“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5.6, NIV).
The words of Jesus in the Beatitudes are familiar. I have read them I don’t know how many times. But recently, when I came across them again, a new thought struck me.
I sat back and considered the words “hunger” and “thirst” themselves. There are two things that are true about hunger and thirst: they are triggers that our bodies are lacking something essential, and the things that will satisfy hunger and thirst come from outside us.
The human body needs food to carry out its basic functions and, ultimately, to sustain life. The human body needs water, and much more frequently even than food. These things are essential to our survival. It made me wonder if the same is true of righteousness to our souls. Is righteousness the indispensable nourishment to our spirits in the same way that food and water is to the body? I think it is.
The central truths of the biblical record, illustrated time and again and in various ways, is that God designed us to be in perfect relationship with him but sin has disrupted that relationship. In the beginning we had not yet chosen to sin (we were righteousness), but then we did sin, and what is sin but unrighteousness? So we went from having something, to not having it, and there is something inside of us that yearns to be filled again.
Of course, our yearning for righteousness is not always so obvious as the need for food, and the “hunger” and “thirst” cues are not as immediately obvious. At least, they aren’t to the unregenerate person whose spiritual sensitivity is deadened (Romans 1.21-23). In the same way that an alcoholic or drug addict can deaden her hunger pains by keeping herself sufficiently drunk or high, it is possible for us to ignore that hunger and thirst to regain our original state of righteousness. But when the Holy Spirit invades our lives, we are simultaneously awakened to our need for righteousness and given a growing sensitivity to spiritual hinger and thirst cues.
And what we come to realize is that the only thing that will satisfy this thirst and hunger does not reside within us. In the same way that hunger and thirst can only be satisfied by food and water that comes into our bodies from the environment — we can’t manufacture it — our spiritual hunger and thirst can only be quenched by God himself, because he is the only righteous person and source of righteousness in the universe. So when Jesus says those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled, he envisions nothing less than the God of the universe coming down and satisfying that thirst, granting undeserved grace and righteousness to those who align themselves with Jesus Christ and worship him as Saviour.
So far I have been writing about personal righteousness, but it needs to be said that the Beatitudes were spoken to a culture and a people who yearned for a different social order. Jesus talks about the peacemakers, the merciful, the poor (Luke 6.20), and the meek. These realities are not just inner realities of the heart, not simply tidy spiritual dispositions we can adopt in order to make God impressed with us. They are world-altering, society-changing words. So we ought not only to think of righteousness in this context as the desire for personal righteousness. People also yearned for righteousness to be manifested in the world. The people to whom Jesus was speaking were likely the people at the bottom of the totem pole, the people who were stepped on, oppressed, marginalized, and received injustice. No wonder they hungered and thirsted for righteousness (or justice — it’s the same word in New Testament Greek). They wanted a new experience of wholeness and connection with God, living out the life that God has always wanted them to live as his children; and they wanted society at large to reflect the justice and mercy of God the Father.
Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness in both these ways? What might it be like for you to experience this thirst and these hunger pains again (or for the first time) so that you would know what it is to be satisfied by God himself?