In a dry and barren place, book learning - even Good Book learning - is just not enough. When all you have is what you know about God, you find your heart aching like an empty stomach, gnawing at you in the depths of your being.
A vital, living and active faith requires something of the touch of the Holy Spirit, that sense of a presence, that feeling that God is truly with you. It requires knowing, in your inmost places, your belovedness - and love is never merely a word. It's not something you can read in a book or on a greeting card or even on a billboard and "know" in any meaningful sense; it must be experienced.
But that doesn't mean that our book learning, that our head knowledge, is unimportant. Or useless. Or meaningless. Not at all.
In a dry and barren place, in a wilderness, all of that book learning serves as the map. It serves as the solid foundation that lets you know that there's a way through this place. It is what lets you look up and see landmarks - altars, mountains, stones - and see your way through things.
I started this week by saying that I didn't know I was losing my faith because I would have told you that everything I knew in my head, I still knew in my head. I still knew that it was true. And while that didn't give me the experience of my belovedness and the goodness of my God the way that my faith needs to thrive, it is precisely because of all of the things I still knew - all of the truths that I still intellectually assented to - that I didn't lose my faith.
Those truths are what I held onto and eventually, what I stood on to start crawling out of the pit that life had sucked me into.
If I hadn't known the truth of God in a time when I was not feeling the love of God, it would have been far too easy to walk away.
Have you ever had this experience (it's a pretty common one, as far as I know)? You're craving something, really craving something. Your body is begging for some kind of food, some kind of something. But you can't figure out what it is that you're craving.
Even though you can't figure out what you're craving, you know what you're not craving. You know that gnawing, nagging feeling in your body, and you know the kind of thing that it's searching for. So you say something out loud like, "Man, I'm really wanting something. I just don't know what it is." And someone well-meaning around you says something like, "We have some bananas in the kitchen." And you're like, "No. It's not bananas. I know it's not bananas." You just know that based on knowing what that feeling feels like.
The same is true in these spiritual hungers, in these places of famine. Your soul is craving something, but you can't quite put your finger on what. But you know what you don't need. That's because the foundation of truth that you've built in faith knows what's what. That's how, when you feel lonely or lost or abandoned or in despair and the world comes along and says, "We've got bananas in the kitchen," something inside you just knows...no, it's not bananas. It's Jesus. It's always been Jesus. I just have to figure out what exactly of Jesus I'm missing in my life right now.
That's the role that these intellectual foundations play in our lives. They help us to know what we need and what we're missing when our famished soul starts gnawing at us, starts crying out. They keep us from turning away just because we're in a dry spell. They give us the map to read the landscape, and they keep the taste in our mouth of something holy, something good.
So no, in a dry and barren place, all this book learning - even Good Book learning - is not sufficient. But neither is it nothing.
In fact, it's essential.