I think one of the most interesting, personal encounters that Jesus has is meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-19). Jesus is somewhere near this well when she arrives and He asks her for a drink. She is surprised that Jesus would even speak to her because typically, Jews would have no dealings with Samaritans.
Jesus responds by telling her that He can offer her “living water.” He is speaking of the spiritual need in her life, but she does not seem to understand what He is offering. She thinks Jesus is literally going to give her something to drink. Something that might make her life better.
Jesus tells her the problem with water is that you “will thirst again.” Jesus is revealing that all we enjoy in the physical world does not produce lasting satisfaction. You will get thirsty again. As I often tell men’s groups, you can go to the greatest resorts in the world, play on the finest golf courses, eat at the best restaurants, drink the most exceptional wines and have the greatest sex, but you wake up the next morning, and you are thirsty again. There is nothing lasting about it.
Jesus explains to the Samaritan woman that the living water is lasting. He says the water I offer you “will become a well of water springing up to eternal life.” She seems to want this water, but does not fully understand yet what he is telling her.
Then Jesus, out of the blue says something quite surprising: “Go call your husband and have him come here.” She responds, “I have no husband.” Jesus then commends her for speaking truthfully. She has been married five times and is currently living with a man who is not her husband. The woman has clearly been looking to men to try and fill the emptiness and thirst of her soul. It hasn’t worked.
The Bible frequently uses imagery of bodily thirst to help us understand that we all have a thirst in our souls that only God can satisfy with “living water.”
There is a powerful verse in the book of Jeremiah that explains this woman’s life and the lives of so many people in our world today. He says, “My people have committed two sins, they have forsaken Me, the fountain of the living water, and have dug their own cisterns that cannot hold water (2:13).
C. S. Lewis demonstrates this truth about the thirst of the human soul in one of his stories in the Chronicles of Narnia. The Narnia books are a series of allegorical children’s stories, yet they speak powerfully to the lives of adults as well. A young girl named Jill in Lewis’ book The Silver Chair presents a wonderful representation of humanity. She is clearly consumed with herself and is convinced that she alone knows what is best for her life. She wants to have nothing to do with Aslan, the great and magnificent lion who represents Christ. Yet Jill is desperately searching for water:
Jill grows unbearably thirsty. She can hear a stream somewhere in the forest. Driven by her thirst, she begins to look for this source of water—cautiously, because she is fearful of running into the Lion. She finds the stream, but she is paralyzed by what she sees there: Aslan, huge and golden, still as a statue but terribly alive, is sitting beside the water. She waits for a long time, wrestling with her thoughts and hoping that he’ll just go away.
Then Aslan says, “If you are thirsty, you may drink.”
Jill is startled and refuses to come closer.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion. “I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The lion answered this only by a look and very low growl. And just as Jill gazed at its motionless hulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her near frantic.
“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I come?”
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
So many men spend their lives looking for some other stream to finally and forever quench the thirsts of their souls. However, Jesus says there is no other stream. And He is very clear about the fact that if we do not drink from this spring—the fountain of living water—we will die.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.