Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5.6). Strictly speaking, this beatitude of the Lord blesses, not the righteous, but the seekers of righteousness. It is those who are hungry and thirsty for what is just and good who receive the blessings of God, who also says:
Do not be anxious, saying “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we wear?” For the heathen seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His kingdom and its righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well (Mt 6.31–33).
Man’s life consists in seeking, in hungering and in thirsting for righteousness. This is the spiritual teaching of the scriptures and the saints. The satisfaction and rest comes from God, but is a satisfaction and rest which itself always and for eternity becomes the basis of a new hunger and thirst. This is not in contradiction to Christ’s teaching that “he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (Jn 6.35). It is rather the affirmation that the “inquiet” of man’s heart, as Saint Augustine (5th c.) has said, is created “toward God,” and that the “rest” which is found in Him is itself, as Saint Maximus (7th c.) has said, an “ever-dynamic rest,” always growing and developing in ever greater union with the uncontainable and inexhaustible richness and fullness of divine being and life.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa (4th c.) said it this way:
. . . the human mind . . . constantly flowing and dispersing to whatever pleases the senses . . . will never have any notable force in its progress towards the True Good [i.e. God].
For it is impossible for our human nature ever to stop moving; it has been made of its Creator ever to keep changing. Hence when we prevent it from using its energy on trifles, and keep it on all sides from doing what it should not, it must necessarily move in a straight path towards truth (On Virginity).
Thus, in a certain sense, it [our humanity] is constantly being created, ever changing for the better in its growth in perfection; along these lines no limit can be envisaged, nor can its progressive growth in perfection be limited by any term. In this way, in its state of perfection, no matter how great and perfect it may be, it is merely the beginning of a greater and superior stage (Commentary on the Song of Songs).
This spiritual teaching means that the truly spiritual person will not merely move from unrighteousness to righteousness, but will move for all eternity in God to ever-greater righteousness and perfection, The hunger and thirst in this way is an essential characteristic of the living soul of the righteous person; it is the essential dynamic of spiritual life. The Apostle Paul has given this very doctrine:
. . . But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded . . . (Phil 3.13–16).
And we all, with unveiled faces, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the spirit (2 Cor 3.18).
There is no satisfaction for man’s spirit but God. It is the satisfaction of perpetual growth in union with God. To hunger and thirst for God, “for the living God” (Ps 42.2) is spiritual life. To be filled and contented with anything else is death for the soul.