to as the sin of hedonism). I have struggled with this very recently, in all honesty, and it cost me something I am not sure I will ever get back. In my pride, stubbornness, and refusal to surrender and find contentment in God, he rebuked me for my stiff-necked behavior. A word to the wise, listen to God and the people he has put in your life. Trust Him, and you will be rewarded, choose not to, and... well I'll just say things didn't go the way I wanted them to. But, I digress, I enjoy the Luke account because he also spells out the effect of this time of discipline; Luke is unashamed of the language of power, and having gone into the desert full of the Spirit, Christ returns for ministry after his fast ‘in the power of the Spirit’ (Luke 4.14).
The great thing about this passage is how it highlights how Christ has undone the sins of our ancestors. Jesus’ resistance to these temptations contrasts with the failure of God’s people in their desert wanderings, where the people complained about lack of bread (Ex 16.3) and then about the lack of variety in the provision of manna (Num 11.6). The Luke account also opens up the temptation to be seen as undoing not only the failure of Israel but the failure of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—who could not resist the allure of the delightful fruit to eat, who served the interests of the tempter, rather than remaining devoted to God, and who tested whether God’s word to them was true.
I only reference the Luke account here, but “the focus for all three gospels writers is that Jesus has undone the failures of both Israel and Adam; when we are incorporated into Jesus, we are incorporated into this victory, and we share in it by grace rather than by our own efforts. That does not mean that we can avoid the challenge of discipline and effort as we face temptations and challenges. But we face these things knowing that Jesus conquered them, in the power of the Spirit, and that the same Spirit is God’s gift to us, and it is his presence that brings victory and enables us to be ‘more than conquerors’ (Rom 8.37; compare Rev 2.7 and parallels).”
Hopefully, you find this post encouraging and leave with a better understanding of finding satisfaction through Christ. As I conclude, I will touch on one more food-related topic we come across in the Bible. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul tells us about the “fruits of the Spirit.” These fruits are: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” My last question for you is this: does your life resemble a well-fed spirit, a vigorous vine with fruits of the Spirit ripe for the picking? Or have you let your vine fall apart as it begs for water from the well of eternal life?
Perhaps these are just questions for you to ponder on your own as you contemplate what you’ve read today. I encourage anyone reading this to go to the Bible, feed your Spirits, and experience the truth for yourself as you bear fruit more delightful than anything that could ever tickle your taste buds. If you found this post helpful, subscribe to my blog and share it with your friends and family! And thanks for reading!
Until Next Time,