I Can’t Get No

A whole world on the margins of exhaustion.

Guest Contributor / 2.10.22

This article is by Alexander Sosler, Assistant Professor of Bible and Ministry at Montreat College:

I went on a long run once. Well, it was more of a hike than a run. A few friends and I ran the Art Loeb trail in the mountains of Western North Carolina: 30 miles of climbing and descending and beautiful views at all points. But by the end, I wasn’t thinking about the views. I was thinking of food.

We ran out of food and water with about 7 miles left in the run. That doesn’t seem so bad—7 miles. But after 23 miles, I was parched. And starving. Voraciously famished. You get the point. And I had 7 miles left complete with “rolling” hills. At that point, every hill felt like a death climb. I was limping to the finish with my stomach growling most of the way. I needed food — anything.

The Hunger Motif

This idea of hunger and fulfillment is so common in Christian circles that its almost become a cliché. And like all clichés, so trite and seemingly commonplace at first glance, there is a deep mystery to satisfaction.

This hunger is what Augustine points to as he begins his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.” He goes on to describe our desires as being as many as the hair on our heads — rather than a one unifying desire that unifies us, so often, our desires go from pleasure to pleasure, disintegrating ourselves, leading us away from ourselves and the God who made us for Himself — in a perpetual state of restlessness.

It’s what Blaise Pascal means when he describes the God-shaped vacuum in the human heart that only Jesus can fill. We can try to stuff it with things or pleasures or encounters or travel or experience, but none of these created things fills us. CS Lewis says that we have too weak desires, not too strong. He writes, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” God offers us a luxurious vacation stay at an all-inclusive resort. But on the way, I get distracted with some mud that we imagine is more satisfying. God is cool, but a Tesla would be nice, too.

Where to Get Bread?

Where to get bread? An ever-pressing question
That trembles on the lips of anxious mothers,
Bread for their families, bread for all these others;
A whole world on the margins of exhaustion.

These are the opening lines of a poem by Malcolm Guite. He opens with a question: Where to get bread? The question is an ever-pressing question. For those who are poor and downcast, for the exhausted and exasperated, there’s an urgent desire for physical nourishment and sustenance. Like being exhausted after a long run and searching for some place of nourishment, I prowled around and ate anything I could find—snack bar, Gatorade bottle, I didn’t care. I was just hungry. Guite compares this hunger with the longing of the impoverished. Justice for the poor is slow in coming. The downtrodden and the marginal are seeking for some wholeness that is never quite realized. Like a growling stomach, they ache for a sense of justice.

As an upwardly mobile man, I mostly hunger for my wants. My bare necessities are met. I’m not needy. I can provide well-enough on my own. But God, since I got my necessities met, I’ll ask you for abundance. It’s not a bad desire, really. Jesus offers life and offers it abundantly. I just want abundant nice dinners complete wine pairings. Is that so much to ask? But the more I get, the more I see I don’t have. And I want.

And where that hunger has been satisfied
Where to get bread? The question still returns
In our abundance something starves and yearns
We crave fulfillment, crave and are denied.

In this second stanza he asks the question again: even for those who have everything they want, who have no lack, there’s still a lingering hunger—their abundance didn’t quite satisfy like they expected. Fulfillment seems fickle. Satisfaction is illusive, never giving us what we want. Continual frustration.

Are you happy? As we peel back our desire and consider what will bring us satisfaction, what do you think it is? We keep trying to fit created things in our Creator-God shaped hole to return to Pascal. We achieve great friendships only to be disappointed by them. We finally get our dream job after years of mind-numbing labor, but after a while—a few weeks to a few years — it becomes the same drab job. The law of diminishing returns is true: what first is unique and exciting eventually become dull and boring. Things that once satisfied don’t satisfy like they once did. We think it’s the external things that are the problem but it may just be our very own self.  The heart is restless. Where is the bread?

God the Enabler

The human hunger is evident in the Exodus story. In slavery, the Israelites cried out to God in Egypt, and God heard their cries. Their slavery was brutal—being asked to do more than they could accomplish, being punished for not completing the impossible task, and having no freedom of their own. From sun-up to sun-down, they labored in back-breaking work. Then, once God sets them free from slavery, the Israelites cry out, “Oh that we would be back in Egypt instead of here!”—a foretaste of our fickle human hearts. How quickly the things we once hated are the things we wish we had back. Or how briefly the thing we longed for becomes the same thing we regret. Restless hearts looking for rest in all the wrong places. Desiring and seeking—where to find bread. In response, God sends manna from heaven to feed his people. (They would eventually complain about not having meat, too).

I remember a time when I was attempting to follow God but things weren’t going as I hoped. God didn’t seem to be fulfilling his side of the bargain. I was a good boy. But I was still hungry. What had He done for me recently? So, I chased the things that once enslaved me. I thought sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll would numb some pain. I longed for another life, an old life. I wanted to be back in slavery. I wasn’t satisfied with this old manna God gave me; I wanted novelty. Like at mile 23 of my run, I wanted to return to the starting line. I didn’t sign up for this part. I wanted out.

At each turn God feeds his spoiled children. Foundational to a right understanding of God is that He gives. It’s kind of crazy. When the people complain about the wilderness, preferring slavery to freedom, God condescends. He seems to be at the whim of what we want. He doesn’t mind meeting our hearts desire. It’s almost like God is enabling us. He’s just giving the Israelites whatever they want when they complain. Spoiling them, even. Have some backbone, God.

God gives the Israelites bread from heaven each day. Not more than they need, not less than they need, just enough to be full, to be satisfied, to end the restlessness. It’s what Jesus came to do—to give himself, the Bread of Heaven, to us, His church.

In many ways, the adage you may have heard before is true: We are poor beggars showing other beggars where bread is. It’s a fitting phrase for ministry: reminding ourselves and pointing others to where the bread is.

That poem I opened with ends like this:

And then comes One who speaks into our needs
Who opens out the secret hopes we cherish
Whose presence calls our hidden hearts to flourish
Whose words unfold in us like living seeds
Come to me, broken, hungry, incomplete,
I Am the Bread of Life, break Me and eat.

I ended up finishing that 30 mile run (not without pain and lots of searching questions about why I agreed to do this). At the finish, I started eating everything—things I didn’t even like. Sour Cream and Onion chips—not my favorite but I didn’t care. We went to a restaurant, and I ate till my heart’s content. And then I ate some more.

In my moments of brokenness and desperation, when I try to fulfill my hunger with all the things that don’t satisfy, when I have nothing left, the Bread comes to me. Satisfaction seeks me out. God gives Himself. “Come”, the Bread says. “Take. Eat.”

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