A Theology of Desire: Longings of the Heart

The following is material from a class Randy Alcorn taught during the Summer of 2002 at Western Seminary (5511 SE Hawthorne, Portland, Oregon 97215, 503-517-1800).

Augustine said, “Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy. There is no man who does not desire this, and each one desires it with such earnestness that he prefers it to all other things; whoever, in fact, desires other things, desires them for this end alone...Without exception we all long for happiness...all agree that they want to be happy....They may all search for it in different ways, but all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is, joy.”

Our underlying beliefs—right or wrong—about what will bring us happiness, what will satisfy our deepest desires, largely determine the lives we will live. We were made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person. Heaven is the place. They are what we desire. We’ll never be satisfied with less. No other person, no other place will fulfill us. At best lesser objects of desire can give us hints and foretastes of—and draw us closer to—who and what we ultimately desire. At worst, they can become idols, God-substitutes and Heaven-substitutes.

All people seek the same things (God and heaven), but the world, flesh, and devil lead us down dead-end streets, promising fulfillment. Satan’s central strategy is to lie to us about 1) what we really want and 2) how to get it. People spend their lives chasing mirages, leading to disillusionment, addiction, shame and destruction.

Worst of all, we become distracted from the true objects of our desire: 1) The person, God; 2) The place, heaven. We may worship desire, following it into obsessions and addictions. Or we may deny desire, not daring to long for something greater, trying to kill desire to save ourselves the risks and pains of dashed hopes and broken dreams. We may refuse to embrace the passion for God which should move us heavenward and empower us to find our fulfillment in Him. What we choose determines what we will offer the world dying of thirst for Jesus—will we offer them Him, or a mirror image of their own addictions, or a long list of death—giving rules of conduct?

We’ll seek to develop an understanding of what we’re looking for, and why we chase what will never satisfy us. We’ll deal with addiction—desire run amok. Addictions—to money, sex, alcohol, drugs, food, entertainment, sports, etc.—may be our most common forms of idolatry in this culture. The Fall twisted our desire, but eternity is still in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Our Lord can restore godly desire; we can cultivate it and point it toward its true objects. We don’t need less desire, but more, pointed the right direction. We need to not simply deny our worst desires, but cultivate our best ones, by identifying and losing ourselves in what we really desire.

Randy Alcorn’s Theology of Desire course syllabus (Detailed information)

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries