Conflicting Images of Desire
Desire is a tricky substance. I’ve spent a lot of time lately pondering it, even reading some psychological journal articles to try to get a better handle on it. What’s so interesting to me about it is just how divisive it can look among Christians. Some of the more poignant and well-known examples of this are Dallas Willard and John Eldredge. Eldredge has written a number of popular books touting the need for desire and how we have crushed it in the church to our detriment. Willard on the other hand speaks in his books about our desires leading us into sin because of our fractured selves and the need for our wills to control us rather than our desires.
So which is it?
Well, I would suggest that life is never as simple as we would like and thus the answer is, of course, both. Desire isn’t a bad thing. I might go so far as to say that it’s fundamentally good, though I could be wrong on that point. Regardless of whether it’s good or not, it’s a natural part of our souls, and when we bury it or destroy it, we destroy our own selves. Yes, there is denial of self, but even Willard said that there’s a self to deny and there’s a self not to (sorry for the lack of reference; I can’t remember where that is).
But we’re fallen creatures, and so our desires can be warped. In fact, some of them must be. We all obviously have desires for bad things. We sometimes want revenge or to gossip or too much food or some addiction we’re sucked into. Paul spends numerous paragraphs listing all the desires we can’t give into, and we surely can’t give in to these things.
So part of the trick is figuring out which is which. How do you foster right desire and not give in to desires that are wrong? And how do we tell the difference?