Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lusting Like Jesus (Part 3)

Fire. It's symbolic for passion.

So are we to destroy our desires? Should we find a way to siphon off this explosive gasoline? Or should we strengthen our desires for truly good things?

Jesus advice would seem to be the latter. I have been studying the Sermon on the Mount and one of the things that most shocked me was how strong Jesus emphasizes consequences. It's not "because it's the right thing to do" but because, "your Father … will reward you openly." Far from being some obscure verse, it seems to me to be a central theme of the central sermon in the Bible. By my count, 29% of the verses in the Sermon explicitly mention consequences.

And why not? Jesus didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill. He gave us desires as he gave us the Law, and Christ has come not to abolish but to fulfill. He comes so that we may have life, and have it more abundantly. Not death, or physical oblivion, or personal dissipation (Nirvana), or reincarnation. Life. Bodily life, with all its rude hungers and thirsts and lusts. Bodily life will not be abolished, but fulfilled. He is the bread of life which fills our bellies, the living water which soothes our cracked lips and dry tongue, the bridegroom who comes as the ultimate fulfillment of our desire for ecstasy and intimacy. And to make sure we don't go floating off into the clouds before the time, He provides us with physical bread, H2O, and holy sex. Aquinas was right when he said, "No natural desire is given in vain."

The problem, as I see it, is that our desires are not strong enough. We are insufficiently lustful. Jesus warns us that if we look at a woman to epithyme┼Ź after her, we have committed adultery (Mat 5:28). And then Jesus desires (epithyme┼Ź) to eat the Passover (Luk 22:15), the disciples to see Jesus (Luk 17:22), and Paul that the Hebrews would be diligent (Hbr 6:11). Only if we hunger and thirst after righteousness, will we be filled. We need to redeem our corrupt desires, not jettison them.
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. -CS Lewis
If we had a Godly lust for food, mere bread would not satisfy. If we had a Godly lust for drink, tequila would leave us feeling inhibited and sober. If we lusted after the Divine mystery, we would be bored with any amount of mere sex. Lewis is exactly right. We are far too easily pleased.

According to the great Christian thinker Thomas Aquinas, proper desire is at the core of the Christian message:  “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.” Contemporary Theologian John Piper also asserts that proper desire is critical to Christian flourishing. In “Desiring God,” he argues that the chief duty of man is, as according to the Wesminster Confession, to “Glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

Desire is like gasoline. It is dangerous indeed, but it is dangerous like a fuel. And Christianity is a religion that needs to move. The world is not where it should be. It needs to move, and we, the Church, are called to be engines of that movement. And to fuel us, the engines, God proposes to use the gasoline of desire. Of course, just as easily as it can get you to go to grandma’s house, gasoline can power your car over the edge of a cliff; gasoline can run tanks or ambulances. So it is critical that our desires be good. Without desire, our dynamic religion is broken down on the roadside, out of gas.

So let us not make sacrifices without benefit, but let us make sure we get a good deal. Let us focus properly on ourselves. Let us have insatiable lusts. And then we will be walking in the footsteps of our Lord.

Christian Sacrifice as Good Business (Part 1)
Christianity: The Egocentric Religion (Part 2) 
Lusting Like Jesus (Part 3) 


  1. Great post. I know it is this desire that you speak of that brings me to Daily Mass at Memorial Church each day.