An Unquenchable Thirst for God
The serious Christian in today’s world encounters many difficulties: How do we keep ourselves unsoiled in the modern climate? How do we raise our children in an unsupportive culture? How do we deal with churches and clergy who do not uphold or encourage traditional Christianity? These are difficult issues and at times it is easy to feel that because of our faith we live an ascetical life of constant struggle—one that requires that we always pray, often fast, and rarely relax.
To be serious about one’s faith in a traditional sense is to recognize the need to engage in asceticism (which might be defined as following Christ’s commandment to deny ourselves and follow him). But if we are truly interested in asceticism, we would do well to bear in mind the purpose of such an adventure. But before elaborating on that, let me state something with which some might take issue: I submit that the ascetic life is not putting to death our passions. It is not eliminating all desires, all longings, all cares, all joys. It is rather redirecting them towards God.
Given that presupposition, this is the purpose of asceticism, the goal of the serious Christian life: to develop an unquenchable thirst for God. To be so ablaze with love for him that our cares for everything else pale in comparison. To long to be with him every minute of every day. To feel an emptiness when we are distracted from praying throughout the day. To see his hand in everything we touch, and see his face in everyone we meet. To yearn to be with the angels singing his praises. To be moved to tears when we reflect on the passion of our Lord. To develop such a desire for God that it cannot be completely satisfied in this life.
It is easy to emphasize the practices of the Christian life in a negative way, i.e., to provide a list of things one should and should not do if one dares to bear the name of Christ, while ignoring the positive aspects of the practice of Christianity that develop a pure love of God. Unfortunately, it is all to easy to get carried away with the external practices of the faith—attending services and keeping fasts—and miss the true conversion of the heart. There is a bit of the Pharisee in all of us, and it is much easier to follow rules than to change one’s heart.
We do well to recall Christ’s words to the church of Ephesus:
Many of us do good works upholding the faith. Some even deal with men who claim to have apostolic authority without holding apostolic faith, and call them liars. But in the midst of such battles, have we lost our first love?
The love of Christ should be the well from which everything in our lives springs forth. But is our hunger and thirst for God so great, so insatiable, so unquenchable, that we long for more? This should be what we are living for. This should be the goal of our faith.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
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“An Unquenchable Thirst for God” first appeared in the Fall 1997 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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