This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)
The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 5
“1. Christ has officially begun His ministry here. His ministry is a part of His purpose, His goals, and is the set up to His eventual Atonement. Keep this in mind as we study His teachings. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings fit into the Atonement, plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.
2. Each thing Christ has taught in this chapter, He has modeled Himself. He is the Exemplar. You may consider studying some of these qualities and finding instances where Christ exemplifies them. For example: poor in spirit. Find a time when Christ was poor in spirit. How can you follow His behavior in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
This beatitude has been fun to study, and I have to admit that my conception of hungering and thirsting after righteousness has changed a little bit. I hope that what I write will make a little bit of sense and will be beneficial to you, too.
Hunger and Thirst I- What does it really mean?
First of all, I think that it is helpful to understand, at the most basic level, what hungering and thirsting is.
I have to admit, that as a citizen of the United States, and having lived a very blessed life, I’ve never been starving. Because I’m a human, and because I’ve made a few bad decisions while hiking and biking in the desert, I do know what it is like to feel a little dehydrated. Still, I don’t know what it is like to be on death’s door because of a lack of water.
And, usually, when I have thought of this scripture, this is how I’ve conceptualized “hunger and thirst.” I have thought of it more as “starvation and dehydration.” Rather than a simpler form: hunger and thirst.
So – while I’ve never been truly starving, I have been hungry. There have been times when I’ve been a little hungry. (Like between one meal to the next). There have been times when I’ve been super duper ultra hungry (after running a marathon, for example). Hunger is no stranger to my life.
Thirst has been a common experience, as well. In fact, I think I’m thirsty right now.
Okay. So it has been established. I can’t speak for you, but I have experienced hunger and thirst. And, well, I’m actually going to speak for you – or at least I’m going to assume that while you might not have expereinced starvation or dehydration, you have been hungry and thirsty at least once in your life, if not on a daily basis.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that this is exactly what Christ is trying to get us to think about in this scripture. He’s talking about that daily, consistent hunger and thirst – the one that reminds us to eat and drink. I don’t think that he’s really talking about famine or starvation. I believe that He’s talking about something much more universal here.
Hunger and Thirst II – What do you crave?
Now that we’ve established what we mean by hunger and thirst – the daily experience we all have before we eat or drink – we will move on to the next part of this “hunger and thirst” equation.
Christ says, “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (emphasis added). Because of the word, after, I think that I’m guessing that this is more of a craving. Instead of just a basic level of hunger, this scripture is asking us to consider our cravings.
Let’s go back to a physical understanding of hunger/thirst/cravings. In my own experience, I typically crave what I’ve been consistently feeding my body.
For example, when I’m eating a lot of bread, chips, Doritos, candy, and hoagies and a few hours go by when I haven’t eaten anything, guess what I want? Something bread-y, salty, chip-y, hoagie-y, then topped off with some candy. Rarely do I say, “I’d really love some Brussels sprouts” when I’m eating a junkier diet.
On the other hand, when I’m consistently eating fruits, veggies, good fats, and quality meats, then I find myself craving an apple or a salad or a spoon of coconut oil with dark chocolate. I find that, when I condition myself to healthy eating, I honestly crave junk food less…way less.
We are always consuming. In order to stay alive, we must consume. So – we can, to a degree, control our cravings by feeding ourselves a steady diet. Once we have established a habit, then we will find that we hunger after what our body has grown accustomed to.
I think that we can apply the same concept to our spirits. When we “feed” our spirits a diet full of violence and sex, we come to crave these things. Do you think that a person who is subsisting on a spiritual diet of bloodshed is going to say, “I want to go to church!” Instead, it seems like such consumption begets more consumption.
Likewise, if we are regularly consuming a spiritual diet of righteousness – when we are praying/meditating, studying the scriptures, attending the temple, and doing things that will restore our Spirits, we then start to crave it.
SOOOO… if we want to hunger and thirst after righteousness, we need to consistently consume a “spiritual diet” of righteousness. It is after such consistency that we will then start to crave our daily scripture study, prayer, etc.
We will be filled
Again, I’m going to relate this to physical hunger/thirst/satiety. I can speak from experience: when I’m eating the nutrients that my body needs and expects – including lots of healthy protein, some healthy carbs, and plenty of healthy fat, I’m satisfied. I’m full. I don’t get hungry.
When I’m overloading on the stuff that makes my insulin spike, I find that a few hours later (when my insulin is, most likely dropping), I’m hungry. Forget that, I’m hangry! It has taken me some time (and trial and error) to discover that eating processed and overly sugary foods (even if they are billed as “healthy”) will cause these shifts in hormones that then start a domino effect of hormones. I don’t want to get geeky here. The main thing is – I feel hungry all the time when I’m not eating a diet that is appropriate.
Like, I mean, if I sit down to a dinner with pasta and bread, I don’t stop when I feel full. I do what Louis CK has said, “I stop when I hate myself.” Seriously, though…it seems like my brain doesn’t get the message that I’ve eaten, eaten, and eaten – until I’m unbuckling my pants. Then, I don’t feel full, I feel bloated, uncomfortable, and depressed.
I think that this is the same spiritually. When we are filling our minds and spirits with the elements that nurture us: scripture study, prayer, temple attendance, faith, hope, and charity, then we feel full! We feel nourished, we feel strengthened, we feel energized and ready to face what life throws at us. We experience spiritual satiety.
However, when we start to consume materials that are destructive (p*rn comes to mind), then we experience addiction. We are never filled. We consume, consume, and consume until we hate ourselves and everyone around us, too.
This beatitude is truth. When we hunger and thirst after righteousness, then we are filled.
Christ’s Example and the Atonement
As if this blog post isn’t long enough, I want to tie it in to the Atonement. Christ exemplified this beatitude in His life and in the performance of the Atonement.
Christ Hungered and Thirsted after Righteousness
When we think of this beatitude and Christ’s Atonement, we must keep in mind that first Christ had consistently consumed a “diet” of righteousness. He was raised by righteous parents. As a boy, he was taken to the temple and chose to spend time there. Throughout the duration of His life he made righteous decisions. He had a knowledge of the scriptures and a close relationship with His Father (most likely maintained through study and prayer). In fact, when He was baptized, even though He was perfect, he did it to “fulfill all righteousness.” (See Matthew 3:15.)
Christ had a steady spiritual diet of righteousness. He was accustomed to hungering and thirsting after it. He had developed a lifestyle of righteousness, and craved it.
In regards to the Atonement, I find it interesting that Christ describes His experience in the garden of Gethsemane as partaking of the “bitter cup.” (See Doctrine and Covenants 19:18.)
All of us, having sinned, are relatively familiar with “the bitter cup.” I know what it is like to feel the sorrow that comes from the sins I have committed. Sure, because of the Atonement, I don’t necessarily have to “pay” for them, but I think that each of us taste a drop of this bitter cup any time we commit sins and transgressions.
However, Christ had never sinned. He had never tasted of the bitterness that comes from sin and distance from God. I’m not suggesting that Christ had never experienced hardship. Instead, He never had experienced the pain and suffering that comes as a direct result of the sins we commit because He had never committed one. He hadn’t experienced guilt, shame, or sorrow in this way.
Can you imagine the shock of this bitter cup? For each of us, we experience the bitterness that comes as a product of our own sins. But Christ had to experience all of it. After a lifetime of perfect righteousness, he had to descend below and take on every single sin – from a negative thought about another to a murder. He experienced the bitterness of every sin in order to perform an Atonement for all of us. Whether or not we choose to repent, He has already suffered for our sins. Prior to the Atonement Christ had only tasted the sweetness of righteousness and obedience. I think that what Christ had to endure in the garden of Gethsemane – the gall of this bitter cup – would have been impossible for someone who was accustomed to bitterness to endure.
The irony of the “bitter cup” that Christ had to partake was that drinking of the bitter cup was the ultimate test of His righteousness. Partaking of the bitter cup was the sacrifice that He was called to endure. Had he not hungered and thirsted after righteousness for His entire life, He never would have been able to endure partaking of this bitter cup.
I think it is also important to realize that the “bitter cup” is only the effect and consequence of sin. It isn’t the “fun,” convenient, or tempting part of sin that gets us to commit it in the first place. It’s not like Christ had a fun, raucous time partaking of the bitter cup. Instead, He only experienced the distance from God (which distance He had never before experienced), the pain, the shame, the guilt, and the sorrow that comes from sin. He didn’t experience laughter or stupor. He didn’t experience the “adrenaline rush.” He only experienced the after effects which are, in fact, the sobering realities of sin.
It was the “bitter’ cup He drank. Not the pleasure cup. He didn’t get to eat the bag of Doritos, he only felt the bloating that comes afterward.
Because Christ hungered and thirsted after righteousness, He knew that He would have to “drink the bitter cup” and experience the pain and sadness of imperfection and sin. Without such a hunger and thirst after righteousness, I don’t think that anyone would have been able to endure the extreme bitterness of the Atonement.
One last note on this (I know this post is long), His suffering in Gethsemane (“the bitter cup”) was only a part of the Atonement. He would still endure persecution and judgment. He would still endure being nailed to a cross and forsaken by His Father. Only a pure hunger and thirst after righteousness could enable Christ to persevere the depths of His duty.
Christ was Filled
“Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings; and all those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Wherefore, my soul delighteth to prophesy concerning him, for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name.” – 2 Nephi 25:13
Christ rose again – filled – with glory, life, and healing in His wings. Because of what He did in Gethsemane, not only was He filled, but He can fill us.
When we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we come to the Lord, we accept His Atonement in our lives, and we are comforted. We are made capable. We are strengthened. We are filled.
How have you developed a spiritual diet of righteousness? How has it been a blessing to you (how have you been filled?