Spirit and Desire


What do you want?

It is a simple question. But the answers touch on many complex matters of the human heart. Dealing with human desire is one of the common features of spirituality in many religious traditions. Each one agrees on this: getting what we want often leads us astray.

William B. Irvine in his book On Desire reflects on the power of desire in our lives. As we awake, we awaken to desire. It is as common as the air we breathe. But we ought not trust them to lead us in what is best. “The worst way to deal with our feelings to dissatisfaction is to work toward fulfilling the desires we find within us… the best way to gain satisfaction … is to want what we already have.” (p286) What wonderful paradoxes.

What do you want? Is it good for you?

A brief scan of the seven deadly sins reveals powerful desires: greed, lust, envy, anger, sloth, gluttony, pride. They were called deadly precisely because pursuing them would end up costing a person his/her soul. They are not good for us. We ought not limit this thought to the seven deadly sins. They merely illustrate. It is probably best to say that every desire can lead us astray and every desire can find its proper place within the kingdom.

But that’s the point. Desire is measured as good or deadly not by what we feel within, but by its relationship to Christ and his Kingdom. Romans 8 makes this clear. We are to put to death the desires of the flesh and embrace what the Spirit desires. What the Spirit desires is that God is glorified in Christ, that compassion and kindness triumph, that forgiveness is evidenced in community, that the peace of Christ is pursued, and that justice succeeds in our common life.

So what do you want? Is it what the Spirit desires?

In a world where advertisers wish to awaken the desires in you, are you listening to the voice of the Spirit? It is a question about what’s good for you. 

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