Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
“My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” Psalm 42:2
When the psalmist wrote this he was a fugitive in hiding somewhere across Jordan. He had been driven out by rebellion from Jerusalem, which is the city of the living God. To you and me, rich in the truth of Christ, that would not make God seem far away. And doubtless, the psalmist also had been taught that Jehovah was the God of the whole earth. Yet with an intensity of feeling which we of the New Covenant are strangers to, he associated Jehovah with locality. He felt that to be distant from the Holy City was somehow to be distant from his Deity. And so, in a great sense of loneliness and in a thirsty land where no waters were, he cried out, “My soul thirsteth for the living God.”
But when a poet speaks out of a burning heart, he always speaks more wisely than he realizes. When the soul is true to its own prompting, it is true to generations yet unborn. In the exact sciences, you say a thing, and it keeps forever the measure of its origin. But when an inspired poet says a thing, it endlessly transcends its origin. For science utters only what it knows, but poetry utters what it feels, and in the genuine utterance of feeling there is always the element of immortality. No one worries about the atoms of Lucretius, but the music of Lucretius is not dead. No one feeds upon the Schoolmen now, but thousands are feeding upon Dante. And the psalmist may have been utterly astray in his measurements of the sun and stars, but taught of God, he never was astray in the more wonderful universe of the soul. That is why we can take his words and strip them of all reference to locality, or there is not one of us, whatever his circumstances, who is not an exile beyond Jordan and thirsting for the living God.
Spiritual Thirst Indicates the Certainty of God
Now it seems to me that such spiritual thirst involves the ultimate certainty of God. It is an assurance that is never antiquated, an argument that never fails. I thirst for water, and from a thousand hills, I hear the music of the Highland streams. I thirst for happiness, and in the universe, I find the sunshine and the love of children. I thirst for God–and to me it seems incredible that the universe should reverse its order now, providing liberally for every lesser craving but not for the sublimest of them all. I don’t think, if such had been the case, that Christ would have said, “Seek, and ye shall find.” For then we should have sought the lesser things and found them to our heart’s content, but when we sought the greatest things of all, would have been hounded empty from the door.
That is why the psalmist also said, “The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.” But there are men who have said that out of aching hearts and ruined homes. They have said it when love had proved itself a treachery. For sometimes the seeming cruelty of things and the swift blows that shatter and make desolate have blotted out even from devout hearts the vision of the Father for a little. God never calls these broken children fools. He knows our frame and remembers we are dust. He is slow to anger and of great compassion, and He will shine upon these shadowed lives again. But the fool hath said in his heart there is no God. He scorns the verdict of his deepest being. He believes his senses which are always tricking him. He doesn’t have the courage to believe his soul. A man may say in his mind “There is no God,” and God may forgive him and have mercy on him. But only a fool can say it in his heart.
This thirst for God is sometimes very feeble, though I question if it ever wholly dies. You may live with a man for months, perhaps for years, and never light on that craving of his heart. But far away in the ranches of the West there are rough men who were cradled in our Scottish glens, and you might live with them for months, perhaps years, and never learn that they remembered home. But some evening there will come a strain of music–some song or melody–and on that reckless company there falls a quietness and they cannot look into each other’s eyes just then: and then it doesn’t take a prophet to discover that the hunger for the homeland is not dead.
There are feelings that you can crush but cannot extirpate, and the thirst for the living God is one of these. You may blunt and deaden the faculty for God, but as long as the lamp burns, it is still there. It was that profound and unalterable faith which made our Lord so hopeful for the most hardened sinners of mankind.
Our Rest Is in God
And then remember also that men may thirst for God and never know it. That eminent scientist Romanes tells us that for twenty-five years he never prayed. He was crowned with honour in a way that falls to few–and all the time there was something lacking. It was not the craving of a disciplined mind that feels every hour how much still remains to do; it was the craving of a hungry soul that never knew it was yearning after God. Then, in the embrace of love, they met, and meeting, there was peace. So it often is when souls are restless. They are craving for they know not what. And all the time, although they little dream of it, that “know not what” is God. For as Augustine told us long ago, God has made us for Himself, and we are restless till we find our rest in Him.