There’s something really useful about reading the Psalms. I think it was Bonhoeffer who said that they express for us indirectly those deeper feelings which there would be a sense of indelicacy in expressing directly.
It’s a little like Joseph asking after his father, and blessing his brothers, as it were, under the personality of another. You’re finding something out at one remove which is very important to you. That is to say, there are some feelings of which it is difficult to speak openly. Such are most of our feelings to God. If we do speak of them, they lose their fragrance and become a little coarse. There’s even a sense of indelicacy and exposure.
The Psalms help here.
Look at Psalm 63. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”
The human heart of man is the same in all ages.This Psalm contains the expression of a terrible sense of loss, expressed as thirst. You see it in Psalm 42 “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” and, more terribly too in Psalm 22 “My God. my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It’s the solitary grief of someone who has lost their sense of God.
I believe that there’s something in the human heart best described as the desire for eternity. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reads “You have set eternity in the heart of man.” We are so constructed that nothing which has limits satisfies. Hence, I guess, the profound pleasure I enjoy in wide open spaces, prairies, deserts, mountains, night skies, oceans…
Hence, too, our dissatisfaction with all the littleness of life. Wee’re always pushing, achieving, striving for better and better. There’s no deed done by us, but we feel we have it in us to do a better. And we never rest, never arrive at a Completion Point.
Our human destiny is to be forever unsatisfied.
Why? Because there’s more. There’s an infinite goodness, there’s a beauty beyond what “Eye has seen or heart imagined”, there’s a justice without any kickbacks, and there’s a righteousness without any speck of hypocrisy.
Because I am not a success story. Neither are you. Neither shall we ever be so. The “American Dream” of rags to riches, log cabin to Waldorf Astoria, success and achievement …the dream only works with those that are asleep.
Left to ourselves it is folly to think that we are or could be -or should be- success stories. But “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”
It’s a metaphor for life without God. A dry and parched land without water.
The only possible oasis is God, my God. The only possible way of living is an earnest seeking, a longing with my whole being.
Life without God is thirst in a hot climate.
The Bible is very specific about this. Ultimately we seek a Person, not a force or energy or state of mind. For else, if in this world of order there is no One in whose heart that order is centred, and of whose Being it is the expression; in this world of infinite complexity, no personality which gave to this morning’s sky its radiant clarity, and to the snow its purity, then order, love, contrivance, wisdom, are only abstractions, and we are in the endless universe alone.
Sylvia Plath wrote: “I talk to God but the sky is empty.” Her conviction that this was so led her inexorably to a solitary suicide. Was she right?
In the Hindu Scriptures comes the line, “Let us meditate on the Adorable Light, it shall guide our intellects.” In the Hebrew Bible, by contrast, it is written “Thus saith the Lord, I am, that I am.” In that word “I am” is declared personality; and it contains, too, in the expression, “Thus saith,” the real idea of a revelation, that is, the voluntary approach of the Creator to the creature.
This isn’t a philosophy (developing an abstraction or a principle). This isn’t Deism: (the idea of a maker who withdraws from what he has made). The Bible speaks of God not as a law, but as the life of all that is; it speaks of a Being who feels, and is felt; it speaks of One who loves and is loved.
And if that sense of heart to heart contact is lost, then the desert is hard and dry indeed, and “earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” And there has been One at least whose apparent forsakenness and whose seeming doubt bears the stamp of the reality of faith. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
There are times when the sun is hidden by the cloud. You can’t see it or feel it. But behind the cloud the sun is still there, powerful, radiant and healing. And that knowledge sustains us throughout the long, cold grey day. It does not shine now, but it will.
And so too, spiritually. There are times that make life simply a matter of endurance; and we just have to wait, trust and hope. “You do not understand what I am doing now, but later you will understand.” “Hope in God!”
The mistake we make is to look for a source of comfort in ourselves: self-contemplation, instead of gazing upon God. In other words, we look for comfort precisely where comfort never can be.
Our feelings flicker and change. Our emotions can roller-coaster between highs and lows.
But God is not affected by our fickle ups and downs. Our changes do not alter Him. When we are restless, He remains serene and calm; when we are low, selfish, mean, or dispirited, He is still the unalterable I AM. The “same yesterday, to-day, and forever“, in whom is no “shadow of turning“.
What God is in Himself, not what we may chance to feel Him in this or that moment to be, that is our hope, our rock. That’s all we need.