the Empathy List #62: Desire Isn't Evil
What the Evangelical Church Never Taught Me, Part 2
Hey friend, Liz here.
Where does desire come from?
I have thought long and hard about this question. When Evangelical Christians consider this question, we often turn to the philosophical treatise of Romans 7 in the Bible, where the brooding first-century apostle Paul considers the matter of freewill at length: he says, “…what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”
I believe that anyone who’s ever made a New Year’s resolution or signed on to a whole30 plan understands the dilemma Paul is describing:
I had the best of intentions, but I just couldn’t make it happen.
Evangelicals have flattened this treatise into the black and white “good versus evil”, “spiritual versus the flesh.”
While flattening such an argument is problematic, what we do get right is the futility of the human will.
Freud expounded upon humanity’s weak willpower in his theory of “conflicting psychological forces,” which examines the tug of war between forces he calls the preconscious, conscious, and unconscious. Whichever aggressor succeeds, then, is the true self.
But the apostle Paul does not see the true self in this way because he does not understand humankind to be fundamentally alone.
Our whole interior turns inside out because when we “ask Jesus into our hearts” (as the phrase goes), we are joined to a community which is not limited by skin and bone, by physical interactions. We join a community that lives in perpetual intimacy and unity that extends past the bodily plane.
I’m talking here about the theology says that belief in Jesus invites the Holy Ghost to dwell inside his followers.
I cannot pretend to understand this entirely, but, in case the idea of anything supernatural weirds you out, consider the Holy Spirit to be the Christian version of “the singularity.” Within the singularity theory, theorists describe a way in which ours minds extend beyond our bodies in a sort of hive mind controlled by robots or computers or the internet, and we are joined to a community, on another plane of reality altogether, and yet we maintain our distinct personhood somehow. (Yep, I realize this metaphor has its limits, but humor me, wouldja?)
I consider the Holy Ghost to be the comforter and mischief maker that is always nudging our desires and will toward deeper oneness with Christ.
—> SIDE NOTE: I am aware that discussion of any spiritual plane invokes woo-woo revival meetings and televangelists like Benny Hin. All of that can be triggering to some folks who have experienced spiritual abuse related to ideas surrounding the Holy Spirit, third member of the trinity. I recognize that trinitarian theology is too complex and nuanced to discuss adequately in an email, and I wish you well on your journey to healing around these ideas. <—
What the evangelical church never taught me was that every part of me has been transformed—even my wants. Because my desires are not locked in a separate room that Christ has not entered.
According to the apostle Paul (in Romans 8), my wants cannot be reduced to the ways I’ve failed: to inappropriate lust, to insufficient willpower, or to the rejection of inhibitions.
To equate “desire” and “sin” is to ignore the entire transformation of interior landscape. Such a change is exactly what Christ offers to anyone who believes he exists and that he loves them. To even believe such a thing is a gift that comes directly from the Holy Spirit in the first place.
Which is to say, I can trust that my desires can often be an expression of Jesus’s wayfinding in my life.
This matters because when we make big decisions, part of walking in maturity as both an adult and a follower of Christ is learning to trust our base desires—our instincts, our gut—as a means through which God can speak to us.
What we want is not antithetical to God’s purposes for us.
Of course, Christians should not exclude commonsense from our decision-making, nor should we ignore the accountability that comes from our fellow spiritual hive minds ;-). But you can find freedom from the belief that your feelings are actually the voice of a neurotic demon out to get you, a la The Screwtape Letters.
But God does not yell; he does not barge in. He stands at the door and knocks. He asks, what do you want? He is patient, gentle, and boundaried. And when you invite him in, he will meet you in your desires as surely as he does in your mind; after all, he made them both.
NOTE: this email is the second in a series in which I plan to explore the skillsets the Evangelical church never taught me.
As I’ve written before, I grew up Evangelical: from my baby dedication, to church summer camp, to youth group, to Christian high school and college… the list goes on.
Even so, there are MAJOR THINGS for HEALTHY ADULT LIVING that I never learned to do until I walked through the door of a therapist and began shelling out thousands to get well.
So I’m speaking to my people—us Evangelicals. We need to change, starting yesterday. We can do it, together, with humility and tenderness. I want to push you forward on that journey, my friend.
As always, thanks for reading along. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
P.S. You can follow me elsewhere on my website, Facebook and Instagram.
And if someone you know might be encouraged by my words, would you share this email with them?
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