In any review of world history we see hunger forced upon the weaker by the oppressor. This is seen amongst the steppes of Russia and China under many a peripatetic ruler’s wave of terror, the sieges of medieval times, and more recently, the stories of the enforced food restrictions in the Jewish ghettos of Europe that blighted their caged populations, and soon afterwards, there were further calculated efforts by the Nazis, laying siege to the culturally significant metropolis of Leningrad, subsequently and almost gleefully starving the masses of its civilian population. A paltry list of examples during the history of man…
I mention these not to focus strictly upon the evil of the oppressors, but rather upon the state of starvation itself. For such is the state of our hearts. To read accounts of those subjected to such unthinkable cruelty is to be given access to the basest thoughts and actions evidenced out of the human heart. The human condition is revealed in situ, met by those on the inside and outside with feelings of despair, horror, sadness, and hopelessness. I find the same debased heart within myself, oppressed by a sinful nature and forcing me into a state of hunger. I am the perpetrator of starvation and the receiver of the same, woeful and seemingly perpetual.
The further along I travel in this life of mine, the more I sense a similar picture of my life without Christ and His gracious and effective gospel, which is the only thing that dispels the blatant “hunger” my redeemed but still sinful heart undergoes in its ongoing battle with its former self. I simultaneously despise and long for those moments that seem to create unrivaled hunger for peace and hope and mercy. I feel despair as I find myself looking back at my acquiescence to assorted temptations. I am horrified at my heart’s true potential. I am saddened by my proneness to wander, lured away by my depravity. And then the resulting hopelessness seems to start the cycle anew. Hunger begets hopelessness begets hunger…
This insight is captured within in the antihero of Knut Hamsun’s celebrated work of fiction, “Hunger”, which follows the tortuous downward spiral of an unnamed man as he is met with protracted starvation in his impoverished state within a city ironically named “Christiania”… He writes,
“I opened my eyes; how could I keep them shut when I could not sleep? The same darkness brooded over me; the same unfathomable black eternity, which my thoughts strove against and could not understand. I made the most despairing efforts to find a word black enough to characterize this darkness; a word so horribly black that it would darken my lips if I named it. Lord, how dark it was, and I am carried back in thought to the sea and the dark monsters that lay in wait for me. They would draw me to them, and clutch me tightly and bear me away by land and sea, through dark realms that no soul has seen. I feel myself on board, drawn through waters, hovering in clouds, sinking – sinking. I give a hoarse cry of terror, clutch the bed tightly – I had made such a perilous journey, whizzing down through space like a bolt. Oh, did I not feel that I was saved as I struck my hands against the wooden frame! This is the way one dies! Now you will die! And I lay for a while and thought over that I was to die.”
We begin life hungry. After our first breaths, we as newborns fussily awaited our first meal for which we were utterly dependent upon. We also begin life with a heart hungrily in need of redemption from its innately darkened state, stained by a nature that stems back to the creation story and humanity’s progenitor. – Isn’t it odd that the original sin is coupled with that which is edible?
The only thing I despise more than my original sinful heart is my redeemed heart that on occasion still seeks sinful solace in its former unredeemed self. Thankfully, the convicting “hunger” that arises from these moments is such that it causes deep painful groaning and pangs, which the Holy Spirit uses to lead me to real sustenance, which is found in repentance and belief. And then each week I am brought in my impoverished state to the Table, pointing me to and providing me with the efficacious grace found in my Redeemer, and seen in partaking of the bread and wine.
And then, rather than following a starving nature, oppressed by sin unto death, not totally unlike the nameless man found in Christiania, I am able to rejoice in a heart that finds true and lasting satiation in a resurrected Savior, and life everlasting. Hope then breaks that cycle of despair, horror, and sadness.
Till the day we hunger no more…