Summary: The satisfaction found in God is no simple "self satisfaction", as Isaiah warns his people, but that God offers purpose, meaning and a reason to live!
The prophet Isaiah has discovered something crucial in his relationship with God. God calls us toward that which offers real satisfaction.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have 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 labour for that which does not satisfy.
These words are as fresh today as they were when they were written some 2,600 years ago. They are also as necessary as they were all that time ago. Let’s ask the question a slightly different way – Are we falling for the age-old temptation of choosing worldly riches over spiritual riches?
These words are especially timely because of a piece that appeared in The Age (Melbourne) during last week. Matt Wade reports that “Australia has emerged as one of the most work-focused countries in the world…” This focus is taking a great toll on relationships and gobbling up the time people have available to be involved in other activities. So it would appear that some of us at least are choosing to expend our efforts on that which does not, in the end satisfy. It was the same in the time of Isaiah the prophet and it is the same now. We have so many things to think about and do that we forget the really important things of life to which God constantly calls us. If it were not Lent would we be making a special effort to find God afresh in our lives? And if the lectionary had not called us to these words of Isaiah would we have picked up our Bibles and read them of our own accord? The calendar and the lectionary are gifts given so that we might hear God’s voice amid the noise that surrounds our lives. There are other voices too – those who do the research that draws our attention to the negative effects of working too much help us to get things in perspective. It is interesting that the report coincides so closely with the readings for the Third Sunday in Lent!
Some may not be directly caught up in the over-work syndrome but none-the-less may be suffering from the fall-out it creates. Perhaps family members are separated by distances demanded the global work culture. Perhaps business means that family get-togethers are too infrequent. Maybe some are caught up in having to care for grand children a bit more than might be ideal!
Many of us feel a sense of vocation about what we do. I wish I could practice what I preach to a far greater extent. I wish Jenny (my wife and colleague) would practice what I preach too! Because we feel strongly about our vocation, because are in a people business, because we live over the shop, because some people expect it, and because there is always more to do than there are hours in the day we can easily become too work focused. Our work can indeed be very satisfying in itself but it not the satisfaction about which Isaiah speaks.
The satisfaction we are called to can be very hard won. In fact it takes a great amount of faith to believe it. Begin by trying to imagine the power of the creative forces behind the universe. Then try to imagine that this power is personal, that is, we can relate to this power even if our pronouns of him, her, or it are all in the end, inadequate. Now that is a huge step. Now, go well beyond this and imagine we have experienced this power in human form as Jesus Christ. This means that we understand our relationship with this power as that between a loving parent and the much loved child. I don’t think anyone can come to this belief by reason alone. You need a great deal of faith. In fact the 19th century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach thought that what Christians were doing was projecting an image of the ideal father figure onto those powers of the universe. The great philosopher Bertrand Russell once made a quip that went something like this: “If I were all powerful and had all eternity to do nothing other than create I would not be happy if humanity was considered my crowning achievement.” These are telling criticisms and from the perspective of someone who does not believe it must seem that faith in a loving God is nothing more than fantasy. But what a difference it makes to life to see things in this way – there is purpose, there is meaning, and there is reason for living. It is a very satisfying way for human beings to understand the universe. This notion of satisfaction is also difficult because we get it confused with the self-satisfaction. Self-satisfaction is the sort of satisfaction that occurs when we think we are right and everyone else is wrong.