Protecting Desires

Dr. Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology, and the Director of the MA Counseling Program at Biblical Seminary.  He is a long-time friend of Harvest USA (our own “Dr. Phil!”), and his popular blog, Musings of a Christian Psychologist, can be reached at: http://wisecounsel.wordpress.com.

Desire in its Best Forms

God is a Jealous, desiring God. How does one describe the unseen, all-knowing, omnipotent, ever-present God? Words and human experience can never do Him justice. And yet, God uses words to teach us about himself. He is just, benevolent, holy, and sovereign. These descriptions evoke images of power, of needing nothing. God does not need anything, for in him everything obtains its life.

But notice, he does not only describe himself with terms of power and strength, but also with words that suggest desire and longing. God is not merely patient with us. No, he longs for us and would gather us to him as a hen would gather her chicks (Matt. 23:37). He pursues his wife (Israel) and hems her in even when she runs after other lovers (Hosea 2). He “burns” with jealousy for Zion so much so that he returns her to an honor she does not deserve (Zech. 8:2-7), even paying the price himself for remarriage. If God desires us, longing for the glory he deserves from his creatures, then desire is not just something that we should resist.

God cares about and fulfills our desires.

You cannot accuse God of being an ascetic or uncaring of your desires. We see numerous references to God’s attention to our desires. The Psalmist reminds God that he hears the desires of suffering people (10:17). He not only hears but he also acts. In Psalm 20 and 21, David sings of God’s hand in bringing about the desires of his heart. In Psalm 37, David clarifies the relationship between human desires and God’s response. When we delight in God, he delights to give us our desires (see also Matt. 5:6). He is a father who dotes on his children. He gives good things that satisfy (Ps. 103:5). Jesus picks up on this theme and reminds us that if we, who are evil, give good gifts to each other, then will not God, the creator of the universe, give good gifts to those who ask (Matt. 7:11)? Are you not yet convinced that God delights to fulfill your desires? Then listen to David as he bursts forth in song, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. . .  He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them” (Psalm 145:16,19).

I can hear your objection. “But wait,” you say, “There are many desires that God never fulfilled for me.  If he longs to fulfill our desires, why didn’t he fulfill mine?  Why do I feel so empty? I want to be healthy, married, a parent, happy, content, but my prayers seem to hit the ceiling and return to me.” I do not dispute that living in the wilderness leaves much to be desired. The misery of living in this sin sick world multiplies daily. Yet, did not God provide for your desires today? Did you not eat? Did you not find momentary rest for your weary body? Did you not see his beauty reflected in something or someone? Ah, we are exposed. We grow complacent with God’s good gifts. They aren’t gifts in our minds, just something that everybody gets. We are far too often like the Israelites in the desert. We overlook the good things God gives us and obsess on what he did not give.  God’s good gifts are no accident or afterthought — some sympathetic gesture to a waif. Rather he gives them out of the overflowing desire for his own glory and for the completion of all that he has willed.  Every good gift you have received has come because God has ordained your existence in an abundantly provided world (see Ps. 65). He supplies you with your food and with whatever joy, peace, laughter, and righteousness you have experienced.

Fulfilled desires are sweet.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life… a desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul” (Prov. 13:12,19a). These brief proverbs remind us of what we already know. When our desires are fulfilled, it is a satisfying moment. Even illicit gratification is satisfying, even if deadly. “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Prov. 9:17). Why else would we go back for more? When our desires are filled, we are comforted and secure. God comforts the brokenhearted and satisfies them with his bounty (Jer. 31:13-14). Satisfaction also brings joy and gladness. Moses supplicates, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14). Satisfaction brings knowledge. The children of Israel, once filled with manna, know that the Lord is their God (Ex. 16:12).

Sexual desire is complex, compelling, and good.

Why would God put the Song of Solomon in the Bible?  Wouldn’t it be better to use that space to tell us more about himself?  What purpose does an erotic book detailing the urges and orgasms of an anonymous couple serve the kingdom of God?  The man spends numerous lines waxing poetic about her genitalia and how he wants to play with her.  She shivers and aches for her climax.  No, this is not a harlequin romance novel.  In fact, it is probably more erotic and explicit about sexual desire than our English translations will admit.  Those who try to spiritualize the text to mean only something of how God feels towards his church surely do God an injustice.  And what of the mysterious phrase that appears in the book on three occasions, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires (2:7; 3:5; 8:4)?   It would seem to indicate that one must be careful with love and the power it wields.  If you are not careful, your appetites may overwhelm you.

No really, its best form.

As good as sexual desire is it pales next to desire for God and being united with Christ.  The Psalms are full of descriptions of longings for God.  David cries out for God, for his ways, his wisdom, and his presence.  How are these depicted?  There are numerous depictions of this desire as cries of one who is thirsty and longing for water (e.g., Ps. 42:1; 63:1, 143:6.).  In the New Testament, Paul records a similar sentiment.  We groan while we are in this “tent” of a body and long for our guaranteed inheritance (2 Cor. 5:1-5).  Notice that your good desires for God will bring upon yourself more pain!  Doesn’t this run in stark contrast to much of our current depictions of the Christian life?  “Come to Jesus,” we say, “and your life (as you have imagined it) will go well.”  Instead, as we draw closer to God, our desire for him enlarges.  Satisfaction increases, but certainly so does agony as we develop an increasing awareness of our desperate need for God.

Yet, do not be discouraged; our desires for God do not end in only pain.  We do find satisfaction, comfort, fulfillment, joy, and peace.  Psalm 131 depicts satisfaction with God as a baby on his mother’s lap whose stomach is filled, who no longer needs to grab at her breasts for more.  When we take worship as our food, Isaiah records that we will delight, “in the richest of fare” (Isa. 55:2). These satisfactions are not just spiritual. Rather they reach out into the far corners of our lives.  Solomon, who contemplated the search for satisfaction reminds his readers that any satisfaction we achieve has been a gift from God (Eccl. 3:13).

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