Many Christians believe that desires are dangerous. After all, it is our desires that lead us into sin. Things like lust and materialism are such everyday struggles in our day. It’s not just Christians that feel this way; the danger of desire is at the core of Buddhism. The question for us is, are desires evil by nature? Did desires exist before humans committed the first sin (fall of man)? The easy answer is, of course, desires existed before the fall of man. If it hadn’t been for desire, Adam and Eve would have never been tempted in the first place. Maybe a more important question is why did God make us with the capacity to desire?
In our western evangelical mind, we often think of the Garden of Eden as being perfect. We believe Adam and Eve didn’t need anything and could have lived there forever if it hadn’t been for their sin. That may be a common thought, but it is not what the Hebrew author of Genesis intended to communicate. To an ancient Hebrew mind, the idea of perfection was different. It might be more accurate to say that the Garden of Eden had perfect potential.
Remember God gave humanity a task to “Be fruitful and Multiply and fill the earth.” God wanted humans to cultivate the world. The Garden of Eden may have been beautiful, but the rest of the world was wild and untamed. So how does all this relate to desire?
Desires move us forward; they get us out of bed and cause us to take action in this world. Bringing God’s goodness to the world requires quite a bit of desire to achieve. God made us in his image, including a deep-seated ability to desire order in chaos, beauty, and goodness. So what does all this mean for us today? Perhaps a quote from C.S. Lewis can help us.
“It would seem that 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 the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C.S. Lewis
Desires are not the problem; it is disordered unexamined desires that are dangerous to us and the world. One way to practice ordering your desires is through spiritual practice – like fasting. Fasting requires your mind and soul to say no to a very base desire to eat. It’s a way to tell your body, “not every desire must be acted upon.” The self-control that fasting strengthens helps you to reorient your desires towards what is your deepest longing.