Emptiness and fullness
“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence”Psalm 16:11
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”John 10:10
The Christian life, in many ways, is about experiencing the fullness of God in Jesus Christ. If Jesus promises fullness, what are we then to do with the times when we feel empty?
The theme of emptiness and fullness comes up frequently in the Bible story. Perhaps the best example is that of Naomi in the book of Ruth. At the start of the book we read how Naomi and her family went to live in the neighbouring country of Moab. Tragedy strikes and she loses both her husband and her sons, after which she returns to her home town of Bethlehem. As she travels with her daughter-in-law, Ruth, she decides on a change of name: from Naomi (meaning ‘sweet’) to Mara (meaning ‘bitter’). She declares to the people of her hometown:
“I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.”Ruth 1:21
For Naomi, the work of God seems to have brought her to a place of emptiness instead of fullness. She appears to have lost her fullness, and been left with empty hands and an empty heart.
It is quite possible for us to feel much the same way too. Life is very rarely an experience of greater and greater fullness in every way. Rather, we can go through patches where we seem to be being emptied out instead of filled up. We hear the promise of fullness of life from Jesus’ lips, but our experience in the moment is one of emptiness. Grief, loss, depression and disappointment are just a few of life’s difficulties that can leave us feeling empty.
If our experience seems to be one of emptiness, then it is good to remember that Naomi’s story does not end at chapter one. Although the book is entitled ‘Ruth’ and follows the events of Ruth’s life, in lots of ways the focus of the book is also on Naomi. The Biblical narrative follows Naomi from emptiness at the start to fullness at the end. She enters Bethlehem in chapter one with empty hands; by the final chapter her hands are literally full with the child of Ruth and Boaz. Was Naomi empty at the start of the book? Certainly. But God had not finished with her. She was empty but not destined to stay that way. And neither are we.
Living the Christian life is about fullness, but it is also about being emptied as well. As disciples of Jesus we are to be emptied of our selfish pride, our self-reliance, our sinful thoughts and actions. We are to die daily to ourselves, and be emptied moment by moment. But that emptying is not the end, but rather the beginning. We are emptied in order to be filled.
As Jesus said:
“unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”John 12:24
We are to lose our life, be emptied of our old self, so that the new self can rise and be filled with fullness of life.
If we experience fullness of joy and life here and now, then we ought to rejoice and praise the One who fills us. If we experience emptiness, then we are to hold on to hope in the One who can bring us back to life. If we are trusting Jesus, we have not been emptied for no reason; God empties us in order to fill us more than before. Just as a glass cannot be filled without pouring out what is already there, so we may experience a pouring out now, so that fullness of joy will come in season.