Evil Desires and the Process of Becoming Dead
Assuming that I need not convince you of the existence of evil desires, I want to explore how God provides the way of escape from our temptations and tests (1 Cor. 10:13). In order to do so, I think it best for us to look first at how we are enticed by our desires and what happens to us in the process of being overtaken by sinful cravings to the point of enslavement. As I read the bible through the lens of desires, I am amazed at the sheer volume of the warnings to watch out for being overtaken by our own sinful cravings. Further, the writers are explicit—even vulgar—when describing how people become enslaved to sinful longings. In the passages that we will look at, you will see individuals, other external forces (leaders, others, adversity), and God active in this process of being given over to inordinate desires. We do it to ourselves, we listen to the deceptive words of others, and God gives us what we demanded. Thus we are enslaved and despicable.
What does this mean for building a biblically based view of the addicting nature of desire? How do we become enslaved to desires for things other than God? The Scriptures give attention to the descent into addiction from two perspectives. We see descriptions from a human perspective: of the physical, cognitive, and emotional processes involved as well as the impact of addiction in our pursuit of satisfaction. Of course, the Scriptures also give us God’s perspective on human behavior. There are no excuses, no reasons, and no loopholes that explain away behavior. The human-centered description of addiction can only tell us what happens after the horse is already out of the barn. Our hearts have already given birth to sinful desire in our mother’s womb. If we only look to our own experiences, we might try to shove the horse (desire) back in the barn. But while locking the front door, we find the desire escaping out the back door. So, let’s take a closer look at Scripture’s descriptions of this “giving over” to sinful desires.
The setup: adversities. Though humans are capable of improper desire without provocation, there does seem to be a common connection between adversity and sinful desire. We, like Israel, are inclined to take matters into our own hands. We build our own gold calves as a means to provide satisfaction and comfort in the face of anxiety. Numbers 11:1-15 provides one description of the relationship between suffering and cravings. The Children of Israel repeatedly face imminent annihilation while in the wilderness (i.e., no food or water; enemies bent on their destruction). In this passage they are depicted as responding to their adversities by craving foods other than what God had provided. They weren’t just ungrateful—though they were, they were fearful of impending doom and so began to remember and clamor for former pleasures.
The setup: blessings. Oh if we could always point to adversity as the cause of our temptations. Sadly, this is not the case. Let me point you to passages that reveal the depths of our self-centered living, passages that reveal how God blesses us and how we pay him back by forgetting our need for him. Deuteronomy records Moses’ farewell sermon as the Children of Israel prepare to enter the Promised Land. In chapters six and eight, He warns them that when they arrive and partake in God’s blessings (i.e., houses they didn’t build, wells they didn’t dig, vineyards they didn’t plant) they will be tempted to become proud and forget the Lord. Jeremiah records God’s lament over blessing Israel. How had they repaid him? They did so by committing adultery and “neighing for another man’s wife” (Jer. 5:8; 13:27). Hosea is even more explicit about how blessings enflame our hearts. In chapter 13, he shows how when we are fed, we feel satisfied which leads to feeling proud of our satisfaction, which ultimately leads to forgetting that it was God who satisfied us (v. 6). How sick is this? We receive a wonderful gift and soon we are crowing about how WE procured it ourselves. Don’t we all do this? We ask God to help us teach a class, speak up in a difficult situation, or finish a task. And when we are successful, we are just as likely to feel proud in what we did in our own strength.
Giving in to initial cravings. How is it that we get addicted to sin? How do we get mired in our pursuit of our passions, especially when they seem like such good things (e.g., being loved, finding identity and purpose, being safe, etc.)? Like all cravings, they call to be satisfied. Did you ever try a new food and find out it didn’t measure up to you your hopes? I remember the first time I bit into a carob bit. It looked like chocolate, but boy it didn’t taste anything like it. I’ve never since had any desire for carob bits. What is it that makes us come back for more? It’s the promise of an equal or better experience. When we go after that which is illicit or when we cross the barrier of desire into lust, we find that the initial taste is not enough. In Job 20, we see a portion of Zophar’s sermon to Job about how the wicked will find no respite for their craving.
The death spiral. Initial cravings (which may not be sinful) turn to lust and then our capacity for self-deceit (which enflames idols and other passions) enable us to take risks, neglect consequences of our choices and so blindly fall headlong into enslavement to our desires. Ultimately, we “wake up dead” and wonder how we got to this disastrous place. The Bible describes this pattern as our choosing and God’s willingness to give us over to our own choices and his work in making us unsatisfied. Note the following passages:
*Rom 6-8: the struggle against sinful desire
*1 Pet 2:18: arrogant and vain words have a way of appealing to our lustful hearts
*Jas 1:13-14: innate evil desires drag us away, entice us
*Jas 4:1ff: “normal” desires can drag us away too
*Job 20: The initial sweetness from filling our craving. Interesting sermon by Zophar (later condemned by God so not sure how much we take from this, but was his counsel completely wrong or wrong in this instance?) Anyway, the description of how the cravings first bring sweetness then emptiness.
*Rm 1:18-28: “Giving over” includes both ours and God’s actions. Self-deceit is involved in lust. *Eph. 4:17-22: our active giving over to sensuality. Similar passages in I Thess 4:5, 1 Pet 4:3. Assumption is that as we are renewed, reborn we begin to obtain wisdom about the difference between the passions of men versus the passions of God.
*Ps 78: God gives us what we want. A history psalm that talks about how God gives his people what they want when they crave after other things and what it results in. He makes what we have unsatisfying: Mic. 6:14, (see also Isa 9:20; Eze. 7:19; 16:28)
*Prv. 6: Risk taking to get more. Attempts to “take fire in his bosom”
*Prv. 7: Neglecting the cost, becoming dead. The giving over to desire leads to being taken to “the snare” without knowing it will cost his life.
*Eze 20:24; 23: The effects of lust and how even when we see its destructive effect, we still want it. The whole chapter (23) details the impact of repeated giving over to lust. Vs. 20 is quite remarkable in its description of lust.
*Isa 57:5: Idols enflame and enslave. We seem to serve idols but they also serve to enflame passions to do evil
*Ezek 6:9 Waking up. Interesting verse that talks about waking up, seeing the destruction idolatry has brought them, (after being taken captive), the “hurt” (NASB) to their God which results in their engaging in self-loathing. Also implicitly, this awakening is how we see God as God.
Evil Desires and the Process of Becoming Dead