Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Pain of Desire

"All men desire happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and to others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves." -Blaise

I think this is profoundly beautiful and John Piper must have thought so too, because he wrote a book about it. The book is Desiring God and it is beautiful too.

Piper begins his book like this,
"You might turn the world on its head by changing one word in your creed. The old tradition says, 'The chief end of man is to glorify God AND enjoy Him forever.' 'And'? Like ham and eggs? Sometimes you glorify God and sometimes you enjoy Him, Sometimes He gets glory, sometimes you get joy? 'And is a very ambiguous word! Just how do these two things relate to each other? Evidently the old theologians didn't think they were talking about two things. They said 'chief end', not 'chief ends.' Glorifying God and enjoying Him were one end in their minds, not two. How can that be?...What does God say about the chief end of man? How does God teach us to give Him glory? Does He command us to enjoy Him? If so, does this quest for joy in God relate to everything else? Yes, everything! 'Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.' The overriding concern of this book is that in all of life God be glorified the way He Himself has appointed. To that end this book aims to persuade you that 'The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever."

I think we all know about what I call "The awe and the joy." C.S. Lewis says, "There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious." We might call it "heartbreaking beauty" because it HURTS. Ultimately, we desire it above everything else.

Desire is that burning, throbbing thirst within us for the "perfect." Everything perfect HURTS. It just hurts. It's hard to explain it because it doesn't seem to make sense. Why should desirable things hurt? But this is an addictive pain, a bittersweet pain. It may hurt us, but we can't get enough of it. And I guess that's precisely why it does hurt. It hurts BECAUSE we can't get enough of it.

So, what's the answer to the problem? Why can't mankind satisfy DESIRE? John Piper says that we are looking for it in all the wrong places. We are looking for the perfect in an imperfect world. C.S. Lewis agrees. He says,

"What Satan put into the minds of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could 'be like gods'- could set up on their own as if they had created themselves - be their own masters - invent some sort of happiness for themselves, outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history - money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery - the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy...God cannot give us a happiness apart from Himself because it is not there. There is no such thing."

And so here we come to the crucial point. The only thing that can satisfy desire is GOD. "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." (-Psalm 37:4)