Thursday, January 14, 2010

What is Love? Part 2

Yesterday I started a series of posts on love. In order for today's post to make sense, I'd recommend reading What is Love? Part 1 first. In part one I put forth the idea that a concept as complex as love is best described as a progression of phases: All love begins with an affection... from there it may or may not develop into a desire... if a desire is strong enough, it may or may not proceed to an inclination of focus... and from there, it might or might not overflow in an action toward or on behalf of the beloved object. Over the next several posts, I'll unfold each step in this progression. Today we'll look at what happens when an affection births a desire.

Love May Progress to Desire

Love may progress to desire. Desire is a want. It's one phase beyond affection. It's possible to have an affection for something, but not desire it all the time. I think love moves on to desire based on extent of value and availability of the object of affection. In other words, picture me sitting in a new restaurant and having no idea what is served there. I'm waiting to order and I see a steak go by. I have an affection for steak because I value it. But until that moment I hadn't desired a steak. When I saw it, a desire was awakened in me. Why? Because steak, the object of my affection, is available to me. Now, seconds later, asparagus goes by. There is no desire awakened in me for asparagus. Why? Because though asparagus is available to me, I have no affection for it. So desire is sparked when the affection is intense and the potential for availability is high enough.

Let's take Amnon and Tamar as a continuing illustration. "And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her" (2 Sam. 13:2). We saw in 13:1 that Amnon loved Tamar. We described that as an affection based on Amnon's value of Tamar -- she was a beautiful virgin. Now in this verse, we see Amnon's affection move to desire. Amnon's love could have remained forever in the realm of an affection. He didn't have to channel it toward a specific want. But here we see Amnon is so worked up and tormented that he makes himself sick. Why? Because Tamar was valuable to him and she was potentially available (lived in close proximity). She was so intensely valuable that even though the potential to do anything seemed impossible, Amnon held onto the hope she could somehow be made more available.

I saw a similar dynamic when I was in the Army. Everyone who trained to be a scout had to endure a 15 week cycle of basic training. Time and energy was strictly channeled into what the government thought most beneficial. The Army didn't see cigarettes as compatible with the strenuous training. There were young men who were hooked on cigarettes who had to quit cold turkey. It was shocking how few had nervous breakdowns! Few ever mentioned withdrawal or how tough it is to quit. Why? The desire for cigarettes soon vanished. Why? Did cigarettes suddenly lose their value? Maybe. I suspect a better answer would be because the immediate availability of cigarettes had vanished. Now what if I would ask those smokers, "Has your love for cigarettes diminished?" I suspect some would say, "Yea, I really don't care about them anymore." I would attribute that to a loss of value. They realized they could live happily without them (perhaps more happily without them). But others would likely say, "No, I love cigarettes. Camels especially. They relax me and taste good." Their love for cigarettes hasn't diminished any. But their desire has -- because cigarettes aren't available to them. They're not pulling their hair out, but when training is over and cigarettes are once again available, they'll likely start up again. A third group might answer differently yet. They may say something like, "No, I still love cigarettes. In fact, I'm craving one so bad I'm going to sneak out at dinner and bring a pack back and hide it in the ceiling tiles." Their affection for cigarettes is so high and they value them so greatly, that they'll go out of their way, at any cost, to make cigarettes available. The same dynamic happens when new lovers will drive hours just to see each other for a fraction of that time. Desire is sparked when affection is intense enough and availability is deemed high enough. Desire is wanting something. It can be good or bad, strong or weak.

Virtuous Desires

"Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Ps. 73:25). We see here a godly desire. When Asaph wrote this psalm, he was fighting envy. He looked around at all the evil men prospering through their oppression of others. Then Asaph considered eternity and that changed everything. He realized that God would judge these evil men and their pleasure would soon be anti-pleasure. That's when Asaph realized the value of God. He said, "But for me it is good to be near God. . . ." (Ps. 73:28). As Asaph took his eyes off others and put them on God, he considered God's goodness. Then his affection for God was stirred and desire for God solidified again.

"One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple" (Ps. 27:4). King David clearly had moments of intense sinful desires (see his affair with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11) and those moments were, of course, idolatrous. But if we read through the account of David's life, the overarching theme was seeking God. He longed for God. Notice in this psalm that David wanted to gaze on God's beauty. David desired God because God is beautiful. David had an affection for God that flowed from a sense of beauty or value ("to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord") that sparked a desire for God in David. Part of the reason David longed for God was because he knew his own sinfulness (see Pss. 32 and 51). When David would consider his sinfulness alongside of God's splendid holiness; rather than drive him to despair, it drove him to desire God all the more. May that be our response as well.

Thoughts and Desires

What makes us desire money over God or God over cigarettes or God over anything else in this world? There is a direct relationship between what we believe and what we want. If we could do surgery on our spiritual hearts we would find thoughts and desires. It's easy to recognize that these two related concepts line up with the first two phases on the progression of love. Why do we have an affection for one object over another? Because we sense the beauty or value of the one object over the other. Why do we have a hatred or fear of one object over another? Because we sense the lack of beauty or value over another. Without sense, we wouldn't know anything. So based on our interpretation of the sense that we have (a belief), we gain an affection.

Now, a desire is sparked when the object of affection is seen as so valuable to us and potentially available, that we want it. The extent to which we've convinced ourselves of an object's value will determine our desire for that object. In other words, every choice in life is based on what we think and what we want in our hearts. We see this in Scripture. "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (Prov. 4:23). "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mat. 12:34). "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (Mat. 15:19). "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person" (Mark 7:21-23). "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Our choices come from the thoughts and desires of our hearts. This is why it's so crucial that we think and desire according to the truth and not just what seems or feels right. We'll see this in the next phase on the progression (inclination of focus).

Fantasy, Meditation and Desire

When we begin to desire something, we turn that object over and over in our minds. We meditate on it. Our desires are sparked from our affections. Our affections flow from our sense of value. As an object of affection is meditated upon, the heart conducts more extensive evaluations. In other words, our meditation can channel our desire. Our desire for an object can increase or decrease. Our meditation on an object can be the key determining factor in the intensity of desire. It' like our moms used to tell us when we wanted that new toy at the store -- stop thinking about it. Meditation is not always good. Our "evaluating mechanism" is fallen and corrupt, so that there is always potential for distortion of reality. Unless our evaluations are shaped by the Holy Spirit through Scripture, they may not be accurate. At the extremes, our evaluation may devalue something beautiful -- like God. Or our evaluation may beautify something shameful -- like sexual immorality. As we meditate, we begin to role-play possible scenarios. We allow our thoughts to run free with potentialities. We imagine how enhanced our existence would be if we only had the object of our affection. This can be good when we're thinking of the glories of heaven or the virtues of Christ. However, our role-playing may also inflate attributes of beauty to false proportions. We may downplay any blemish or anything that may taint the image. The actual payoff of pleasure that is expected from an object of affection may be far below what we nurture in our thoughts. We can speak lies to ourselves, and we believe the lies. We have the ability to carry out entire little alternative worlds in our heads. This can be so dangerous because it's difficult not to eventually act upon what we're fantasizing about.

Our heart evaluates based on what we think will pay off with the greatest reward. This is another area where our corruption distorts reality. We frequently place value on some object with lesser potential pleasure that is currently available (no matter the cost), rather than value an object of greater potential pleasure that isn't available the way we'd like. In other words, we loathe delayed gratification. We often fail where Moses succeeded. We'll take hot dogs now rather than steak later. And we'll take sin now rather than heaven later. Rather than looking to the greatest reward, we look to the quickest and easiest. This is the essence of John's warning in 1 John 2:15-17. We are tempted to love the world and the things in the world because the world is right here, right now and we don't have to exert much effort for the payoff. It doesn't take much meditation to enjoy all the immediate sensual pleasures of the world. We can get caught up rather quickly and before we know it, Paul could say of us: "For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things" (Phil. 3:18-19). In the end, only fools choose the world. Those who have a sense of God's beauty or value choose God, even if they have to wait for him.

Just as our thoughts and desires can take us down a sinful path, they can also take us down a godly, virtuous path. This requires meditation on God and truth, looking with the eyes of faith. This requires God's Word. It takes more self-control and discipline to enjoy spiritual pleasures through faith than it does to enjoy sensual pleasures. But the payoff is worth it. That's the message of texts like Psalm 119:105: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path," or Psalm 19:7-8: "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes," or Psalm 119:9-11: "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you," or 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." One of my favorite texts dealing with the benefits of knowing Scripture is 2 Peter 1:3-4, where Peter says God "has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence," and that we have "escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." So we see here that our affections can be shaped by the Word of God and spark godly, virtuous desires, or they can be shaped apart from God's Word and spark worldly, sinful desires.

Desire is Love

I have tried to show from several texts and plain reason how an affection flows into a desire when the value of the beloved object is intense and can be made available. In the same way that an affection is truly love, a desire is also truly love. A concordance survey of the word "desire" in the Bible would show how often the word "love" could replace "desire" with little altering of the meaning. This is obvious in 1 John 2:15-17. Of course, I'm still referring to love in a neutral way, not a virtuous way. Remember, it's possible to love (agapáō) my brother (see 1 John 2:10) and the things in the world (see 2 Tim. 4:10 and 1 John 2:15-17). What makes that love virtuous or perverse is the motive and object of love, the intensity of love or the fruit that love brings forth.

In the same way that love can stop at an affection, love can also stop at a desire. The desire could remain unfulfilled forever and yet remain a love. Amnon desired Tamar so much that he made himself ill over her, and up to that point his love was nothing more than desire. To that point, his love produced no action. Desire is unrequited love. It may not be returned or satisfied. In other words, I could have an affection for steak flowing from a sense of the value of steak. That affection is so intense it sparks a desire for it. However, if all the steak in the world is consumed, my desire may remain quite high for it, but unfulfilled. My love for steak is forced to stop at desire. Or I could stop having a desire for steak because I settled for ribs instead. In that case, I don't desire steak anymore, yet love didn't die. It just regressed back to an affection. I still love steak; I just don't want one at the moment. But what happens when my desire for steak, or Amnon's desire for Tamar, or David's desire for God is so intense, we'll stop at nothing to get it, regardless of consequences? What happens when love demands a response? We'll find out in part three.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Just as our thoughts and desires can take us down a sinful path, they can also take us down a godly, virtuous path. This requires meditation on God and truth, looking with the eyes of faith. This requires God's Word. It takes more self-control and discipline to enjoy spiritual pleasures through faith than it does to enjoy sensual pleasures. But the payoff is worth it.
Thank you, Darby, for this insight! May God and His irresistable grace become more and more precious to us as we meditate on Him.