What To Do With Desire?
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5
And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts.
O Come, Desire of nations, bind,
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace,
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
Delight yourself also in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
The reality of desire in the human heart has confronted every major religion to the core. Buddhism, for instance, teaches that pain, suffering and dissatisfaction are caused directly by human desires, which must be counteracted by detachment. The current emphasis on mindfulness can sometimes be a response to stimuli which threaten to overwhelm us and feed endless desires for “more and better.” Many Christians, due to past wounds and disappointments, avoid talk of desire even though they follow a Savior who endured his “passion” precisely for them.
But what does the Christian faith actually teach us about desire? Is it good or bad? The answer is: It depends. Before sin invaded the world, desire and fulfillment were part of everyday life in the garden. Toil, rest, eating, drinking, sex, all referred to in Genesis 1-3, were elements of God’s design. God saw all that he created, including desire and fulfillment, and it was good, within limits. It still is.
But here is the problem: By eating the forbidden fruit, man has unleashed the possibility of using earthly desires to try to fulfill spiritual or eternal needs. And so it continues today. Teenage boys seeking connection, comfort and belonging find themselves secretly turning to porn. 1 Timothy 6:10, speaking of money, says, “It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” False gods always produce some degree of pain. A feature of the followers of Baal was to cut themselves. (1 Kings 18:28.) Pain can often be the great engineer of spiritual bottoms. As the 12 and 12 says, “John Barleycorn himself had become our best advocate.”
The serpent’s lie was that control, power and recognition would lead to life. “You will be like God.” What did he mean? One thing he meant is that we would be free from limitations. No need to say “no” to ourselves. No need to wait for someone with whom to connect. We could simply connect with ourselves. Masturbation is self-connection. This has led to secrecy, isolation, disconnection and the diminution of authentic desire. Why do advertisers run commercials for ED with 30 year old male models? Hint: ED is often not physical.
This resulting idolatrous attitude would cause humanity to “seek natural means (sex, food, drink) to serve unnatural ends. Those of us in the sex addiction recovery movement know this only too well. We have used lust for ego, power, and control in addition to using it ward off fear, depression, and meaningless. But in so doing, we were barking up the wrong tree because these are things only God and authentic human connection can deliver.
But in the midst of this brokenness, desire still remains His gift, one that the enemy fears because it speaks powerfully of God’s remarkable creativity. Curt Thompson has said the primary role of shame is to derail us from the creative enterprises God is calling us to engage in. Men engage with porn partly because God is calling them to engage in His amazing work and they either cannot or will not connect with the energy and desire it requires.. Here are a few things I have learned about desire.
1. It is a gift from God that the enemy fears. Desire can create energy, inspire creativity and help fulfill a vision from start to finish. A family member of mine who is a builder says he has seen God’s hand in building houses more than anything else he does. Is this because God himself is the master builder, creating beautiful things out of nothing? And in doing them with him, we “feel his pleasure?” (Eric Liddell) Most things of significance in this world are kindled by desire. Parents conceiving and raising children, athletes and artists training for and executing a skillful performance or a job well done, all never begin without desire. There is literally no substitute for it, just as there is no substitute for God himself. In this regard, the devil is envious of both God and us humans because he cannot create. He can only distort. Like Sanaballat the Horonite (whose name means “may sin give him life”) in Nehemiah 2:10, he cannot create anything. He can only stand on the sidelines and criticize.
2. Because desire is often alloyed with sinful tendencies, it must often be corrected or reined in. We must submit it regularly to God or the counsel of others and be slow to speak as James warns, lest we go off in the wrong direction. This is a lifelong project, especially for those of us wrestling with addictions. As Bill W. warned years ago, “In the years ahead, we…will make mistakes. Experience has taught us that we need have no fear of doing this, providing we remain willing to admit our faults and to correct them promptly.” As Bill Sees It, p. 65
3. Most importantly, desire points to something beyond itself. C.S. Lewis said this about desire: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing…I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”
If you would like to read more about this, we recommend Christopher West’s book Fill These Hearts, shown below. We indeed have much to look forward to in the marriage supper of the lamb. All the desires of this world will be corrected, perfected and fulfilled in “the desire of all nations,” Jesus himself.
In the Lust-Bearer,
Executive Director, Living Without Lust