A Psalm for the Season of Longing [Part 2]
By — May 11, 2018
Are you ready for some good news?
Desire. Some religions want to curb it and some want to extinguish it. But the Gospel affirms it.
Today’s Text: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1–2, ESV)
At risk of oversimplifying a faith of which I’m no expert, Buddhism is built on what is called Four Noble Truths: 1) life is suffering; 2) suffering comes from desire; 3) there can be an end to suffering when desire ceases; 4) the way to live is through an eight-fold path. It makes sense at one level – the less you desire, the less vulnerable you are to disappointment. But, of course, there is a fundamental flaw in the aspiration to extinguish desire: the desire to end suffering is still a desire!
Other religious systems rely on legalism to curb desire. I remember seeing one Islamic web site which shared advice to a young woman who is seeking to control her desires by suggesting things like: 1) Lower the gaze when in mixed company; 2) avoid thinking about desire as much as possible; 3) spend one’s time in useful pursuits.
When I reflect on the fundamental beliefs of Buddhism and Islam, I’m struck by how oddly similar the attitudes toward desire are to the thought process of many Christians. Some Christians speak as if the real mark of spirituality is to deny yourself, forget what you want and learn to have no desires for self anymore. Other segments of the Christian church lay out rules designed to fence in desire.
But the whole story of the Bible does just the opposite. Abraham wants a baby. Jacob wants to be blessed. Hebrew slaves want to be free. And God actually approaches Solomon and says, “What do you want?” When Jesus ministered, He never said to a thirsty woman or a blind man, “why can’t you just be content with your life as it is?” In fact, Jesus never says you shouldn’t desire – He says the opposite: “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.”
C.S. Lewis once wrote: “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 sea. We are far too easily pleased” (from The Weight of Glory). AW Tozer put it plainly: “God waits to be wanted.” God made desire and put it in the human heart. Deep down, He is what we want. And that’s the Gospel!