I like to study the etymology of words, you know - where they came from and how they were derived. You can learn a lot about our language in so doing, and discover things that are really interesting in the process. Maybe it’s just me, but I do enjoy it.
I researched the word 'tantalize' this week, thinking that it might possibly have something to do with 'tentacles'. (Why not?) Of course I was wrong, but I was also very happy when I found the origin of the word because its source was from a story I remembered reading in a college Lit class many years ago. In fact you could say that I should have figured that one out for myself.
In Greek mythology, a mere mortal named Tantalus was graciously invited to dine with the gods. He felt he should repay them for their kindness and hospitality, but in his pride he also decided to see if it was possible to deceive the gods during the process. With this in mind, he murdered and roasted his own son Pelops, and served him as the main course for the feast. Demeter, one of the goddesses who lived with the mortals accepted the food, but was immediately repulsed when she bit into the child’s left shoulder. The rest of the gods also ate and became violently ill; at once leaving for Mt. Olympus. As his punishment for such a heinous act, Tantalus was chained to a rock in the middle of a river in Tartarus (the Greek version of hell) with a berry bush hanging just out of reach above his head. The gods also cursed him with an unquenchable thirst and unending hunger. Although Tantalus constantly tried to reach the water or food, each time the water and berries would quickly recede out of his reach. It is from Tantalus's name and eternal torment that we derive our English word "tantalize".
Although it is a myth, I can see so much of Tanatalus’ predicament in the story of my own life. I always seem to find it hard to be satisfied with what I have, and Satan knows this all too well and uses it against me. I’ll buy something for myself or for my family, and before the new wears off I am already searching for the next big thing; all the while flailing my arms and hands at the proverbial berries above my head. Complete contentment on this earth always appears to be just out of reach, yet it tantalizes me because I easily convince myself that it is over there waiting to be purchased behind curtain number three.
In 1rst Timothy, chapter 6 Paul writes, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”
I’ve written in another column about being content, and I was pretty sure at the time that I had it all covered when I posted it. However, I am beginning to believe that being content may be harder to achieve than any other facet of my Christian life. The things of this world and the hope they instill in your heart as far as possible ownership can in fact tantalize you. But it is an empty promise, and in the end those things never fully satisfy anyone.
There is an old saying that, ‘the higher up the berry tree, the sweeter grow the berries.’ Although that might be true (I’m a short person) what is the use in going after those ‘upper’ berries if the ones within reach are enough to mitigate my hunger? If God promises to supply all of my needs then why shouldn’t I choose to be happy with what He, in His wisdom, has provided me with?
Hmm. I do hope I can get the hang of this tantalizing-business.