It’s important to acknowledge that every human desire is right when it’s played in its proper time and within healthy parameters. It’s right to be hungry, but not be a glutton. It’s right to desire intimacy and sexual relationship, but not to consume someone for your pleasure alone. It’s right to renew and recreate, but not to be given to laziness and sloth. It’s right to love your work, but not to be a workaholic. It’s right to acquire things, but not to serve things. God has given us human desires that are right and good.
I like what C. S. Lewis said. He said that there are no wrong and right keys on a piano. Every key is right when it’s played in the proper harmony and time. Then Lewis makes this application. There are no wrong physical desires. Every desire is God-given and it is beautiful when played or fulfilled at the proper time (Mere Christianity). The goal is not necessarily to resist pleasure and desires; it is to play them in their proper time (Storms, Pleasures… 9).
God made you with certain human desires embedded in your nature. He made you to desire food, to work for things, to belong to a family, to own and steward possessions, to have close, intimate relationships, to experience the emotions of love and happiness. In fact, He wants you to enjoy food, relationships, your work, your things, your family, your life, your recreation, your sexuality. God loves it when you have a great time. He doesn’t get ticked off when you really enjoy doing something that you have a desire to do. But you must play these “desire-notes” at their proper time and with a proper duration in order to make something harmonious of your life. In theology, we talk about sin being a distortion and a perversion of the good. God has provided you with boundaries to help you know how to play these “piano keys of desire.”
God’s boundaries on our desires are not there to repress us but to show forth the true glory of being a fully alive human being. God doesn’t hem us in to repress us or to keep something good from you; it is to preserve the glory in each of us by fulfilling our God-given desires in their proper time and place. God invites us into wholeness when He tells us how to fulfill our desires in and through Him.
“I want you to have sex because it’s good, but here are some guidelines on where and when to play that note. Otherwise, this gift is going to become distorted and perverted. The intimacy you seek will not be found unless you use this gift the way I have prescribed.” We want to play this note in all the wrong places at all the wrong times in all the wrong ways. In doing so, we cheapen it, hollow it out, and it becomes so much less of a gift.
“I want you to enjoy great meals, but here are some guidelines on where and when to play that note. Otherwise, you compromise your health and your body.” We want to use food for comfort, not for health. We are a society driven by our hunger and cravings. Paul said in one place that “Your god is your belly.” (Philippians 3:19; Romans 16:18). You are a slave to your drives and appetites.
“I want you to rest and re-energize, but here are some guidelines on where and when to play that note. Otherwise, you spend your life doing nothing, squandering opportunities to make a true difference.” We want to use all of our time to serve our own agenda, but when it comes to God and making an eternal difference, we embrace passivity. Jesus worked hard, but at times he would separate himself from the crowds so as to reenergize for his work. Jesus said to his disciples “Come apart for a while lest you come apart (Mark 6:31).”
“I want you to know the joy of loving and being loved. Here’s how to do that. Otherwise, if you demand that people love you on your terms, you’ll be all about anger and revenge.” We want others to bow to us and meet our needs and make us happy. If they don’t, look out, because anger and revenge will become our life mantra. We’ll worry, grumble, complain, and get bitter. The Proverb writer said “Pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).” Paul taught to be angry and sin not (Ephesians 4:26) and not to seek revenge.
“I want you to have things, but here is how I want you to view them.” We want to have more than others and our god is all that we can acquire. God told the rich man who built bigger and better barns to the neglect of his own soul “You fool (Luke 12:20).” Jesus said “Seek first my kingdom (Matthew 6:33).”
We intentionally fulfill our desires in our own selfish way, sabotaging and undermining the way things are suppose to be. Our core problem says St. Augustine is that “the human heart, ignoring God, turns in on itself, tries to lift itself, wants to please itself, and ends up debasing itself.” By his own admission, St. Augustine had taken a mistress, fathered a child out of wedlock, and indulged in every fleshly passion. Augustine also said the only reason you think a baby is good is that he hasn’t got power enough to show you whose boss. He said if a baby had the strength when he emerged from his mother’s womb, he would seize the mother by the throat and demand his milk. It’s in our nature to set out to meet our own needs in our own way from an early age.
Sin (life apart from God) has penetrated and taken up residence in the inner sanctuary of our hearts, twisting, fracturing, distorting, and corrupting. Rather than opening up our hearts to the One who can make them new, we run to the sins we love, blinded to the truth and chained to the illusion that I am god and I can live my life and fulfill my desires the way I want to. We hide behind the sins we love – the things that give us pleasure, totally oblivious to what it is doing to us in the bigger scheme of things. The problem is not that people pursue pleasure. The problem is that they rebelliously and foolishly refuse to find pleasure in the one place where it may be genuinely found.
I encourage you to feel your God-given desires and fulfill them in ways that God has prescribed. His boundaries around our desires has a way of actually intensifying our desires and making their fulfillment even more sublime.
Do you want to enjoy great sex? Then use your sexuality in a way that God has prescribed; don’t give this part of yourself to just anyone or any pleasure-option. If you build in constraints around your sexuality, it becomes more meaningful.
Do you want to really enjoy food and eating great meals? Then make sure that eating is enjoyed to sustain you rather than just entertain you when you’re bored.
Do you want to experience pleasure? Then find a greater pleasure.
The Hedonistic Paradox states that in order to find true pleasure, one must have a greater pleasure (hedonism means pleasure and a paradox is truth standing on its head to get our attention). This simply means that if we make anything the sole source of our pleasure (except God), then we will never be satisfied. Stated positively: All the things that you think will bring you the pleasure you seek can actually bring a measure of genuine joy when you are not looking to these pleasures to be your everything. When we make another human being, food, sex, achievement, etc… our greatest pleasure, it is sure to let you down. But when you have a Greater Pleasure that you give your life too, then these other ancillary pleasures can actually be seen and enjoyed for what they were intended to be.
God wants to be your “Greater Pleasure”. It’s in Him that we have all of our human desires intensified; and that we find our “smaller pleasures” perfectly fulfilled in the “larger pleasure” of connection and intimacy with God. So if you want to know true pleasure, find a Greater Pleasure; otherwise, you’ll never be satisfied. And having found this Greater Pleasure, play your God-given desires in their proper time, with the right duration and frequency, and you are sure to create a life of beautiful music.