What our bodies teach us about hungering and thirsting after righteousness
The other week, I hopped onto this trail for a run and, in preparation for an upcoming race, took a longer route than normal. The first few miles, I enjoyed peoplewatching and the rhythm of my feet, but by the time I reached halfway, I’d become unusually thirsty—enough that I considered running into Dunkin’ Donuts and asking for a cup of water. But I kept going.
It’s no surprise that the final miles were difficult—my body’s warnings had been sincere. But I made it home in one, albeit exhausted, piece and before stretching, before turning off my headphones, before greeting my husband, I guzzled a Gatorade. It was instantly satisfying.
We don’t usually think about the mechanics of thirst, but did you know drinking actually prompts our bodies to release dopamine? This is why the first gulp curbs our craving well before fluid has actually satisfied the body’s need for water. Theoretically (and perhaps for certain medical conditions) this bodily need could be met just as effectively if water were pumped directly into the stomach. We’d be nourished, but without the dopamine release giving us the satisfaction of feeling nourished.
Unsurprisingly, the same God who designed our bodies to work this way also spoke these words to a crowd on a mountainside: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” I’ve always heard in this beatitude a subtle charge to consistently long for God and His kingdom here on earth. But anyone who has history with the Lord knows the difficulty (if not seeming impossibility) of a steady, wholehearted pursuit.
It’s a hard thing to admit in a world that loves progress, where we view life as an ever-upward trajectory to betterment and self-actualization. We say we don’t expect to be perfect followers of Jesus, but we do expect to be in a better place the longer we know Him. This belief is evident in the very way we speak of our relationship with Jesus: “walking” with Him on our faith “journey.” It’s as though we believe becoming righteous is as simple as running from one point to another, as attainable as the training goals I set each week. It may be true that we’re headed for a particular destination—the fullness of God’s kingdom—but that doesn’t mean growth is always an orderly process.
The journey is a natural metaphor for those of us confined to the passing of time, but what about God? How does He, who is outside of time, experience your life and mine? Where we see our years graphed on an x- and y-axis, does He see a toddler’s pink scribble—haphazard and delightful, with no beginning or end? Or even better, does He see a full and textured painting, layered and rich? The complete righteousness that Jesus offered to us once and for all suggests that time has little say in our standing with Him and our corresponding satisfaction in His love.
When Jesus referenced those who hunger and thirst, He spoke from the knowledge of His own body’s needs. Surely He, too, craved food and water—surely His urges must have waxed and waned with the rhythms of biology we’re all accustomed to. And yet, even in knowing that, He still chose to describe our pursuit of righteousness in terms of appetites. In doing so, Jesus confirmed that, yes, our yearning for a restored relationship with God should be earnest, but He also knew our attempts would sometimes be as inconsistent as the grumbling in our stomachs.
Our hunger is always changing—through the minutes leading up to a meal, through every bite, through the hours that follow. This is true for people with the privilege of anticipating meals, for those who face starvation, and everyone in between (which is not to suggest our experience of hunger is the same; it is not.) Every bite of food we ingest—whether one or one of many—is broken down by enzymes in the stomach, and its nutrients are absorbed through intestinal walls to nourish the blood. Because we are living, breathing organisms, these change our chemical makeup and alter our needs, whether we’re aware of it or not. The good news is that because of the way God made our bodies, nutrients sustain us long after we’ve consumed the food they came from—beyond that initial pang of hunger, beyond our full stomachs, carrying us to the next craving. They work behind the scenes mysteriously and steadily every minute of the day, whether or not we feel that longing for food and water.
Considering all of this, we see that Jesus’ words “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” make a great deal of sense. He could have blessed unceasing longing, with the imagery of blood furiously running through our veins, but He knew desire for His ways and His kingdom would best be understood through the stomach—an illustration with space for our humanity, reminding us that He is a God without condemnation, that He is truly good news.
In those moments when we completely forget Him, when we don’t yearn for Him and for the restoration of all things, we can lean into His righteousness and let it cover us. Like all that we eat and drink, Jesus sustains us from one day to the next, whether we acknowledge it or not. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” He said (Matt. 5:6). Satisfied not when we hunger and thirst, but because we hunger and thirst. And because we belong to a reliable God, unaffected by time, who sees the same person at the end of the trail as the one at the beginning.