In a famous Dickens novel, a young orphan, Oliver Twist, has just been transferred from the orphanage to a work house. Shortly after his arrival, he is turned out of the work house.
His crime? He went up and asked for seconds at mealtime. He wanted more.
That one scene in the book could provide plenty of raw material for several rather poignant blog posts. However, for the moment, I’ve been thinking (rather randomly, not prompted by anything in particular) about man’s hunger for “more” in general. It seems like most of us have this trait. It expresses itself in many different ways, and we use a lot of different terms to describe it, with both positive and negative connotations (e.g., passion, dissatisfaction, obsession, drive). But this urge is too prevalent in mankind for us not to at least wonder if this hunger we have for more (whatever “more” represents) is really inherent to our nature.
Regardless of why we have this drive for more, it seems to be a double-edged sword of sorts. It can get us into a lot of trouble…but it can also be the very thing that propels us to great accomplishments. For that reason, it’s difficult to make a case either way as to whether our hunger for more is a good thing or a bad thing. It really seems to depend on the context, and even then there can be some mixture.
Let’s illustrate this a bit. Let’s imagine someone whose list of accomplishments is long and impressive. He/she has built great buildings, or composed beautiful symphonies, or won the Nobel prize for scientific research–maybe even dabbling successfully in several disciplines. That kind of thing doesn’t just “happen” to a person; it requires work, commitment, and perseverance to achieve those kinds of accolades. We could say that a hunger for more was what moved that person forward–a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo, and a desire to do something about it. This is a very positive application of a drive for more.
But that very same drive that brought the person into success can also be a sort of curse. Perhaps that person is haunted by a voice of the past, or a deep trauma, and the long list of accomplishments brings that person no sense of satisfaction–which is why there must always be another accomplishment. That person does many good things, but like a classic overachiever, can never stop and rest. The hunger for more is in overdrive, and can ultimately drive that person into depression, illness, or an early grave.
Then there are those people for whom the hunger for more translates to little more than an insatiable lust, and they try to fill the hunger with a long line of self-indulgences: drugs, alcohol, food, sex, etc. This can happen not only for those with a lazy streak or a low moral compass, but also for people who have been successful. An overachiever with no constructive project in front of them can find their drive for more leading them into self-destructive activities. Many stories have been written about the classic American male who “has it all”–a fine wife, great job, great kids, lots of toys, and plenty of leisure time–who runs off and has an affair and loses everything. We marvel at why that person would throw it all away. This story line is common because it is common with us. We might have it all–but we still are unsatisfied. We want more.
I suggested earlier that the hunger for more is an inherent characteristic among us–something we all have. Yet we all know exceptions. Most of us know someone with loads of potential who seems to be completely passive and indifferent–no passion whatsoever. Then there are whole cultures that strongly discourage and suppress the longing for more: your place is your place, and you should never try to move past it. I find that religion in general has this effect, whether religious Christianity or other religions. In these cases, a person’s longing for more might be a very healthy, positive thing–but it is inevitably going to get that person in trouble with the powers that be. For me–I can really relate to Oliver Twist. My hunger for more (more of God, more authenticity in faith and the church) has gotten me into hot water with plenty of people, and has even gotten me turned out of some places.
This is strictly opinion and conjecture, but I still believe that even though many people seem “satisfied” to the point that they do not press on for something better, this hunger for more is something inherent in mankind. I personally believe it takes some sort of external force (e.g., personal hardship/trauma/abuse, or an oppressive culture) to suppress that hunger in us. I think when that happens, even though we might seem okay on the outside, we become a shadow of what we could be.
This urge of ours, as I said, can both spur us on to greatness or get us into trouble. One might even conclude that our hunger for more is actually dangerous. But that does not make it bad.
There is a belief in Hebraic/Jewish thought that “sin” is simply a result of misguided, misdirected passion. While many Christians seem to lean toward the belief that passion in general is a part of our sin nature that should be “suppressed” or “crucified,” Jewish thought is that our passions are God-given, and simply need to be directed toward God rather than away from Him. I understand the concept of self-denial in the New Testament, but I tend to think we’ve over-interpreted this idea. I don’t think God intended self-denial or death-to-self to mean a suppressing of natural passions He built into us; I think it has more to do with crucifying the selfishness within us that is definitely a root of sin. In other words–I think this is an area where the Hebrews have it right. The battle each of us fight over our sin nature is much better fought, I think, by aiming our passions in a more life-giving direction, rather than trying to shut them down.
So all this rambling is to say that I think our hunger for more is a good thing, because I think God created it in us. We simply don’t seem to reach our full potential without it. I think it is one of those things that God created good that the enemy tries to hijack and corrupt for evil. Yes, it can be difficult to handle, it can be painful, it can get us into trouble. But I think the healthiest thing we can do with it is not to shut it off, but to aim it in positive directions. If our hunger for more propels us toward God, toward significance, toward making a positive difference–it’s definitely a good thing.
That’s what I think, anyway.
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