The End of Human Desire

David Phillips

A religion article in the Bridgewater Bulletin in Passiontide 2006.


Every human soul born into this world is made in the image and likeness of God and given by God desire, or love.  Desire inspires everything that we do – it motivates us to join with the object of our desire so we might have satisfaction, peace, resolution.  And that desire is meant to lead us to God.


From the best of human loves and ambitions and health, to the best that the world has to offer, a nice home, a car, a boat, down to the smallest of pleasures, a bag of chips – it is all about having desire and seeking to satisfy it. 


The problem lies not in having desire or love but that we are confused about how to satisfy it.  We can be wrong about what objects will bring about our hoped for peace; or we can love too much the good things in this world that God has given us (forgetting that they are passing); or we can try to put to death our desire or love or turn it inward on ourselves only because it seems to have caused us such pain in the past when we reached out.  [Augustine]


Our desire, our love, gets bound up in all sorts of ways in the world, and when the world or others fail us, we can despair.  We find our souls confused – our minds darkened and our hearts hardened – and we forget or are afraid to look up for help. 


Some Christians have undertaken as a spiritual discipline some kind of fast during Lent [Matt 6:16f], a deliberate giving up of some earthly pleasure.  We see more clearly how our desire, our love, can have a slavish quality to it.  Christ will give us grace, if we ask in faith, to free us from a slavish relationship with the world.  Sometimes we must give up something completely, nail it to the cross, because it will not bring us peace or because we cannot enjoy it without becoming a slave to it.


But desire wrongly directed, should not simply be put to death, but rather redirected to its true ends – God and the love of our neighbour.  But how hard it is for all of us, when we are not used to it, to read the Bible in private, to lift our hearts in prayer privately to the One we cannot see, to give up even a little time each week to worship God with others and learn, and to engage in some simple act of kindness to our neighbour.  We are held back.


To look once again upon the passion and death of Jesus, to bring before our minds the patient and humble way of Christ’s suffering even to his death on the Cross, is to be assured that God’s true judgement of us is met with God’s mercy, that love is about forgiveness and self sacrifice.  To look upon Jesus’ resurrection is to be reassured that this is the character of God’s love and that, no matter what the world or we throw at it, this Love for us cannot be destroyed. 


By this looking, our faith, our trust in God is restored.  Then, forgiven and with new hope, we begin in small ways and are helped by God to redirect our desire, our love, towards its true ends.  We look up and find ourselves filled inwardly with greater love and experience new life – the resurrected life that alone is eternally satisfying.