The only thing more desperate than a person without water is a person without air. If exhalation is not immediately followed by inhalation, we will die within minutes. If we are not given water, we will die within days. Since most of us live with so much access to air and water, we easily forget the fragility of our existence.
A desperately thirsty person is not their best self. We lose brain function, become irritable, have headaches, abdominal pain, and become weak.
I share all of this because thirst is a wonderful metaphor that describes our condition of insatiable longing. Inevitably, we all thirst for something, and that thirst often disorients our soul.
Scripture uses thirst as a soul metaphor too. Thirst represents an aspect of suffering in our life where we desperately seek satisfaction. We either neglect to drink and suffer thirst, or we long to drink but are not satisfied.
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.” ~ Psalm 42:1
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” ~ Matt 5:6
“whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” ~John 6:35
Is it true that God satisfies the longings or deep thirst in our hearts? This can only be answered experientially. A theory, theology, doctrine, or dogma can only inform us of this kind of thirst, but it cannot quench it. Of course it follows then that two categories of people emerge: the thirsty who have yet to have such an experience, and those who will drink of the experience. Which one are you?
Unmet human need (thirst) takes countless forms. The deepest, soul-level needs, are identity, acceptance, and validation. For example, we think we want that promotion and the big title, but we really want validation. We think we want wealth, but what we really want are options, or power or freedom. A thirsty person is not their best self. A desperate person has wandered from their soul.
The asshole driver who cuts us off to get slightly ahead is thirsty. The thief who stole from us to gain advantage is thirsty. The corrupt politician is thirsty. The abuser, the addict, the isolated, the angry, the manipulator, the lonely, the greedy, the poor, the perfectionist, the rich, the controller, all thirsty. Honesty reveals we’re all thirsty. We can all imagine the world slightly better than it is.
Thirst cannot exist unless a satisfaction for it also exists. Thirst is the negation of satisfaction and as such cannot exist on its own merit. We go through life trying to satisfy our deepest thirst with the strangest things. This search means that a soul-level satisfaction certainly exists and we discover soul-level thirst is not quenched with externals. We will have to go deeper. (To learn how, visit my post or podcast called “The Descent.“)
Thirst then, is the suffering that results from skimming over the depth that is our life. Thirst is to take our lives for granted. Satisfaction is possible, but it will require an ernest spiritual journey. What all sojourners have discovered is not a puddle, or a pool, or a bottle of Fiji. Below us all lies an enormous aquifer that flows into a fountain, the scale of which is beyond what any of us can possess. Be warned, the best of religion can only point you to its own man-made path, but it cannot take you there. The worst of religion will trap you into systems that Jeremiah describes as “hewed out cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer 2:3)
Upon contact with what Jesus calls living water, one sip will displace the pursuits we once thought would fulfill us. A deep drink will wreck any false notion of ourself. One plunge and we’ll forever be bringing others to the source. The water and its satisfaction are free but it comes at cost of our surface based self. That can be scary at first and perhaps that is why some will prefer their thirst. May that not be you.