The Moth and the Star

Many years ago I read a wonderful book by Alister McGrath titled Glimpsing the Face of God. He refers to the English poet Percy Shelley who saw the moth’s desire for the light of the stars as a symbol of our heart’s desire for something distant, maybe even transcendent.

Have you ever thought about why the moth is attracted to light? It is like the moth has a built-in tendency to be drawn to sources of light. However, no one seems to know why they seem to have this biological attraction to almost any source of illumination.

McGrath then points out that with the arrival of various sources of artificial light, the moth finds himself in a quandary. A lighted candle that draws a moth will consume it. A large floodlight on a city building can attract moths then vaporize them on contact. If a moth is drawn to the wrong light source it leads to its destruction.

Is this not a picture of our own situation? McGrath eloquently puts it this way:

“Suppose that the deep sense of yearning for something that really satisfies us is actually a longing for God—a longing we are meant to experience, and a longing that is meant to lead us to its true source and goal in God. Might not this longing accidentally become attached to lesser goals within this world? Might our quest for beauty become an end in itself, yet break our hearts because it fails to deliver what we had anticipated? Might our quest for significance end up being completely frustrated in that everything that we hoped would bring meaning to our lives seems to disappoint us? The objects of our desire have a marked tendency to let us down. But suppose that these objects are like the candle to the moth—something which is only an image of our true desire? Might there be something, which is what we really are meant to desire, that will not destroy us but bring us fulfilment and joy?”

These words of McGrath’s remind me of a powerful verse in the Old Testament. The prophet Jeremiah explains why humans never seem to be able to find the means to quench the deep thirst of their souls. He says:

“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to make for them cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (2:13)

God is telling us He is the source of living water, but so many reject Him, and instead seek to build their own cistern to capture the water that might satisfy the thirst of their souls. However, it is an effort in futility as all human strategies fail us. They are all broken, they can’t hold water. It leaves us empty.

God invites us to come to the fountain of living water, and to drink. There is no other true source for us to drink from.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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