You’ve probably seen a few mirages in your day. Drive down the highway on a hot summer day and sometimes the pavement up ahead looks like a shiny lake – but it keeps melting away as you approach it. It’s just a mirage. Light bends differently in the hot air near the surface of the road. Look into a glass of water with a pencil in it and the pencil seems to be broken or disconnected. Same principle: Light bends differently through different densities – air versus water.
People traveling in the desert are sure they see a pool of water up ahead. More often than not, it’s a mirage. It’s not really there. A fellow traveling with Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1798 was the first person to explain the mirages in the desert scientifically.
You don’t have to be mad with thirst to see a mirage. In fact, because a mirage is made up of refracted light waves, it can actually be photographed. In that sense, a mirage is real. And yet, it’s not real. You and the camera are still seeing something that isn’t really there.
All this can be quite fascinating unless you happen to be stranded in the desert for days with no water. You see what looks like a pool of water shimmering in the distance. You scramble over the hot sands to get there. Nothing. More sand. However beautiful it may appear, a mirage will never quench your thirst.
For that you would need something else that sometimes shows up in the desert. You would need an oasis. An oasis is real. It is a pool of cool water, perhaps fed by underground streams and shaded by palm trees. An oasis may be quite small, or large enough to quench the thirst of thousands.
When Moses first led Israel out of bondage into the wilderness, the 15th chapter of Exodus closes with the words: “Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there by the waters.” How glad they must have been for that oasis, for that life-giving water in the desert!
So here you and I sit in the desert of our soul’s discontent. The world beckons us to its fancy fountains and glitzy ice cream stands out here in the desert – whether, as with Israel, to a golden calf, or to the worship of money, things, fun, success, sex, self. But once we get close enough to reach out our hand, it all disappears. It’s all a mirage. We are still thirsty, unsatisfied, disappointed. We wither away.
But here stands Jesus in the desert of our discontent, saying: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink!” Christ alone is the real thing! Christ alone satisfies!