Desire is everywhere. Whether it’s for (or on behalf of) ourselves, our families, our friends, or our world most of us desire something most of the time. It is part of being human. We might not all talk about it in spiritual terms, but as the great philosopher Plato observed: “We are fired into life with a madness that comes from the gods and which would have us believe that we can have a great love, perpetuate our own seed, and contemplate the divine.”
“We are fired into life”. However we experience it, whether it is the desire to fall in love, generate life, reach out to help another, heal the planet, learn and understand the mysteries of the universe, or call out to God, this desire is the reflection of God himself. God is desire. Let’s explain.
Have you ever wondered what we mean when we say ‘the human being is created in the image of God’? Before answering that question we should clear up a misunderstanding, as sometimes this idea can be misinterpreted. Many seem to think that what this means is that God is just like us. However, the reality is: God is nothing like us and, in many ways, we are nothing like God.
So, how are we ‘in the image of God’? One way to understand it is this. The energy you feel, the desire for the various things that we have just described, is in you as an echo of the desire that God has for you, for all human beings, and for the world. So, like God we also desire to create, to propagate, to heal, to love, to challenge, and to help. This is because that is what God desires, and we are in God’s image. In fact, one way to think of God is as just one great act of desire. God calls the universe into being: calls it forward into life and activity, transformation, death and rebirth. God’s desire is in fact the original ‘big bang’ at the beginning of the universe. God’s is the energy that wills it all and holds it all in being.
And in our own small way we reflect God’s desire. Just think of the great acts of creativity that human beings have brought to life: the great works of art, the wonderful cathedrals, and the sublime music. Then think of the wonder of falling in love and giving birth to a child. Finally, think of the small acts of kindness that nobody sees. And as we acknowledge these things, this drive and this energy, at times great and at times small and intimate, we begin to get a sense of how we, as human beings, reflect God.
In fact, like God we can not only create, but we can know and love. And what is more, the more you create, know and love, the more you become like God and the more you become yourself. This is the journey that we are all on. And all because of desire.
Taking up the Quest
But we need to be wary of settling for something less.
In the 1994 film, The Shawshank Redemption, a story of US prison life in the 1940's, the story focused on the journey of two men through the trials and temptations of prison life. Red, the most seasoned of prisoners, explains what happens when you live too long inside a prison, "At first, these walls, you hate them. They make you crazy. After a while you get used to 'em, don't notice 'em anymore. Then comes the day you realise you need them."
That is the tragedy - to prefer slavery to freedom, to prefer death to life. If you look around, you will see many people have abandoned the journey. They have lost heart. They have settled down to a life of resignation or indulgence, or trapped in a prison of despair or muddle-through legalistic duty.
But Jesus tells us a story to get our desires straight - in the story about the prodigal son. When the younger son returns from his shipwreck life of wayward desire, his older brother is furious because he gets a party and not the punishment he thinks he deserves.
He tells his father that through all these years he hasn't received a thing in return for his life of service. The father's reply cuts to the heart of the matter: "All that is mine has always been yours." In other words, "You never asked."
So who is the one who receives redemption? The scandalous message of the story is this: those who kill desire - the legalists, the dutiful, the walking-dead - are not the ones who experience the father's embrace.
Desire is the map we have been given to find the only life worth living. We must listen to it carefully and let it guide us through the false routes and dead ends. As the Scriptures say, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." [Ephesians 5:14]
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.