Design of Desire: God’s Engagement with Desire

So far in The Allender Center Podcast’s Design of Desire series, Dan has discussed the war against desire and the idea that God-given desire fosters creativity. On this week’s podcast, Dan continues the series by confronting the idea that not all of our desires are healthy. How does God deal with conflicted desires that are deeply legitimate at times and that, other times, swing into madness?

Dan turns to two Old Testament passages, Exodus 16 and Numbers 11, in which the Israelites are complaining about their hunger, accusing God of not meeting their needs and desires. God responds by providing quail and manna, meeting the Israelites’ desires, but with certain boundaries: “Take only what you need, and only for the day.” In other words, “You’ll need to trust me for tomorrow.”

“But that basic core war of desire is, in a world where there is uncertainty and unfairness, cruelty and loss, trauma, now we want to make sure that tomorrow is as secure as what we have enjoyed for today.”

When the Israelites began to question whether or not God would provide and began to store up food to provide for themselves, God sent maggots to ruin the food. “In other words,” says Dan, “God’s somewhat committed to ruining what will, in the long run, destroy.”

“God bears an enormous amount of insult, assault, questioning, doubt, fury. […] You have the sense of a highly human relationship built around the fabric of complaint, disruption of desire, refusal to trust, an inability to remember, a demand for that which has already been provided. It’s a mess! […] No wonder, particularly in many Christian communities, desire feels too dangerous to actually hold that fire in your hands and bring it, knowing that it is both a desire, and therefore a petition, but also a demand, and therefore a complaint as we address the living God.”

This brings us to a reality with which most of us are all too familiar: Desire is scary. By naming our desire, naming that which we lack, we open ourselves to danger and disappointment.

“You see the mess of desire and why, so often, there is a kind of fatalism in many Christian communities, a kind of ‘Well, we just trust God for whatever comes,’ and therefore the better approach to life seems to be to annul desire, or to leaven it to a point where you really don’t allow yourself to dream, to hope, to have wildness of desire with regard to the things that seem to be in your heart.”

How do we engage desire in a healthier, more life-giving way?

“First and foremost, we have to own the fact that our desires are full of turmoil. They’re full of turbulence. And in that disruption, some of the very worst and some of the very best are going to rise to the surface. So we’re never going to be able to escape desire in a way in which we have control. That premise—that we will not be in control of our desire—cuts to the core of what most Christians try to do, and that is to annul desire so that they have some level of control, rather than to allow the disruption to occur.”

Dan invites us to turn to God to find the desires that are at the core of our created identities, pointing to this passage in Psalm 37: “Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Dan is quick to point out that this does not mean God will give us the multimillion-dollar lottery we desire, but rather, perhaps, that there is something about delighting in God that is the desire of our heart.

Next week, Dan will continue the Design of Desire series by exploring how the fulfillment of desire is intricately connected to the reality of delight. And we’re barely scratching the surface—desire cuts to the heart of God’s intention for creation and our capacity for living meaningful, compelling lives.

If you want to explore these ideas more fully, we invite you to join us for the Design of Desire Conference, October 3 in Houston, Texas.