I Was Thirsty
“I was thirsty and you gave Me drink.”
The Need for Water
Last chapter we spoke of hunger, and the need that all people have for food. Now we turn our thoughts to thirst, and the need people have for water. There are about 1 billion people in the world right now who do not have clean water to drink. Some live in arid regions or areas experiencing drought. Others have water that is polluted by sewage and chemicals, making it unfit to drink. Some spend two or three hours out of every day walking from their homes to places where they can get drinking water to carry home to their families, and even then it may be disease-ridden and dirty.
Thanks to advances we are making in areas of communication, technology, politics, and understanding the challenges, there are ways that we can understand and help people who are suffering these situations. I would hope that people who have the water they need may be moved to give a little to those who are so desperate.
At the same time, genuine solutions are not so simple as shipping bottles of water to be passed out to thirsty people in foreign countries. People not only need sustainable supplies of water, but also education about how to use the water and keep it clean. If clean water is put in a dirty container, for example, it will no longer be clean. Sometimes education is the more important part of the solution. With knowledge, people can learn where and how to dig wells or to purify the water that they have. They can learn how to keep pollutants out of their water sources, and how to share their water without spreading germs. Sometimes the thirst for knowledge and education is even deeper and more pervasive than the thirst for water, and the real solution comes from focusing on that deeper thirst as well.
Hagar and Ishmael
The book of Genesis tells the story of Hagar and Ishmael, who were evicted from their home after a conflict between Hagar and Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and also between Ishmael and Isaac, Abraham’s two sons by these women. Hagar and Ishmael were trekking through the desert and had used up all their water and were about to die of thirst. Hagar left Ishmael crying under a bush and then crawled some distance away, being unwilling to watch her son slowly die. Then she wept.
God heard the child and sent an angel, who said to Hagar, “What’s the matter?” Now, one might think that God had no need to ask what is the matter, because God already knows.
We sometimes read in the Word that the Lord asks people how they are. The reason is that the people can only think that no one knows their thought, much less their feelings. Also, they may find solace when they can express their feelings, which usually does them good. (Secrets of Heaven 2693)
The angel then told Hagar not to be afraid, because God had heard her son’s voice, and she should go to her son and hold him. “Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the bottle with water, and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy.” (Genesis 21:19-20) Hagar was lacking water as much as her son Ishmael, yet her concern was not so much for herself as for her son. When the Lord opened her eyes to see the well, her first thought was to get water for her son, not for herself. In fact, when the angel spoke to Hagar he did not say, “God has heard your crying,” but, “God has heard the boy’s voice.” One of the Lord’s gifts to us in times of need is to help us discover ways that we can help one another.
There is a deeper meaning in the story of Hagar. The well is a symbol of the Lord’s Word, the books in the Bible where God reveals Himself to us and becomes present with us. The well was there all along, but Hagar did not see it until her eyes were opened, and her eyes were not open until her thirst became intense.
It can be the same with the Lord’s Word. If we look at the Bible only on the surface, it can appear like any other book, or like ancient history or fables. It is only when our eyes are opened that we are able to see the precious truths it contains. Yet our spiritual eyes cannot be opened to see the real truth there until we reach the point that we are ready — or rather, that we are eager, and even desperate to see the truth we really need. Hagar reached the point of being desperate for water, and then it was revealed to her. Likewise, the Lord allows us to go through times of confusion, doubt and even despair so that we can realize just how much we need Him and his truth.
It says in the story very simply, that Hagar gave the boy a drink, and God was with him. Perhaps if our eyes are open, we can see that that simple drink represents the living water that the Lord gives us from the well that is His Word. It is this drink of water that causes the Lord to be with us, for He is present in the hearing and doing of His Word.
Jacob and Rachel
Years later, Ishmael’s nephew Jacob was traveling to Haran to find his relatives. He found shepherds gathered around a well that was protected by a large rock. Only when all the shepherds had gathered to water their sheep would they move the rock to make the water available. Now when Jacob saw Rachel coming to the well with her father’s flock of sheep, Jacob learned that she was of his own tribe. He saw that she was beautiful, and moved the rock by himself to water her sheep, and kissed her.
This story is also about a deeper well, which is again the Lord’s Word. Often the Bible is at first inaccessible to us. It may seem hard and unyielding like a rock. We may see only the literal meaning and be oblivious to the spirit that lies within. (See Secrets of Heaven 3769.) Yet the time may come when the Lord opens up a deeper level of meaning for us. In this story, Rachel, watching over her father’s sheep, is a symbol of the church, watching over its Heavenly Father’s sheep. I like to think that what attracted Jacob to Rachel was seeing how she cared for the sheep. Perhaps she laughed with them and called them by name. Perhaps he saw saw her eyes dancing as she made sure that the stragglers kept up and that none went astray. And clearly, he could see that her concern was for the sheep, bringing them to the well to satisfy their thirst.
According to the Teachings for the New Church, Rachel especially represents the affection or desire for deeper truth (Secrets of Heaven 3793). Sometimes we have an interest in understanding truth for superficial purposes. Education can help us earn money. When people think of us as wise, it brings us influence and respect. Knowledge gives us power to do things, to make things, and to succeed. When our motives in seeking knowledge are practical and self-centered, we tend to focus on practical knowledge that is personally advantageous. We may find deeper truths boring, annoying, and confusing. We may seek them out when we want to impress others with the depth of our understanding, but then our real interest is not in the truths themselves, but in admiring looks from friends.
We can also approach the Lord’s Word with similar motives. We may read the Bible in order to impress others with our knowledge, or to find arguments to prove our own point of view, or so that others might find it easier to trust us and benefit us in some way. This kind of superficial interest in truth is represented by Rachel’s older and less attractive sister Leah. When we approach the Bible with such superficial and self-centered motivations, we become blind to the deeper truths that it contains; all we see is the literal meaning and not the spirit within it.
Rachel, on the other hand, pictures our love for a deeper kind of truth that is not so practical and homely as Leah, but is truly beautiful, transcendent and timeless. The deeper truths tell us about genuine compassion, true love, and eternal life. They tell us what it is to have courage, integrity, honesty, patience, strength and gentleness. They don’t tell us how to gain advantages for ourselves over other people. Instead, they call us to make sacrifices, to put others above ourselves, and to risk our possessions and even our lives in service of what is right and good. Ultimately, we come to desire this deeper level of truth because we desire that deeper level of goodness. In fact, what moves us to that deeper level of understanding is not so much the truths in themselves, as it is our affection, our desire, our passion for those truths.
Prophecies of Thirst
Isaiah prophesied a time when the desert would rejoice and blossom as the rose. “For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool, And the thirsty land springs of water; In the habitation of jackals, where each lay, There shall be grass with reeds and rushes” (Isaiah 35:6-7). When the Lord came into the world that prophecy was fulfilled, but not on a literal level. The deserts in the Middle East are still dry, but there was another kind of thirst that people were experiencing. “’Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord'” (Amos 8:11). Among the Jews there were lawyers, priests and scribes who knew what God had said in the Old Testament. They could have known of God’s mercy, compassion and love for all people, and of His desire that we love and forgive one another, but their interest in the truth was more superficial. They were not thirsty. They sought answers in Scripture not to know how to love God and other people, but to gain status and legal advantage.
David had written, “O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). Many people were thirsty to hear what Jesus had to say. “The common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37). A true understanding of God and His love had been lost, and they drank in his words like sponges. Even more there was a thirst for God among people of other nations who did not know the words of the Prophets of Israel.
The Samaritan Woman
The woman who met Jesus at a well in Samaria was such a woman. The Jews despised Samaritans for having the wrong beliefs, so this woman was surprised that Jesus would even talk to her, who was not only a Samaritan, but a woman. Yet He asked her for a drink, as He was thirsty and had no bucket for drawing water. Then He told her that He could give her water that she could drink and never be thirsty again. Water that would become in her “a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
This story involves both physical water and spiritual water, which is the truth that the Lord offered the woman. The Lord used physical thirst and physical water to prepare the woman to recognize a deeper thirst and a deeper, living water. This is how the Lord leads us through His Word. It has two levels of meaning–the literal level and the spiritual level. When we first read His Word we learn the stories and teachings on a literal level, but as we enter into a relationship with the Lord, we come to understand the spiritual level within. For example, when we read the Word literally, we may approach with a real thirst to understand God. We read stories that tell of His great love for all people, His power to overcome evil, and His constant Providence for our needs. To an extent this satisfies our thirst; yet we also read of God’s anger, His apparent desire for war and conquest, and His punishment of those who offend Him. For many of us this raises questions. Something about the literal meaning leaves us once again wanting answers. We again become thirsty.
Now the Lord is offering a deeper understanding of the truth in His Word. He offers us living water—spiritual truth that we can drink in and not be left with the confusing questions the literal meaning sometimes raises. For example, we can learn that all the anger and punishment from God in the literal sense is an appearance. The Lord is never angry, never punishes and always shows compassion, yet the literal meaning pictures God as if He had many of the same emotions and limitations that we have, because we each see the Lord according to our own state (Secrets of Heaven §1838). David wrote, “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; With the pure You will show Yourself pure; And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd” (2 Samuel 22:26-27). When we see that the anger is just an appearance, we can see that the Lord Himself is pure love and does not have a trace of anger. This knowledge is a deeper, living water, that truly quenches our thirst and does not leave us with confusing questions, though of course there will always be more to learn.
Sharing the Truth
The Lord told the woman that the water He has to give will become a fountain springing up into eternal life. A fountain is a source of water. When we learn the Lord’s truth in a living, spiritual way, the truth becomes a part of our character, part of all our thoughts, and then it flows out of us and affects the people around us. This actually happened with the Samaritan woman. After absorbing the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, she went back and shared her discovery with the men of her city. A little later the Lord said something similar to His disciples: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). When we drink in the Lord’s truth, especially when we live by it, it becomes a part of who we are and how we think, and then we can share what we know with others.
For example, Swedenborg wrote,
Now because it has been granted me to be in the spiritual world and in the natural world at the same time, and thus to see each world and each sun, I am obliged by my conscience to manifest these things; for what is the use of knowing, unless what is known to one be also known to others? Without this, what is knowing but collecting and storing up riches in a casket, and only looking at them occasionally and counting them over, without any thought of use from them? (Soul-Body Interaction 18)
Those who have a great affection for truth, or a deep thirst, are not only the best students, but also the best teachers. The New Church explains that what flows into us matches what flows out.
It is a universal law that an inflow adjusts itself to the outflow, and if the outflow is blocked, so is the inflow. Through the internal man there is an inflow of good and truth from the Lord, and through the external there should be an outflow, an outflow into life, that is, in the exercise of charity. (Secrets of Heaven §5828.3)
This means that the more we are willing to share the truth we learn with others, the more truth we will receive. Many people have noticed that one of the best ways to learn a subject is by teaching it. Through the process of teaching we may come to really understand and appreciate our subject for the first time.
When we are sharing truths with others, there are two mistakes that are easy to make. One mistake is to assume that everyone is thirsty. We may have such enthusiasm for the things we know that we fail to realize that others may be bored with what we say. Some people are thirsty for understanding and answers, but others simply want friendship, comfort or support. We can make the mistake of giving water to the thirsty, and then giving water to the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned as well.
Another mistake we can make is to focus on the truth more than on the affection or desire for truth. This tends to happen when we take pride in what we know or think we have all the answers, instead of humbly recognizing that there is an infinite amount that we do not know. True masters do not share information so much as they stimulate a love for learning and an enthusiasm for truth that makes each person eager to question, discover, and figure things out for themselves.
Before we can teach we must learn about our students–what kind of thirst they have, how they think and what their questions are. Just as Jesus began by asking the Samaritan woman for water, we can begin by asking others what their thoughts are and where their interests are leading them. The more we listen and learn and allow others to teach us, the more our own appreciation for truth can help others quench their thirst.
The Samaritan woman gave Jesus a drink, thinking that she had a way to draw water and He did not, but Jesus said, “If you had known who I am, you would have asked Me for water.” When we approach others who have an enthusiasm for truth we may be quick to offer answers, yet we would do well to remember to whom we speak. Every person is a dwelling place for the Lord, and if we approach every person with whom we might share our faith with the same humility and open ears with which we would approach the Lord, we too will hear the Lord say, “I was thirsty and you gave Me a drink.”