Yesterday, as I was leaving the fruit shop, I saw an anorexic girl staring at me. She kept right on staring at me even as my gaze met hers and I looked back at her. It was rather disconcerting to be so openly stared at and I was momentarily caught off-guard. Eventually I smiled at her and she half-smiled back as she turned away. I don’t know why she was staring at me, but I felt God’s heart of compassion for her and she has been on my heart in prayer ever since.
Then last night as I spent time in the Lord’s presence He opened my eyes to see something. As I cried out to Him for my own hunger, I saw that our plight in the West is starvation. Yes, starvation. Here in the West, where we have an amazing variety and abundance of food available to us, we are spiritually-famished skeletons.
“The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around and behold, there were very many in the open valley and indeed they were very dry.” Ezekiel 37:1, 2
Whilst much of the non-developed world suffers from food shortage, dire poverty and even physical starvation, the malnutrition in the West is of a different kind. We are surrounded by food, by comfort, by fast-moving technology and by science and its benefits. Even the poorest of us are rich compared to most of the world’s population. Yet, in general, we are starved. Starved of life, starved of love, starved of meaning and starved of the presence of God.
What is the reason behind this starvation? I believe part of it has to do with our society turning away from God and increasingly to humanism and its related philosophies. The outcome of this is that our lives have become empty of meaning and purpose.
It’s not surprising.
To accept the premise that human beings are nothing more than the product of primordial slime would logically conclude that we are of no greater intrinsic value than that slime. And a product of primordial slime could have no possible purpose to its existence either. The relatively recent rejection of the age-old belief that we have been wonderfully and purposely made by the hands of a loving Creator, ultimately leads to a meaningless existence, in which our lives become de-valued.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophies of the early 20th century have had a profound impact on the Western world, intellectually, politically and existentially. He (in)famously stated that “God is dead” and saw “nihilism as the outcome of repeated frustrations in the search for meaning. He diagnosed nihilism as a latent presence within the very foundations of European culture, and saw it as a necessary and approaching destiny”. (Source: Wikipedia, Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche). Nihilism “(from the Latin nihil, nothing) is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.” (Source: Wikipedia, Nihilism)
A society that rejects God accepts nihilism, and within that society a sense of meaninglessness is experienced individually. As human beings, we have been made in God’s own image and this is the basis of our inherent value. Each of us is valuable because we have been created in His image. There is also a purpose to each human life that God creates and that is to have fellowship with Him and to serve Him. We were created by Him, for Him. We were created to know Him, depend on Him and draw our very life from Him. To deny both the source of our life and the purpose for our life is to both deny the value of humanity and the meaning of life, which creates a vacuum within our very souls.
Actually this is nothing new. In fact it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when man chose independence from God rather than dependence on God. From that point humankind has been estranged from God, cut off from our Creator, the true meaning and purpose of our lives obscured by our own defiant, self-willed independence. To be cut off from the Source of life, even while we may have physical breath in our bodies, is to create spiritual deadness and emptiness. However, as nature abhors a vacuum, something must fill that emptiness and there are many ways that we seek to do this – consumerism, chemical substances, religion, food, pleasure-seeking, causes, materialism…just to name a few.
Unfortunately much of the church has not escaped this Western malady and is also starving. It’s all too common to find that worship has been replaced by entertainment; that prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit has been replaced by liturgies and programs; that the presence of God has been replaced by emotional manipulation and that the preaching of the Word has been replaced by motivational, self-help talks. Even as Christians it is possible to turn away from dependence on God, and once again go our own way in self-willed independence, even when what we do is under a “Christian” label. Once we stop relying on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, we again cut ourselves off from God, and become starved of His life and His presence. AW Tozer said it like this: “The blight of the Church today is spiritual starvation. People are famishing on rationalism, socialism, sensationalism, on lifeless bonds and bank notes and unwholesome pleasures. “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not?… eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness” (Isaiah 55:1,2) Are you living on the bread of God or starving while in the Father’s house there is bread to spare?”
I think the BIG question is – do we actually recognize that we are starving? We may in fact be completely unaware of it because we are surrounded by food, technology and material goods in abundance. We are rich, in material terms, compared to the rest of the world. We don’t really need God, we depend on ourselves, on science, on man. We believe that independence is the way to go and that we can make it on our own. Like the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3 we “say ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’”. We do not know that we are really “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” (verse 17).
In undeveloped countries it is rather different. 25% of the world doesn’t have enough to live on, and 33% are destitute. A person suffering shortages in food, shelter, clothing and medicine is confronted with their own vulnerability every day. Their neediness is well- known by them because it is felt every day through physical hunger, thirst, cold or pain. So whilst much of the world is poorer than us in the West in material terms, I believe they are richer in one important way. They know their need. Once you see your need, of course, it is much easier to turn to God.
I have a friend who moved here from a struggling African nation. She explained to me that back in Africa she had had to get up at 3am every single morning in order to line up for six hours to get a loaf of bread for her family for the day. There were times when she would get to the front of the queue, after lining up for hours, only to find that the last loaf of bread had been sold. They then would need to drive to South Africa – another country – in order to find bread.
She knows what it’s like to need. She has had to cry out to God to provide her family with bread. She has had to depend on Him in a way that I never have had to.
Actually it is no different for us – spiritually we NEED Bread every single day. The difference is that, surrounded by our gadgetry, clothes and hair products, we cannot see that we are in desperate need of bread. Otherwise would we get up at 3am to seek for our Bread for the day? Would we miss out on sleep so we could find the living Bread to feed us and also our families? You see it’s hunger that drives us. It’s not hard to know why my friend would make the sacrifice to line up every day for 6 hours for bread, when both she and her family needed to be fed. I have kids, I understand the driving need to provide for them. But what about the spiritual bread? Is it less important? Would I make a similar sacrifice for the sake of mine and my family’s spiritual nourishment?
Jesus said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6). We don’t hunger and thirst after righteousness if we don’t know that we are empty. Until we see that we, in the West are poor, wretched and empty, we won’t hunger and thirst for the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
However, once we see our need of Him it is much easier to hunger after God and to learn to depend on Him for our nourishment. But our eyes have to be anointed “with eye salve that we may see” (Revelation 3:18). Unfortunately it usually takes some sort of personal crisis for most of us to turn to God in desperation and to cry out for help. Essentially this is what happened to me. Although I was wonderfully born-again and saved (see Passover), I still hadn’t learnt how to be utterly dependent on God, or to hunger after Him. It took a crisis in my life to actually be able to clearly see that I could no longer depend on myself. I was brought to the point of being unable to trust even my own thoughts, let alone my own self.
The vehicle God that used in my instance was depression.
And yes, I was a Christian, truly born-again and in love with Jesus. (God-willing, I will write about this episode in detail at a later date.) CS Lewis said “Suffering is God’s mega-phone to a world hard of hearing.” And that really was what suffering was to me. My experience caused me to rely on God and to hunger after Him in a way that I never had before – simply because I had no other option.
To be in a place where my own thoughts frightened me, suddenly awakened to me the truth of my own vulnerability, and I clearly saw my need of Him and His ongoing presence in my life. My independence and pride had to be stripped away from me so that I could see I was starving, in order for that hunger to be born in me. Suddenly I saw that I needed Him, not just a doctrinal knowledge of Him, but a hunger for Himself. When I saw how “poor in spirit” I truly was, then “the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3) became mine.
Tomorrow, Part 2, Being Fed