2 Cor. 1. I recently had the pleasure of driving a carful of teenage girls for five hours. First, we stocked up at Whole Foods. There was tofu, chia seeds, greek yogurt and berries to be bought. Some were weighing the merits of drinking apple cider vinegar before each meal to curb their appetites. Others of us (me) asked why we couldn’t achieve the same purpose by putting vinegar in our salad dressing. Why is diet and dieting a universal topic? Because no matter what age or gender, we are all, always, trying to find ways to satisfy the human quest for more in bodies that have limits and so must make do with less.
Take comfort food. Every one of us reaches for certain foods at certain points in our lives to satisfy needs that are so deep, so desperate and so obsessive they reach the level of the existential. Some people believe in God. Others don’t. But we can all agree that humans have needs that run so deep we call them spiritual. We all know a truly spiritual need could never be satisfied by a cream-filled donut. So why do we all go on grasping at straws, trying to slake our insatiable thirsts with physical things?
Even water has limits. Even though our bodies are comprised of at least sixty percent water, we can drink too much water. It’s true. A friend ended up in the hospital because in her anorexic quest to eat less, she drank so much water she poisoned herself. A fraternity banned from making its would-be members binge drink alcohol made them binge drink water – and one poor boy died.
The problem with all physical things we use to try to slake our deepest thirsts is that we literally must stop or we will kill ourselves.
So is the answer to tell ourselves that one grilled cheese – one black and white milkshake – one glass of wine – one mac and cheese – one cookie is enough? How can that work when we know we’re lying to ourselves? One is never enough. We make ourselves stop at one – or maybe two – because experience teaches us that if we overindulge we’ll feel ill. But sometimes even the knowledge that having more will make us ill isn’t enough to stop us. We deceive ourselves so easily. Why? Because we just want more.
There has to be a deeper comfort available to all of us than we can find in earthly things, people and places. C.S. Lewis once reasoned that our insatiable appetites point the way to a God who can satisfy those needs. I agree with him, although I’m not sure his logic is unassailable. I don’t happen to believe in evolution, but I can come up with an evolutionary argument to Lewis. Maybe the creatures who were destined to rise up out of the ashes of the apes were ones with insatiable appetites. Maybe it’s man’s quest for more, more and more more that causes her to triumph over the “dumb” animals. Maybe it’s our very insatiability that defines our success.
Because while our restless need for purpose, meaning and satisfaction causes us to scale mountains, build microscopes and sail the ocean blue, it also is part of the reason we humans have a tendency toward self-sabotage. We know exactly what we should do to succeed in life, and all too often we don’t do it. We feel like we “just can’t stop ourselves.” So is there a deeper and better answer than just putting ourselves on diets? Is there a kinder gentler way than being strict? Is self-control the only answer? Is saying NO the solution? Why can’t we find a never-ending YES?
Maybe the real answer lies in having a good hard look at what we’re really wanting. It’s a platitude to say we all want love. But platitudes can be true. So is the thing we truly deeply desperately want more of plain and simply love? Is the Bible right when it says that what a man desires is chesed – unfailing love? No, I didn’t say cheese. It’s chesed…
The Bible makes some dramatic promises about how God can satisfy our needs. King David – a man who had such a deep need for sex that he had one of his most loyal supporters killed after he’d gotten his wife pregnant – made this extreme claim: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” Psalm 37:3 (NIV). Really? Is that true? Can we trust that promise? And if so, how are we supposed to “take delight” in God? How do we know when we’ve received our “heart’s desires”? How do we know what our heart really “desires”? Our hearts tell us it wants all sorts of things, and those things can shift moment by moment. So how do we find the solution when our hearts seem to deceive us?
If we take our needs and questions and chia seeds and fling ourselves on the first chapter of second Corinthians, we find all the answers. The question is whether we’re brave enough, open enough, and desperate enough to trust and obey what this chapter tells us. Are we ready?
Saint Paul claims in this letter that God is the source of “all comfort.” 2 Cor. 1:3. Really? All comfort comes from God? Even the comfort of a grilled cheese, such as it is? Does Paul mean that in an abstract general way, because God created the whole world? Does Paul mean that God comforts all humans, whether they believe or not, out of his loving merciful God heart, through what the Bible calls the general good that falls to all humans? Do believers just get more comfort because they’re willing to know God in a deeper way? I’m not sure, but I’d like to walk around inside this claim. If God is the “source” of “all comfort,” then give me more God.
Paul goes on to say that God “comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.” 2 Cor. 1:4. Hold on. We’re comforted “so that” we can comfort others? Why wouldn’t God comfort us just because He cares about US? What does our comforting from God have to do with others? Apparently there is something in the very nature of God’s kind of comfort that is outward rather than inward focused. There is something in this comfort that is inherently giving. God gives to us “so that” we can give to others. Of course God cares about us as much as he does the next person. God loves each of us “best.” So the comfort God gives must itself give.
I think what Paul is talking about here goes to the very essence of love. Love by definition gives. Here is the thing the devil can never understand, because the devil is cynical about love. The more suffering the devil throws at us, the more hurt we are, the more room there is for us to receive God’s comfort, and that comfort is so wonderful, we end up better off than we were before. We might lose a toe. We might even lose our life, or the life of someone so dear to us that life without them seems unimaginable. But whatever we suffer, if we turn to God in our need, we get the thing we most want and need. We get God Himself.
This is what Job, the ultimate “sufferer”, got. He lost his fortune, his children and his health. But he found Jesus. He sat on the ground, despised by his wife, taunted by his friends, and yet was able to say the words that are so beautiful, brave and resonant they are still read at most funerals: “I KNOW that my Redeemer lives. And though my flesh wastes away, I myself will see him, I and not another.” Job lost everything and found the one thing. He had all of his “mores” taken away, and when all he had was “less than nothing” he found full satisfaction in his Redeemer.
That’s why Paul can calmly proclaim in this chapter that all the trouble he and his friends went through on their journeys, trouble that crushed and overwhelmed them “beyond” their ability to endure, brought about something so powerful no one could take it away: “as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.” 2 Cor. 1:9. Paul here hands everyone the key to unlock our restlessness. He gives us the key to joy. Ready? It’s to stop relying on ourselves. It’s to rely only on God.
The problem is that we humans find this hard. It’s probably impossible. We’re willing to rely on God when we have no other choice. That’s why we say there’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole. But how do we take the lessons learned by a mind focused by a hanging in the morning, and apply them to our everyday lives when we miraculously survive the hanging?
I don’t know what other people do, but speaking for myself I know only one way: to ask, ask and keep on asking. What are we asking for? More God. More help. More reliance on grace. Less need for control. Less of me and more of Him. God says if we seek Him we will find Him, so we have to seek Him like we really mean it. We have to look hard. We have to run after Him with passion. We have to want Him, really want Him.
But how can we imperfect humans ever “have” a perfect God? We can have God through the cross. God’s sacrificial death covers the sins of anyone humble enough to admit their need of covering. When God looks at a Christian, He sees Jesus. That’s the good news of the gospel. It’s what we mean when we say we’re saved by grace. And a Christian can grow in purity only by clinging to grace. We can’t rely on ourselves to get “better.” We were never better. We can only look deeper into the heart of the gospel and be melted by God’s mercy and love. A melted heart is the only kind that can give expecting nothing in return. A melted heart is the only kind that can be kind to even cruel people. A melted heart needs nothing from anyone. Because a heart melted by God’s gracious sweet love is already fully satisfied. Only a heart full of unconditional love can give love, because that heart is giving out of its fullness instead of need.
Jesus is “God’s ultimate ‘Yes.'” 2 Cor. 1:19. Everything and everyone else on this earth will one day say NO to us. A donut will say no faster than a spouse might. But at a certain point, everything has limits. The only thing that is limitless is God’s love. That’s why Paul can proclaim here with power and passion: “For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding, ‘Yes!'” 2 Cor. 1:19. You can hear Paul’s joy in that exclamation point. That means that when David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit sang about how if we “delight” ourselves in the Lord, He will “satisfy” the desires of our hearts, David was singing about Jesus. If we delight ourselves in the gift of the cross, our heart’s deepest desire, our heart’s need for pure unadulterated limitless diet-less love, will be fully satisfied.
How do we know? How can we be sure? Paul rounds out this beautiful chapter by giving us a blessed assurance. He says that God “has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us.” 2 Cor. 1:22. We have a “guarantee” in a our hearts. That’s why a Christian can say with calm joy the same thing that Job did: “I KNOW that my Redeemer lives.” How do we know? Because if we finally give up trying to satisfy our heart’s deepest desires with temporal things, and instead turn to God with arms outstretched and beg for forgiveness for running after any other lover than God to satisfy us, He will fill us with Himself. God’s holy spirit will live inside us. Cleansed by the blood of Christ, not by our good deeds, we become worthy vessels for God to live inside.
And that’s it. We humans always want more. Well, we can have most. We can have God. And when Love Himself dwells inside of us, even though we’re not so very loving ourselves a lot of the time, everything changes. We become satisfied in a supernatural way. We become filled with joy that is beyond understanding. We become creatures who are incapable of receiving comfort without giving that same comfort to others, because it overflows from our unworthy grateful hearts. We receive an “outpouring” of the Holy Spirit.
So take heart. No matter what has happened to you, is happening to you, or will happen to you, there is peace, joy and love available to you on the soul level. Your emotions may still roller coaster. Your anxiety may still at times overwhelm you. You will fall to temptation. But you chafe under the weight of your humanity. Because under it all a peace is available that passes all understanding. It is there for the asking. It’s free. God doesn’t charge the exorbitant prices of Whole Foods. God paid the ultimate sacrifice – His own life – His own son – so that joy everlasting could be ours for free.
So we can rejoice in our desire for wanting more. It’s there for a reason. That desire is God given. It’s God filled. And when we run to God with our hearts wide open, He fills us to overflowing no matter how spiteful, small and mean we’ve been.
Because God is a God who comforts. And He comforts us over everything, especially the parts of us we just plain don’t like. When we take comfort in Him, we find we actually like ourselves. We start to love ourselves. And we become creatures capable of liking and loving others. That is what grace is all about.
I don’t know about you, but I always need more grace. The beautiful thing is that the more we realize our need of grace, the more room there is for grace. So our very failures become like an ocean that buoys our vessels up on the wood of the cross. We sail the ocean blue with the wind at our backs as long as we try to turn our sails toward the source of all light, the end of our restless quest, the person whose love we were made to crave relentlessly.
For He loves us back so relentlessly He will use even our inexpert steering to bring us home to Him. Even every ill wind blows us closer to our one true home, if our shipwrecked hearts cry out to the living God for more.
posted on January 29, 2014