The Design of Desire

“Desire is a gift from God to feel passionately,” says Craig Bartholomew. Genesis 2 ends with man, woman and even the earth bubbling up with desire. God creates woman for the man, and his desire for her is so strong that he breaks out in song: “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” God also not only permitted but he encouraged man and woman to desire things and to fulfill those desires: “Be fruitful! Multiply! Fill the Earth! Subdue it! I’ve given you everything!”

However, suddenly in Genesis 3 the word desire doesn’t seem like a gift. It seems like a curse. Here we see Eve desire to gain wisdom from a means other than God. The structure of desire is still good, but what unfolded in Genesis 3 twisted that structure and misdirected it toward sin. So, the structure of desire is still good but the direction is not. This is referred to as good structure and bad direction. Let me flesh this out a little bit. Take, for example, dancing. The structure for dancing is good, but it can be misdirected and used for horrible means. Kids love to dance! Elizabeth Ann gets so excited when a song she loves comes on and before we know it she is twirling, bobbing up and down and clapping her. This is good! However, the good design of dancing is used for terrible means like seduction. So, the structure of dancing is good but the direction can be bad.

Genesis 3:6-7 says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

So, the woman and man took the fruit and ate. In a moment, sin and death entered into God’s good creation. Soon, man and woman hear God walking in the garden. This interaction takes a devastating turn. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

This is the first fracture of God’s good world that we see outright—the fracture in the relationships between man/woman and God and between man and woman. Man and woman are afraid of God, then when asked about the fruit they play the blame game. God wastes no time in declaring curses for the serpent, the woman and Adam. We could spend days talking about the implications of each curse, but I would like to focus on what was said to the woman.

We are all image bearers, creatures who bear the image and likeness of another, so we must look to someone or something to reflect and model. Now, thanks to the sin that plagues our hearts, we don’t look to be like our Creator; we look to be like others and what is around us.

In Genesis 3.16, God says to Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” This desire is not delightful, it is destructive. Eve is looking no longer looking to Adam to help but to hurt, and Adam is no longer looking to Eve to love but to dominate. Worse still, no one is looking to God.

We are all image bearers, creatures who bear the image and likeness of another, so we must look to someone or something to reflect and model. Now, thanks to the sin that plagues our hearts, we don’t look to be like our Creator, we look to be like others and what is around us. We are in this cycle of death and destruction. If we are not directing all of our desire to God, it is going somewhere else. Our desires are being distorted and misdirected to sin and death. Matt Chandler has been helpful to categorize most of women’s sin patterns in two general buckets: perfectionism and comparison.

“Comparison is the disordered desire for approval and validation.” As women we become enslaved to checking out other women. Each of us may struggle with this in different ways—bodies, intellect, mothering, humor, etc. We look to those around us and compare how we measure up. We’ve all done it! You may even be doing it right now. You know there’s that one mom at school, or that one “friend” on Instagram. We look at everything and we determine how we measure up. But unless we are completely disillusioned, there will always be times we don’t measure up. And if we are struggling with comparison, this will always lead to discontentment and self-hatred.

On the other hand, “perfectionism is the disordered desire for righteousness and perfection apart from Christ.” Our comparison can drive us to perfectionism. We must have everything in order because next time, “I swear I will have that awesome story about my kid eating carrots (organic of course)!” We over-analyze every thought, word and action that we carry out each day. Your husband can send an email out in five minutes, but it takes you 30. Every word is analyzed. We put a weight on our shoulders that is impossible to bear—do great at work, be a top chef, raise up children to be godly. We are always performing. We think if we have the proper technique for everything we will succeed.

How do we refuse our misdirected desire and lay hold of holy desires? Look to Jesus who so desired to do what we and our first parents failed to do that he suffered and died for the sake of obedience.

Everyday we are surrounded by temptations to fulfill our sinful desires. We are constantly tempted to please ourselves instead of our Creator, to follow the way of folly like our first parents. Thankfully, that is not the end of the story. God in his grace and mercy sent his Son to live his life as a representative for us. He, unlike us, obeyed God, and because of this obedience in our place and on our behalf we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. Unlike Adam and Eve, he desired the will of the Father. Where God had wanted Adam and Eve to live, it was the will of God for Jesus to do. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem (to die)” (Luke 9:51).  Jesus knew his mission. He came to die in obedience to the Father. The Son of the living and most high God hung on a cross! He was shamed, mocked and beaten but did not lift his head. Like a lamb led to slaughter he remained silent and once and for all offered up himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

So, how do we refuse our misdirected desire and lay hold of holy desires? Look to Jesus who so desired to do what we and our first parents failed to do that he suffered and died for the sake of obedience. As we look to him, we will be set free from destructive desires in our marriages to loving desires, we will be set free from the despairing desire to measure up to others to contentment in Jesus and we will be set free from the death-producing desire to earn perfection by our own efforts to the life-giving desire to embrace Jesus as our supreme treasure.

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