For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.
– Rom 1:26 +INPFSS+
What do a gay couple, a woman on her sixth marriage, and a die-hard Auburn Tigers fan all have in common?
This actually isn't a joke – the first two are from our Scripture readings this morning, the third might be some of you. What do they have in common? ...
They all suffer from disordered desires.
Or as Paul calls them here, dishonorable passions.
And this is the theme I wish to speak on this morning: Disordered Desire.
It's something we all suffer from. It's part of our fallen human condition.
And it's the root problem in these three cases.
The gay couple, the woman on her sixth marriage, and the die-hard Auburn fan, all desire the right thing, in the wrong way. The desire is disordered.
The gay couple desire deep friendship with the same sex, a good thing, and they desire romance, a fine thing, but they are seeking for it in the wrong place. Their desire is misdirected.
The woman on her sixth marriage desires the consolation of a romantic relationship with a man, and domesticity, both fine things, but perhaps she thinks the reason she hasn't found happiness in these things is because of the particular man. Rather than seek a relationship within God's bounds, she is bent on finding a happy marriage at all costs, and yet happiness is precisely what has been eluding her. Her desire is confused.
The die-hard Auburn fan desires a sport's victory, itself a fine thing, but he desires it SO MUCH, that when the Tigers don't win, he's upset for days. His desire is excessive.
See, in each of these cases of desire, there is a problem of order. A problem of sequence and proportion. A dis-order.
The key to being happy – the key to being genuinely joyful and content in this life – is the same key to being a faithful Christian. And that is: to have our desires match the thing desired, in the proportion that God has laid out.
Or, as St. Augustine, the great bishop and teacher of the faith in the 4th century put it, quote:
Now it is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves less or more which ought to be loved equally.
To put it another way think of the principle we all learned in freshman physics class, Newton's third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
In God's economy: The value of every thing has a corresponding amount that it is to be desired.
If something is this good [[[small amount]]] say, Football, or fine dining
then we should desire it this much [[[small amount]]], no more, and no less.
If something is THIS good [[[large amount]]] say, family
then we should desire it THIS much [[[large amount]]], no more, and no less.
And only if equilibrium is achieved on this front. Only if the desire matches the thing, can we be truly at peace in ourselves, and happy in this life.
See, I sort of think of the whole world like this giant puzzle-piece of differing amounts, that God calls us to harmonize with by matching in our desires. If our desires don't rightly correspond, then our puzzle piece doesn't fit, and we will be endlessly frustrated as we try and connect with the world, mashing into it.
So it's worth turning our attention to those bits that are mis-aligned. The desire that are not matching. That are dis-ordered.
Now, in parts of our life, we can plumb desire the wrong thing, and this happens from time to time, when we think that we want something plainly sinful. But more often than not, our desire isn't misdirected, it's just excessive. We love something MORE than God has ordained that it should be loved.
Now, since this always leads to upset, to the opposite of peace and contentment, we can do some useful reverse engineering. We can look at what upsets us, what shatters our peace and leaves us in a tizzy, what dissolves happiness, and there we can locate our disordered desires.
So, think of that with me: What's something that makes you madder than a wet hen? Or what's something that makes you afraid? What thought can keep you up at night?
Within and behind whatever comes to mind, is a disordered desire.
If you're really afraid of a break-in, then you desire security too much.
If you're upset whenever someone interrupts you, then you desire honor too much.
If you're hot and bothered when someone else tells you what to do, then you desire autonomy too much.
If you're cranky to your spouse after a lost game, then you desire Auburn too much.
If you fret about your health, or the weather, or your finances, then these are things you love too much.
Our emotions, reveal to us our deep desires. They show us their dis-order – their too-much-ness.
Now, the big take away from all this abstract analysis is this:
Don't trust your desires.
If we go the way of our desires (which are disordered), we are dooming ourselves to further un-happiness, and have slipped one step further down the slope that leads away from God forever.
In fact, one of the worst things God can do, is give us over to our disorderly desires. That's the curse in Romans 1, right? Three times the scripture tells us, that in response to their false religion, and their sexual immorality. In other words, in response to their desiring the WRONG things,
verse 24: Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity,
verse 26: For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions
and v 28 God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done
We do NOT want this to happen to us. The worst thing in the world to hear from God is, “Go do what you wanted to do”.
It ended in death for the heathens, and it would end in death for us.
No, the great gift of God is that he is inviting us to have our disordered desires ordered, as we follow Christ and his commands.
Now, when we look at all the desires in our lives that are out of whack, it might seem like an impossible task to bring them all into subjection, but all of the leaves are connected to a single root. If you get to the root, then the weed can be pulled out in one fell swoop.
And the root of our desire-problem, is – believe it or not – lack of desire.
Most of our disorder comes from loving things too much. But the root problem connecting all of them is actually a deficiency of desire.
A lack of desire...for God.
God is the greatest good, the one most worthy of love and desire, in the entire cosmos and beyond. Being infinite, and having given us an infinite gift in his Son Jesus Christ, God is the only thing – and not a thing, but of course, a person – he is the only person we cannot love too much.
As C.S. Lewis said “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
But in our daily lives of desire, we so often forsake the Creator, for the things he created. We are often “far too easily pleased”. We attach so much of our pursuit of happiness onto things that rot and fade and diminish – as all things on this earth do – and so little on the one unchanging, ever-loving, infinitely deep, marvelous God of the universe, who loves us and gave himself up for us.
And if we don't get this right, we will never get our other desires sorted out.
But WHEN we get it right. When we confess with our lips with Psalm 16,
You are my Lord, my good above all other!
And when we really believe that: In our heart, with our desires....
Then everything else can fall into place much more easily.
If we desire God rightly, that is, most of all, then our hearts are anchored on the only stable thing. Then when the changes and chances of this life come our way, we will not be overthrown.
And if we love him most of all. If we desire him most of all, it transforms and orders our desire for created things. Rather than making, say, food, an idol that we desire far too much, we can refer our enjoyment of food to its creator: God. We can eat of the fruits of the earth, and desire and enjoy them somewhat, thanking God for them, but not hinging our contentment on whether or not its a good meal.
Only the one who loves God most of all ACTUALLY enjoys the created things, and is not enslaved by them. As C.S. Lewis again put it: 'Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth 'thrown in': aim at Earth and you will get neither.'
Only when we desire God most of all. When he is our greatest pre-occupation. When we just can't get enough of His presence and his truth and his sacraments. Only then can we rightly enjoy the good gifts of creation.
Summing all this up:
Contrary to one of the great mantras of our age: Don't follow your heart.
Don't follow your heart; Follow God.
Don't follow your own desires for your life.
Follow God's desires for your life, laid out plainly in the Scriptures and in the teaching of the Church.
Don't desire things for their own sake.
Desire God, and desire the things he has given you for his sake.
But above every created thing: Desire God.