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  • Human Desire, Heavenly Bread

    “Man is a hungry being. But he is hungry for God. Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him.” Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

    What does this mean, “All desire is finally a desire for Him”? It’s a question I have struggled with for quite a while. I hunger for things. I long for marriage, for vocation-fulfilling employment, for aesthetic enrichment. The first time I remember being confronted with this idea explicitly, that “all desire is finally desire for [God]”, was in a sermon in October 2010, and I confess that it rang with truth at the time, but I could not conceive of how to properly apply it in my life. How could my desire for the intimacy of marriage possibly be fulfilled by intimacy with Christ? I am not alone among unmarried Christians in feeling a disconnect between these two desires, despite my affirmations that Christ is all I need. And this is but one type of hunger. “Man is a hungry being.” We are hungry for so many different things. How is it that God is the source and fulfillment of all of hungers?

    When God gave man the world to fill and to multiply within and to feast upon (Gen 1:28-29), he did not give it as an end in itself. That is, the ultimate goal of man was not simply that he possess the earth, keeping it for himself. God gives creation to man as His way of relating to man. Man can learn of God’s sovereignty by bearing His image and ruling over creation. Man can learn of his own creature-liness because he must look outside himself to fulfill his needs. Man is not self-sufficient the way God is. Man must live on something outside himself. Man is hungry, and it is God who comes to him and feeds him, giving him every plant and every tree. Hungers exist so that we might long for something. Creation exists so that when God feeds us, we would know that He is good. Desire is given to us so that we might know God in His provision.

    “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” What do we do when we feel desire, but there seems to be no provision? Before we find an answer, let us first have faith. The words of the psalmist are true: The LORD is a good shepherd, and whatever hunger we feel, we do not lack. If we do not strive to believe this, our question will never find its proper place in the world. So we believe, but still we pray, help thou mine unbelief, for one thing which we hunger for is answers. What do we do when we find ourselves full of longing, but it seems nothing in creation has been given to us to meet the need? This is where Jesus’ metaphor acquires its fullest meaning: “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” Jesus came to proclaim the end of one world and the beginning of another one. Because the first world is ending (truly, we have seen its end on the cross), it cannot fully satisfy. To be sure, it is still God’s gift to us – the way that He feeds us and shows us His goodness – but in order to be truly satisfied, we must eat what He gives us from that new world, that new creation, and what He gives us to satisfy our hunger in the new creation is Himself.

    We see His provision for what it is when we name things correctly. God did not make me hungry for bread because his chief purpose was that I would eat bread. He made me hungry for bread because His chief purpose was that I would know Him when I turn to Him for bread, and that I would thank Him with all my life for the bread He gives to sustain it. The true goal of all desire, then, is God. So how can I say that He has not provided for the longings that He gives, when He is the goal of those longings, and He has given Himself? Here is the bread that came down from heaven.

    This post is a reflection upon the first chapter of Alexander Schmemann’s book, For the Life of the World.

    By · April 5, 2012 · contemplation, Featured · [Print]

    1 Comment to “Human Desire, Heavenly Bread”

    1. The following verse comes to mind …

      Deu 8:3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

      And this …

      “The converging points in eternity meet in the face of God. . . . we are to learn where love’s focus should be, and not be like a puppy dog who wags his tail and sniffs your finger when you are trying to point him to his food.” – J.E. Tada

      Finally …

      Like tides on a crescent sea-beach,
      when the moon is new and thin,
      into our hearts high yearnings
      come welling and surging in–
      come from the mystic ocean,
      whose rim no food has trod–
      some of us call it Longing,
      and others call it God. (W.H. Carruth)

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