Christian lust?

As heard in a sermon last Sunday by our intern, Jomo Johnson:

We are made to lust…

The good is the enemy of the best

Ever thought of lust being a good thing before? I hadn’t. He is saying that lust is a response that humans SHOULD have but that we turn this human response from the best object (God) to a good (and then later self-serving) object (others). When we speak of this, we usually use words like burning desire for…zealous for…

Context for these comments were his thoughts on Psalm 63. David’s lust, he said, got him into this trouble (curse given him after Bathsheba was violence in his family). Lust would now get him out (properly focused on God rather than self).

Helpful thoughts for those who struggle with strong addictive urges?


Filed under addiction, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity

5 responses to “Christian lust?

  1. Dale

    Well, it’s all about semantics, isn’t it? A quick glance at for the definition of “lust” says:

    ▸ noun: self-indulgent sexual desire (personified as one of the deadly sins)
    ▸ noun: a strong sexual desire
    ▸ verb: have a craving, appetite, or great desire for
    The problem with using that word is that when most people hear it, they can’t get the first two definitions out of their heads to let the third definition in.

    Maybe that’s the point!

    Perhaps the most interesting thing about those definitions is that the first two are nouns and the third one is a verb. Like an addiction, the sexual form of lust can be thought of as an object outside of ourselves that we must resist. The positive form of lust is something we DO — actively straining toward God.

    Good insight. I appreciate the edginess of it!

  2. Scott Knapp

    One of my addictions classes in graduate school offered me some great insight into the topic of lust. The teacher offered us the theory that addictions are really a form of “disordered worship,” operating with the natural strength we’re given to submit to God, but directed toward another ‘god’ altogether. Lust could be thought of the same way…empowered with desire that should naturally be directed toward the beauty and wonder of God, but focused on another ‘god’ (or in my case, a ‘goddess’) altogether. This could help explain why pornography is such a tempting altar to cast our gold and crowns toward.

  3. Bruce Johnson

    I appreciate the intention, but the translation is unjustified and may keep us from getting the ACTUAL point of the passage.

    1) First, the precise sense of the word, which appears ONLY here in the Hebrew Bible, is a little uncertain, so we ought to be very careful to build a major point on it.

    2) The BASIC meaning, however, (and all translations I know reflect this) is clear from the context (the IMAGERY it is used with), and parallelism. The verse is comparing the psalmist’s desire for God with the longing for WATER in the desert. The language may be general – ‘desire, long for, pine for’ or more specifically something like “thirst” (the parallel verb).

    In fact, exactly the same metaphor is used in a number of other parallel passages, esp. Psalm 42:1-2 (“as the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you. My soul thirsts for God. . . . “) and 84:2.

    Whatever the connotations of “lust” (see point #2), using it in this verse may lead us to underappreciate the actual imagery of the passage.

    3) The term “lust” is incorrect here for another reason. This English verb (and most uses of the noun) for the past several centuries has almost always had a NEGATIVE connotation. That is, it refers NOT simply to strong desire in general but to inordinate, obsessive or illicit, that is SINFUL desire, most commonly of a sexual nature. (I spent some time with the Oxford English Dictionary on this, and the only clearly positive uses of the verb were listed as “obsolete”, none with citations after 1586!) That is NOT what is going on in any of these psalms or Scriptures.

    Now the psalmists DO express extremely strong (the strongest!) desire for God. But we don’t need to try to change the meaning of a word like “lust” to try to convey this. There are plenty of good English words to express it properly and strongly (some of these I have already mentioned): long for, pine for, yearn for, faint for, hunger/thirst for, perhaps even ‘crave’ (with care).

    4) It may WELL be appropriate and helpful to bring “lust” into the discussion. But rather than calling us to “lust” for God (using the DISTORTION of good, proper desire as the measure), we should point out the CONTRAST and warn how our lusts are a distortion or the deep holy desire God means for us to have. That is, note how we were made to DELIGHT in God (Ps 73:25), to desire him with all our heart, etc. (think John Piper and the Westminster Catechism), and then, secondarily, flowing out of that, to delight with thanks in his good gifts to us (creation), to set our desires on good things. But we sinfully twist all this by our “lusts” (SINFUL, illicit & inordinate desires) directed toward the wrong things and/or in the wrong way (desiring them INSTEAD of our Creator).

    Several NT passages root human sin & rebellion (vs. God’s HOLY & good ways) in such ‘sinful desires’. Consider the list in 1 John 2:16-17, or Paul’s characterization of our ‘former way of life’ in Eph 4:19,22, cf. 1 Peter 1:14-15.

    • Bruce, thanks for your insights. One question about the positive/negative use of lust in the English language. Couldn’t you make the same argument about jealousy. Not used for the positive and yet God himself calls himself jealous. Aren’t our words a bit more flexible than they first appear?

      • Bruce Johnson

        You are correct about “jealous(y)” having both a positive & negative use. Some words are like that. Some, like “lust” in Modern English, aren’t. Others are much more general, and need additional words or context to determine (e.g., “desire” or “passion”). It’s just how language grows & develops. There’s no simple rule or mathematical system at work here. (As I’m always reminding Nick –language is not simply math or logic; it’s much richer & more complex than that in what it does!)

        More than that, since language is a vehicle of communication where basic agreement is critical (a social tool more than a private one), most of us, unless we’re Humpty Dumpty, cannot simply choose to substitute a negative word for its positive corollary if we wish to be properly understood.

        Again, as I suggested in point #4 above, I think it’s quite appropriate to include the passionate longing for God and inordinate desires, lusts, etc. in the same conversation, to show how holy and proper desire contrast with (but are to be as strong as.. often stronger than!) misdirected desire. But that doesn’t mean we can simply decide to use any word we wish interchangeably for both. Our language may simply not allow it.

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