There’s an insightful verse I read recently that reminds us what it looks like when we look for fulfillment in the wrong places. It’s Jeremiah 2.13, and the Lord is speaking to his wayward people. For context, let’s start in verse 12: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (NRSV).
That’s a pretty good summary of what life looks life when we go astray. It starts when we turn away from the living water that gives life, that sustains, that refreshes and restores. The heavens are understandably shocked that God’s people would turn away from the life he gives.
But it gets worse, as it always does. For when we turn away from the One who provides living water, we find ourselves trying to carve out our own resources. But it turns out, they don’t hold water. Sure, they may seem to work for a time, as we seek life in: work or success or accomplishment or reputation or money or relationships or sex or travel or “being true to ourselves” – but eventually, individualized truth turns out to be no truth at all. Being your own source of life and purpose is a pretty small well, indeed. One that eventually springs some leaks.
We see this in Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the Samaritan well. She is coming to get water – the kind she has to get every day. Jesus offers her water that springs up into eternal life. By saying this, Jesus isn’t just offering life after we die – he is offering life in the new age. This new age is the kingdom he has come to ignite through his death and resurrection, and will fully institute when he returns.
In other words, we can choose life in the new age, or in this age. Life in the new age starts now, as we drink deeply of the life Jesus offers – and share that with others. Life in this age is limited to this fallen world – where we live for the moment, because the moment is all we have.
It was truly shocking when God’s people in the OT turned (repeatedly!) from this life, for they had been chosen to be the initiators of God’s kingdom – starting with the Hebrew people in the OT, and expanding to all people in the NT and beyond. But they weren’t content with the life God offered, so they went searching to slake their thirst at new fountains, and by digging their own wells. It didn’t last. It never does.
We can look back and wonder at their arrogance and cluelessness. But what about us? How often do we seek to quench our thirst with anything but the living and lasting water? Where am I seeking – right now! – refreshment and restoration that can never satisfy? Where do I need to turn and be filled – and find real life! – through the only one who offers Living Water?