Broken cisterns

My people have committed a compound sin: they’ve walked out on me, the fountain of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns — cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves. — Jeremiah 2:13, The Message

Yosemite Falls creek

The hills and valleys of southern Mexico had turned the color of café con leche, the sun was already oppressive by mid-morning, and the community was living with strict water rationing. Water only flowed through the pipes in the street once a week in our neighborhood, and then for only a few hours at a time. When it flowed, we had to store all that we could.

But there was a leak in the massive brick and concrete cistern behind the house, and even without using a drop the water level in the big storage tank kept steadily declining day after day. I wondered if our reserve water supply might run dry before the drought ended.

Where will we get more water? It’s a question very common to people in the undeveloped world, but one that our tapped in, turned on and abundantly supplied American society rarely gives a second thought to. We can take water from the faucet or public water fountains whenever we need it, but we are by no means limited to something as prosaic as municipal water when we’re thirsty. We have flavored waters, electrolyte and vitamin enriched waters, carbonated waters, imported waters, and water that soothes both thirst and our sense of global responsibility by contributing a portion of the profits to well-drilling projects in the undeveloped world.

The famously OCD television detective, Adrian Monk, would never drink anything but Sierra Springs bottled water. He bought the stuff by the case so that he’d never run out. In one episode, lost in the wilderness and delirious from thirst, he and his friends stumbled across a small creek. They managed to trick Monk into believing that they had found the real Sierra Spring so that he would agree to take a much-needed drink.

For all we know, the “defective detective” contracted giardia thanks to the well-meaning deception of his friends.

As much as our bodies need water to live, our spirits also crave a steady and pure supply of spiritual water.

Whether you believe in God or not, our ordinary human experience gives ample proof that we thrive when we are loved, when we are surrounded by beauty, when we live in a society permeated by justice, fairness, kindness and goodness. We may find these things only rarely in life, but when we do they refresh us and lighten our spirits as though we’ve been drenched by a cool, mountain spring.

But what we may fail to realize is that this inner yearning for cool, spiritual water is not merely a hope for a more perfect society or a storybook love affair. What our hearts crave is at root a yearning for a relationship with the God who created us, the God who gives purpose and meaning to life, the God who himself longs to be part of our lives, especially at those times when human love deserts and human kindness fails.

Jesus knew physical thirst, and he saw around him the debilitating effects of spiritual dryness. He borrowed and personalized Jeremiah’s water metaphor this way, in an impromptu conversation with a woman he found taking water from a well:

Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life. — John 4:13, 14, NLT

But just like the hotly competitive beverage market, we see today a thriving spiritual marketplace full of alternative gods and competing revelations, all claiming to satisfy our parched and desiccated spirits.

Today, our consumer-focused, post-modern culture increasingly doubts there can be only one, true Sierra Spring. We view matters of faith and spirituality as a buffet-style, personal taste experience, where one flavor of spiritual devotion should slake our thirst as well as any other.

Simultaneously, we know unquestionably that there is only one true iPhone, only one genuine Versace, only one authentic Rolex… so why are we convinced there must be many roads to spiritual enlightenment?

Implicit in God’s lament to Jeremiah is that there is only one true God, and only one living fountain of spiritual water that is able to satisfy our deepest thirst. Jesus and Jeremiah are in agreement on this: belief is either true or mistaken; we either drink deeply from Jesus’ spring of living water, or settle for some cheap, back-alley knockoff.

Anyone who has ever hiked in the mountains knows there are many fissures in the rock and many springs bubbling from the deep. Some flow for only a short distance before disappearing back underground, others become steady and dependable streams supporting both ancient oaks and thirsty wildlife.

In Jesus alone is found that limitless spring of purest, living water that will satisfy our deepest thirst.

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