How Should We Understand Humanity’s Deepest Desires? Are They God-Given?

Note from Randy: Our Eternal Perspective Ministries staff members sometimes answer questions on my behalf, often quoting from things I’ve written. I am often struck by the fact that what they write back is better than what I would have. I appreciated this answer that Stephanie Anderson wrote to a pastor who emailed us to ask some questions about desire.

A reader wrote us to ask:

Could you help me understand desire theologically and biblically? Could a believer have good and bad desires? I’m wrestling with the already-but-not-yet state believers are in and the fallenness of man. I believe that our desires are tainted, corrupted, and the only desire that can ever be "good" is due to Christ’s sanctifying work. Or is our innate desire good only because of creation? 

I'm Stephanie with Eternal Perspective Ministries, and am responding on Randy’s behalf. Years ago Randy taught a course called the Theology of Desire. Unfortunately, we don’t have the recording of the class, but we do have several things he has written related to desire that may be helpful for you.

Randy does believe that God created all people with a right desire to know and love Him, but the Fall has twisted that desire. Due to sin, “Man is left with a ‘hole’ in his heart that only God can fill; but he attempts to fill it with power, pleasure, possessions, religious activity, etc.—all are dead-end streets that can’t bring fulfillment.” Randy writes, “Christianity teaches that Jesus takes our sins away while redeeming our desires. Desire is an essential part of humanity, a part that God built into people before sin cast its dark shadow on earth.”

He quotes Blaise Pascal, who wrote,

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.

Randy writes this about desire:

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.

…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.

You can read more here, but I believe the main answer to your questions is in what Randy says there: “Our Lord can restore godly desire.” As Christians, it is our responsibility to cultivate the right desires, as we partner with His Holy Spirit (we see an example of such partnership in Colossians 1:29 where Paul wrote, “I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me”). And of course, one day in Heaven, our desires will all be perfectly righteous and completely fulfilled.

Three books Randy would recommend for further study of this subject are:

1) The Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper

2) Desire: The Journey We Must Take to Find the Life God Offers by John Eldredge

3) Addictions - A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel by Edward T. Welch

And here are some resources from Randy you may like to read:

Longings of the Heart

Hunger, Thirst and Craving God

Longing for Joy

Longing for God and Joy, from Augustine

Longing for Joy, in C. S. Lewis, Part 1 and Part 2

Deepest Longings of Human Hearts

Will We Have Desires in Heaven?

Photo by Arif Mills on Unsplash

Stephanie Anderson is the communications and graphics specialist at Eternal Perspective Ministries.