Hunger: The Necessary Ingredient for True Joy

Hunger is an essential part of enjoying food. If you’ve ever been on a backpacking trip, you know how delicious those boil-in-bag meals taste at the end of a long day’s trek. Lowering your pack, untying the boots, airing out the socks, starting a campfire, and pouring ash-laden scalding water into that foil pouch, it feels like eternity waiting the 9-11 minutes for those dehydrated bits of noodle and beef to become heaven on earth.

I’ve never actually eaten a boil-in-bag meal except when I was tired, ravenous, dirty, and about to sleep on the damp floor of a tent. They may actually be quite disgusting. But in the wilderness, they are the best meal you’ve ever tasted.

Fasting and Feasting.

Surely it’s a principle that is true in all of life: we have to experience fasting in order to fully enjoy feasting. I was reading in the book of Proverbs this week, and stumbled upon this jewel of wisdom:

“One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” (Proverbs 27:7)

King Solomon is pointing out how necessary lack is to true joy. When life is constant success, when the stomach is continually filled, it becomes like a steady diet of honey. Eventually the constant sweetness makes us feel sick. But when we go through seasons of great hunger–when life is difficult, when the days are long and the nights are longer, when we truly suffer–even bitter food leaves a sweetness on our tongue.

Hunger. We normally consider it a curse, something to be avoided. But it is the hungry one who is able to enjoy and savor even the most bitter parts of life. The one who is gorged on continual riches actually loses the ability to find joy in anything.

Hope for the Hungry.

The Bible word for hunger is hope. Hope is the hunger of the soul for something still lacking. We don’t hope for something we have attained; we don’t hunger for something we have already eaten. Hope recognizes something is missing–something absolutely vital–and looks to the future believing one day faith will become sight. One day our deepest longing will be satisfied.

Paul tells us that “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). We rejoice in hope–in our hunger. And as a hungry people who do not live the best life now but often experience great difficulty and suffering, it is our deep hunger that makes even the bitter parts of life to taste sweet:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Paul rejoices in hope, and he rejoices in sufferings because ultimately suffering only produces more hope. This is what King Solomon was showing us in Proverbs. We rejoice and persevere through great lack and hunger and suffering in our lives because we know that the great hunger, the great hope, will lead to even greater satisfaction.

Suffering is necessary to joy. I’m reminded of the final meal just before the Exodus. Moses commanded the people to prepare the Passover lamb and roast it over a fire “with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Exodus 12:8). It was a meal of hope. Their suffering would soon come to an end. After 400 years of slavery, this bitter meal was the sweetest thing they had tasted. Once the sacrifice was made, they hoped in God’s promise for complete salvation. 

Paul writes, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). If we have tasted of his sacrifice, we have hope in the midst of bitter suffering. Even while we hunger and hope for his return, we “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of [our] faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

A New Appetite.

If we cannot rejoice in suffering, perhaps it is because we are hungry for the wrong things. We think ease and success and health will satisfy our souls. We convince ourselves that less difficulty and distress will give us joy. When Jeremiah experienced immense hunger of the soul, his great suffering showed him who alone could satisfy:

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:24)

In the Garden of Eden, God was showing Adam and Eve that he alone, the Tree of Life, could feed their weary souls. In the wilderness, he allowed the Israelites to hunger so that they would see that they needed not bread but the Lord. When the Lord withholds things from us–like the forbidden fruit, like water and food in the wilderness–that hunger is essential for us to find our joy and fulfillment in him.

Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord calls to our appetites and encourages us to hunger for him:

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…” (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Let us not despise suffering in our lives. Suffering produces hope. Suffering makes us more and more hungry for the return of Jesus Christ and the eternal presence of the Lord. Jesus has promised: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).

(photo credit: Roman Pohorecki)