Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thirst for God

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, God.   
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”  (Psalms 42:2-3)

When tragedy strikes—particularly when a young person dies—people ask me, “How can you believe in God? What kind of God would allow such terrible things to happen?” And I cannot help but agree with them. The world is filled with sorrow and we are filled with longing for something better than this world.  The image of a deer seeking water at the stream gives me a sense of serenity.  This is the natural course of the universe: creatures long to feel close to their Creator, to derive sustenance from the Source of all life.  I can almost see a reflection of God’s presence in the life-giving water. These verses from Psalms also remind me of what a Baha’i friend taught me about faith: God is like a stream of water, and we all dip our cups into the same stream and drink from it to quench our thirst.

The words of your Baha’i friend speak to me also, Tziporah. The God for which we all yearn, especially in the midst of great pain or angst, is, I think, bigger than even our most revered Scriptures teach us, deeper than our minds can grasp, and more true than our religious traditions can codify. I think our minds correctly question “what kind of God would allow…” while our hearts tell us truthfully that the God we try to “believe in,” or the God we hate to “believe in,” is not the fullness of the living God who believes in us and loves useven beyond belief.  Living water is an apt metaphor for a God who cannot be contained, defined, or bounded.  The flowing stream is eternally creative, life-giving, and life-restoring.  Thirst for the living God keeps us on a true path.

As I reflected on these words, I understood them as a testimony given by someone who has experienced love for God, and peace and contentment from remembering Him. I was reminded of this verse in the Quran: “Those who believe and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of God, for without doubt, in the remembrance of God, do hearts find satisfaction.” (al-Raad 13:28) The awareness of being in the presence of God is a state we experience from beyond our senses; its effect leaves our hearts and souls yearning. Whether through prayer, praise, giving charity or other acts of worship, the heart eventually finds peace and satisfaction. I find the words of Muslim scholar Ibn Qayyim befitting: “Truly, in the heart there is a sadness that cannot be removed except with the happiness of knowing God and being true to Him; and in it there is an emptiness that cannot be filled except with love for Him and by turning to Him, and always remembering Him.


  1. This strikes a real chord with me because I have long thought that the question of whether one can believe in God when horrific things happen is a little bit beside the point. That's because I don't believe that God "allows" these things to happen in an active sense. Nor do I feel that devout belief earns us preferential treatment. I do think that study/exploration/belief/prayer earn us knowledge and spiritual growth. And those are things that can help us cope with disaster, as well as the heady feelings of celebration and the myriad other things that impact our lives. In a world in which our journey is defined less by what happens to us and more by how we handle it, the act of exploring life on a spiritual level gives us more tools - and can even help us learn how to use them. Horrific events - be they contemplated or accidental - are just that. The decisions we make as we take steps to go on living is where God comes into the picture.

  2. Your comment is a perfect summary of how I have come to terms with this aspect of the "journey," as you call it. Spiritual growth, like emotional growth, is a process of learning that we cannot control the things that happen in the world or the way other people behave. Each of us can only control (to a certain extent) our own response. As far as God allowing these things to happen, I tend to follow Rabbi Kushner's way of thinking, as introduced in his famous work, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I'll add the link to recommended reading. B'shalom, Tziporah