For many, desire is viewed as a curse, a consequence of the Fall, woman’s burden for relationship with man and connection with man. For me and many others, desire is viewed as an extension of and a gift from, God.
For eroticism, there are invisible and ever-active participants: imagination and desire. As Octavio Paz once noted, “eroticism is invention, constant variation” (The Double Flame) which relies on the unknown. Eroticism unites desire with discovery and uncovers the unlimited boundaries of romantic love.
Desire, if not filtered properly through the channel of the heart, can give birth to irrational justifications that pervert and distort its intended purpose.
What is desire’s intended purpose? How can we ensure we are filtering our desire effectively to unveil the powerful energy that it contains? How can speaking it into existence encourage evolution within our relationships? Does God fit into all of this?
While the Stoics and Buddhists maintain that desire leads to craving— which leads to suffering; I submit that God placed desire in our hearts, intentionally. God desired to love Other, and therefore; desire is of God. It was not to give us the choice of temptation or to bring suffering in our lives, but so that we could understand God.
How can we understand God by understanding desire? That is the question.
Throughout the Bible, we are reminded that God desires relationship with us. Notably, John 3:16 best articulates how deep, far, and wide God’s love is for us. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. He desired to be with us so much that he gave His Son.
God places desire in the heart of Eve. Genesis recounts the “consequence” of tasting the forbidden fig. To the woman [God] said, your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you. Will the husband rule over you or will the desire rule over you? That is a secondary question to ponder.
In Song of Songs, She laments about looking for the one that her heart loves, but cautions: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. (Songs 3:5) Love is desire. And it is not to be prematurely aroused or awakened. This is important.
I see that desire is inherent. It is an internal longing. It’s what disposes us to action. It is attention-based, and it is a component of our mental state that works in collaboration with its other half: reason. Desire is an attentive attraction to something Other, to something unknown, to something beautiful, and to something pleasurable, for that which we do not have, for that which grants us pleasure.
Pleasurable Principle & Proportionality
There is always a hang-up around pleasure. Does God want us to deny ourselves pleasure because suffering leads to salvation? Can and does pleasure always lead to pain? Is pleasure good? In his book The Purpose Drive Life, Rick Warren submits that God intended us to have pleasure: “If it is offered to God in spirit and truth, it is an act of worship.”
- Psalm 149:4 tells us that God takes pleasure in his people.
- Revelation 4:11 reiterates the principle of pleasure; that God created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist.
Pleasure is worship and pleasure emanates from God; God herself takes pleasure from our communion with one another, from our relationship together. And that pleasure creates. It creates a life and it creates an experience—a shared, triune experience. You, Other, God. Desire can lead to a triune pleasure. Desire is pro-creation.
Pleasure, however, from many angles, is often considered obverse to anything relating to purity. Instead of a triune experience of a sacred bonding; pleasure can be stripped of its holy reverence and be muddied up from uninformed and irrational perceptions.
One man’s pleasure is easily reduced to another man’s perversion. Pleasure, desire, eroticism, sex—they all receive a bad reputation thanks to the ways in which anything and everything can be used for good or evil.
This is the effect of the power of the Principle of Proportionality as presented by Greg Boyd. It is “the conviction that anything or anyone’s potential for good is always matched or balanced by their potential for evil.” He further expounds on this principle in his book Satan and the Problem of Evil.
There is a “dual potentiality of created things.” (278) “We cannot conceive of any aspect of an objective world that could potentially benefit agents that could not also potentially harm agents. What makes one thing a blessing in one situation makes the same thing a curse in another situation.” Boyd recognizes that this does not explain “natural” evil. “It does not explain why God would tolerate the massacre of little children by a tornado. Granted, the general point that the power of the wind to benefit humankind must also entail that under certain conditions it will be able to destroy churches.” (279)
What can be gleaned from this point, is that desire itself is not good or bad, but what we do with that desire has the potential to do good or bad or produce good or bad consequences. I believe this is where the heart comes into play. Perhaps the Stoics and the Buddhist don’t trust that the heart can act as a righteous filter for desire, but I think Christianity especially creates space for such a possibility. Which is to make all things unclean, clean. Pure. The heart is the agent that can cleanse the desire.
But let us not confuse pure for prudishness nor abstinence. My argument will not lead you to a conclusion that situates the erotic in need of purification in such a way that it is seen as virginal and dull. On the contrary, I believe doctrines that purport Christianity to be anti-erotic to be a great influence over much of the unintended consequences of dysfunctional desires and exploitative erotica.
A truer purity is the result of the filtration of the heart, mind, and body working as One to take whatever desires come into the psyche and translate them using the syntax of love; making it a transcendent translation. Our heart takes what is often seen as a selfish longing and stretches the capability of consideration so that what was once for the Self becomes solely about the Other.
I believe it is the desire of God implanted in us that motivates us to act selflessly for others. It is the spark of fire that urges our being to empty ourselves for the wholeness of God to fill us. We do this by granting our desires permission to fulfill themselves by extending such fulfillment to the Other in expressions of love, in acts and deeds, in giving of support, empathy, and pleasure—whether emotionally or physically.
I don’t believe we have a natural inclination to twist our desires for ill, but I do believe that societal influences can manipulate our sense of what is right and wrong. We must account for that potentiality as well.
The general theory is that desire and pleasure go together; desire leads to pleasure which leads to further desire. Many philosophers have argued that desire cannot ever be fulfilled. Slavoj Zizek once said that desire is “not to realize its own goal, find full satisfaction, but to reproduce itself as desire.”
Desire is an imaginative act. It creates. It propels us to move toward an object that we lack or toward a portal to connect to, and to engage in an experience that we are not currently experiencing. It disposes us to move toward an Otherness. Not of ourselves, but from outside of ourselves— not from within. Our desires are very rarely ever fulfilled singularly.
But it is the messaging from within that can contain the power so that it is not wasted. Desire is a strong and seemingly forceful. If we have the mind of Christ, we will not let it overpower us, but transform us. Desire is nuclear. It can become radiant, energizing passion or it can become a combustible, deadly explosion.This means that desire deserves its space, whether mentally or physically. I have previously written about the importance of distance and desire. Distance is the space necessary for the volatile phenomenon to expand into its potentiality. Desire is energy by itself and therefore does not need any device to control it, as if it were containable.
“For passion to become energy,” says Maurice Blanchot, “it is necessary that it be constricted, that it be meditated by passing through a necessary moment of insensibility, then it will be the greatest passion possible.” The constriction Blanchot is referring to is one of Stoic principle, apathy and abnegation—delaying gratification and subduing the desire for pleasure.
I don’t believe that a constriction is necessary. It is a filtration that is necessary, however, because desire denied leads to craving and lust, which can create suffering. And while I have no beef with either craving or lust particularly, so long as it is properly directed toward the object of one’s affection, the potentiality for desire to build into an uncontrollable and overwhelming monkey on the back still exists. The Principle of Potentiality demonstrates this.
Filtration contains the energy but does not box it in. Boxed-in desire is what often leads to uncontrollable desires wreaking havoc on relationships. The danger in boxing it in is that if someone comes along and provides a box-cutter to bust that energy out, it can be directed at the wrong person or received without trust and support.
Constriction requires pressure and force. It’s quick, reactive, and aggressive. Constriction is a form of control that harms. What we need is a container for our desires where it can be guided toward the proper sources to be used with love. Filtration is patient, freeing, and demands no pressure or force, it simply flows. When we filter our desires, there is a separation of particles that aren’t necessarily beneficial to the original desire.
Good Desire, Bad Desire—Is there such a thing?
How do we handle desire and how do we discern which desire leads us toward fruitful pleasures? Paul’s words are aptly applied in view of how to handle all forms of desire, even erotic desire. From 1 Corinthians 10:23-32 (NIV):
I have a right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
But, if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of the conscience…
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble.
You do have a right to try anything, within reason. Reason and desire must work together. I hate to say it, as cliché as it sounds, but it is 2019 and we have little cause to remain ignorant to what is “right or wrong.” We literally have the world at our fingertips. We have almost zero reason to excuse ourselves from paying attention to the current standards of right and wrong, moral and immoral, consent and assault. Our filtration system is cognizant to the notion that love is not coercive or forceful, nor does it cause harm nor is it cruel.
Desire filtered through the heart is reasonable desire. If one has a desire to seek pleasure and fulfillment outside the parameters of a monogamous relationship without consulting their partner, this is by all definitions, wrong.
Our terms must be defined. A discussion must follow. Discernment of the discussion is crucial. If we grant desire the patience that really heats it up, we really do not have to deny our desires, but we can delay them temporarily until we have had time to discuss and discern, verbally. Then, we may devour.
Desires that are discussed, however, between mature, rational, self-aware, adult individuals are easily filtered through compassion, consideration, and communication. We must declare what our desires are if we ever want to really reveal what it is we desire to our partners. Even with delicate and careful articulation, however, we don’t always say what we mean and mean what we say. When we reveal our initial desires, sometimes, we have to break them down through conversation to unveil what they really look like.
And when we discuss what our desires look like, we must also allow for careful consideration that simply because a desire is voiced and flirted with, does not mean it will be put into any tangible action. Sometimes, all it takes is the idea of a desire to be spoken into existence that it creates a flare to that warms a couple.
“Eat anything in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it’.” Liberally translated, this reiterates the “permission” to try everything once.
Consider this: You attend the meat market weekly. You choose what you will feed your family with. Your mind is not burdened with questions such as: Was this animal ethically raised and slaughtered? Was it fed GMO free corn? Was it pasture fed or raised in a CAFO? Is it cage free?
You choose what looks delicious. You bring it home, prepare it, grill it, and taste it. You will know simply by the first few bites whether you want to eat this meat again, right? You either discover that you like the meat or you do not like the meat. You have the choice to buy it again or try something new or go back to something that you know you like from a reliable herder.
But say the vendor at the meat market tells you that he fed the animal the poorest of nutrients, abused it, and performed no ritual prayer before slaughter? Now you have information that you can discern from. These practices violate your code of ethics when purchasing meat, and you can choose not to select this meat for the sake of the one who told you and for yourself.
Liberally translated, if your desires lead you to discover something that you really don’t like after you tried it, then don’t do it again, if you don’t want to. Or, consider that you could have prepared it wrong, and since you bought all that meat, don’t throw it out. Try seasoning it. Salt it and give it time. Marinade it, even. Some dishes are an acquired taste.
Whatever you do, do it for the Glory of God. Yes, I understand this could easily be a verse wielded as a weapon to subjugate another to perform under duress. The Principle of Potentiality. However, when we are seeking out the good for others, erotically, and within the boundaries of our spoken desires, so long as we are not causing another to stumble, we are in good company with the Lord.
Desire itself is not dirty. It cannot be. It was instilled by God. And God is pure. We make it dirty when we let false impressions of reality influence us. Luckily, it is in the erotic realm that we can take what is deemed as lust or craving and tame it, transform it, and push it toward its highest potential energy. Which means we also can make it clean. We can purify it. Through the heart. So long as desire remains other-oriented, it is returned as pleasure-oriented.
Desire, Spinoza declares, is “the very essence of man.” If this is the case, I would add that our very essence reflects God; our very essence is love. God desires that we should love God and we can do this by loving the other, by bringing pleasure to the other, and by discovering the other in the unknown through curiosity that not only creates experience but expands it.
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