Posts Tagged ‘desire’

In history there are few Christian thelogians who thought as deeply about the intersection of desire and the Gospel as the Puritans. The only other that I can think of who did so as profoundly was perhaps Augustine, particularly in his Confessions and Homilies on the Gospel of John. In modern times, C.S. Lewis and John Piper have expended a good deal of thought, effort, and paper exploring the intersection of desires and the Gospel. Nevertheless, this intersection seems to have occupied a whole generation of theologians (the Puritans) and they not only drew from the wealth of great Christians who had gone before them, but like iron sharpening iron they drew from one another. Why spend time resurrecting old theology, particularly the theology of folks with such a tainted name as “Puritan.” Well, first off it is valuable in and of itself. Secondly, we in North America live in a committed capitalistic culture, whose market shares deal in selling desire. As a culture, one could say we run on desire. Therefore, it is imperative that you and I learn what the Gospel does and has to say about our desires. In my opinion no one does it better than the Puritans. Which, after a long introduction brings me to the post below. It is worth spending some time thinking through what is being suggested by Chalmers and by all means click through to read the whole thing.

Under the impulse of desire, man feels himself urged onward in some path or pursuit of activity for its gratification. The faculties of his mind are put into busy exercise. In the steady direction of one great and engrossing interest, his attention is recalled from the many reveries into which it might otherwise have wandered; and the powers of his body are forced away from an indolence in which it else might have languished; and that time is crowded with occupation, which but for some object of keen and devoted ambition, might have drivelled along in successive hours of weariness and distaste – and though hope does not always enliven, and success does not always crown this career of exertion, yet in the midst of this very variety, and with the alternations of occasional disappointment, is the machinery of the whole man kept in a sort of congenial play, and upholden in that tone and temper which are most agreeable to it.

Insomuch, that if, through the extirpation of that desire which forms the originating principle of all this movement, the machinery were to stop, and to receive no impulse from another desire substituted in its place, the man would be left with all his propensities to action in a state of most painful and unnatural abandonment. A sensitive being suffers, and is in violence, if, after having thoroughly rested from his fatigue, or been relieved from his pain, he continue in possession of powers without any excitement to these powers; if he possess a capacity of desire without having an object of desire; or if he have a spare energy upon his person, without a counterpart, and without a stimulus to call it into operation.

The misery of such a condition is often realized by him who is retired from business, or who is retired from law, or who is even retired from the occupations of the chase, and of the gaming table. Such is the demand of our nature for an object in pursuit, that no accumulation of previous success can extinguish it – and thus it is, that the most prosperous merchant, and the most victorious general, and the most fortunate gamester, when the labour of their respective vocations has come to a close, are often found to languish in the midst of all their acquisitions, as if out of their kindred and rejoicing element. It is quite in vain with such a constitutional appetite for employment in man, to attempt cutting away from him the spring or the principle of one employment, without providing him with another. Thu whole heart and habit will rise in resistance against such an undertaking. The else unoccupied female who spends the hours of every evening at some play of hazard, knows as well as you, that the pecuniary gain, or the honourable triumph of a successful contest, are altogether paltry. It is not such a demonstration of vanity as this that will force her away from her dear and delightful occupatiou. The habit cannot so be displaced, as to leave nothing but a negative and cheerless vacancy behind it – though it may so be supplanted as to be followed up by another habit of employment, to which the power of some new affection has constrained her. It is willingly suspended, for example, on any single evening, should the time that wont to be allotted to gaining, require to be spent on the preparations of an approaching assembly. The ascendant power of a second affection will do, what no exposition however forcible, of the folly and worthlessness of the first, ever could effectuate.

And it is the same in the great world. We shall never be able to arrest any of its leading pursuits, by a naked demonstration of their vanity. It is quite in vain to think of stopping one of these pursuits in any way else, but by stimulating to another. In attempting to bring a worldly man intent and busied with the prosecution of his objects to a dead stand, we have not merely to encounter the charm which he annexes to these objects – but we have to encounter the pleasure which he feels in the very prosecution of them. It is not enough, then, that we dissipate the charm, by a moral, and eloquent, and affecting exposure of its illusiveness. We must address to the eye of his mind another object, with a charm powerful enough to dispossess the first of its influences, and to engage him in some other prosecution as full of interest, and hope, and congenial activity, as the former.

read the whole thing here

Preached 2.08.09

“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” –Blaise Paschal Pensees VII.1.425

Paschal’s quote from Pensees is useful for the fact that it reminds us of something that every inch of our current era strains to help us forget, namely, that you and I are desiring creatures.  What do we desire?  Essentially we desire, Paschal says, to be happy.  Our hearts desire our happiness, our minds conceive of what might make us happy, and our bodies strain to achieve this end.  It is out of a desiring heart, that our mind say “going to the mall today will make me happy,” so our bodies strain to the mall.  It is out of the desiring heart that our mind says “watching House tonight will make me happy,” so my body strains to watch House, even if I’m tired or have other responsibilities.  We are desiring creatures and we always do what we desire and what satisfies us in the end. 

Why do we behave this way?  Well, we behave this way in short because we believe that there is something out there that will eventually satisfy our desire.  Of course the comeback is, just because I think there is something out there, doesn’t mean it exists.  I could imagine a pristine island in the South Pacific that has a sign on the beach that says “reserved for Rob Sturdy” and it doesn’t mean it exists.  But, on the other hand, a baby who is newly born, who desires food desires the food because he was made to consume it.  So, while it doesn’t necessarily prove it, I think it is a strong argument that a desire to be in heaven after we die, to have communion with God, to have a transcendent purpose in life, is a reasonably strong argument that such things exist. (more…)

Here are the top three posts from the month of December. Curiously enough, none of the posts dealing with the incarnation even made a dent. During Advent I thought that was a bit strange. Oh well!

  1. U.S. Teens of Somali Background dissapear and emerge in terrorist training camps.  This was an alarming and very sad story that I picked up on CNN. 
  2. Help Me Read My Bible Part I:  What I think Martin Luther’s advice would be for good Bible study.  There are now three posts in this category.  They include John Calvin, and a good piece guest written by Iain Boyd on Jonathan Edwards.  The Calvin and Edwards piece didn’t get too much attention but I think they’re worth your time, especially Iain’s piece on Edwards. 
  3. And finally, Governor Jindal tells his conversion story from Hinduism to Christianity…and also why he doesn’t think too much of the Episcopal Church.

One extra:  I think this post that I wrote on Dante, Sin, Repentance and Desire would have gotten in the top three if it had not been posted so late in the month.  Check it out here.

dantes-hell1

Dante's Hell

 

One of the things I’ve learned through my reading of Scripture and my experience of the Christian life, is that spiritual growth is not so much about restraining old (sinful) desires but about gaining new, godly desires.  But in order for this to happen, our desires must be changed and this is the root of the Christian concept of repentance.  Repentance is not merely a conscious turning away from the world towards God, but on a deeper level it is exchanging old desires for new ones.  The new desires are not sinful but Godly, and they are to be enjoyed.  So the Christian life is not so much about restraining desire, as it is about indulging desire (the right desires!).  But how do we understand this?  And more importantly, how do we go about doing it? 

 

 

Dante Alighieri’s Inferno contains a treasure of Augustinian theology wrapped in stunning verse after stunning verse. It also has much to say on the nature of sin, deisre, and repentance.   So we will turn to his most famous work,  The Divine Comedy, but particularly to the inferno to help us understand the complex interplay of sin, repentance and desire. (more…)

The notion of idolatry most often emerges in discussions of the worship of actual physical images, the creation of false gods. But the Scriptures develop the idolatry theme in at least two major directions pertinent to my discussion here. First, the Bible internalizes the problem. “Idols of the heart” are graphically portrayed in Ezekiel 14:1-8. The worship of tangible idols is, ominously, an expression of a prior heart defection from YHWH your God.3 “Idols of the heart” is only one of many metaphors which move the locus of God’s concerns into the human heart, establishing an unbreakable bond between specifics of heart and specifics of behavior: hands, tongue, and all the other members. The First Great Commandment, to “love God heart, soul, mind, and might,” also demonstrates the essential “inwardness” of the law regarding idolatry. The language of love, trust, fear, hope, seeking, serving—terms describing a relationship to the true God—is continually utilized in the Bible to describe our false loves, false trusts, false fears, false hopes, false pursuits, false masters. If “idolatry” is the characteristic and summary Old Testament word for our drift from God, then “desires” (epithumiai) is the characteristic and summary New Testament word for the same drift.4 Both are shorthand for the problem of human beings. The New Testament language of problematic “desires” is a dramatic expansion of the tenth commandment, which forbids coveting (epithumia). The tenth commandment is also a command that internalizes the problem of sin, making sin “psychodynamic.” It lays bare the grasping and demanding nature of the human heart, as Paul powerfully describes it in Romans 7. Interestingly (and unsurprisingly) the New Testament merges the concept of idolatry and the concept of inordinate, life-ruling desires.   Idolatry becomes a problem of the heart, a metaphor for human lust, craving, yearning, and greedy demand.

read it all here