Is it true that the hardest, least desirable choice is the most obviously holy? Is it true that personal desire must never be trusted?
Many, like me, imagine desire and faith in a boxing ring, facing off like opponents. We don’t suppose both can be cheered at the same time. We easily dismiss desire, arguing that the goal of the Christian life is obedience. Why promote desire? Doesn’t that necessarily put us in the path of potential treachery? As my friend observed when I told her I was writing a book about a theology of desire: “Theology of desire? But isn’t that an oxymoron?”
Twenty years ago, as a newly reformed 16-year-old who had just spent prom night playing house, I had reasons for mistrusting desire. But teen pregnancy wasn’t my only reason. Didn’t desire keep Christians from the radical sacrifice required for following Jesus? Weren’t missionaries and their commitment to total relinquishment an example we all must follow? I surmised from my time as a college student in Africa that the harder and more undesirable life was, the more eternally worthwhile and valuable.
One doesn’t have to be a converted reprobate to recognize the inherent tensions of desire. How do we ever know when desire isn’t the apple of self-actualizing promise leading us far from God? Can it ever be possible to trust our own hearts?
We simply can’t ignore desire. Like a heartbeat, desire pulses steadily in the backdrop of our lives. We may not always be aware of the work desire is doing, and yet it provides much of the necessary energy on which we rely. We get out of bed, go to work, get to the gym, marry (or not), have babies (or not), write books—follow Jesus—because ...1