Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The problem with desire. . .

We have too many desires.  We are constantly flitting from one shiny thing to another.  It works perfectly in a culture of convenience in which what we want becomes entrepreneurial opportunity.  But does it work for us?  Is our lack of happiness, our fixation on security, and our willingness to surrender liberty to a government that will provide for us healthy?  Does it bring the contentment our heart yearns to know?

The problem with desire is that it does not remain desire.  Desire begets thought begets word begets action.  In an instantaneous society when we demand and expect things to happen immediately, there is no chance to filter out wrong desires or change our minds.  We are consumed by the mere availability of things.  That has catapulted Amazon to its status and forced the brick and mortar stores to copy in order to survive.  Whim has replaced thought and want lives unconstrained within us.  

Perhaps the devil knew what would happen to the heart once released from its focus on God.  In any case, the devil capitalized on our many itches and insisted that we scratch where it itches.  Certainly those who lived before us were also affected by the unrestrained desire of the heart but they were constrained by opportunity.  When life was defined by work and technology was a means of making the work easier (but not necessarily briefer), the possibility of our desires were left more unmet than explored.  But our generation has come face to face not simply with the strong temptation of desire but its accessibility.  The things we want, we can have -- today!  Ours is a consumer culture in which success has come from honing our skills at both eliciting and then satisfying those desires. 

We laugh about it but it is not funny.  We speak it and Siri and Alexa investigate it, catalog it, and then bombard us all day long with advertisements designed no only to satisfy that desire but to arouse even more desire.  They scope out its availability and tell us how quickly and how cheaply we can have what we want, in the size and color and with all the features we want.  If what we want is not available or out of our price range, we are given options so that we need not wait (until we change our minds).   You can do it all from your phone!  The job of consumerism is not to tell us that something we want is not good but to tell us we can have it all whenever we want it.  It is a lie, of course, but a convenient one and one we all seem willing to accept instead of the harder truth that things will not satisfy the longing within -- anymore than experiences.

Our problems are not lack but desire.  We live in a culture of overindulgence, over stimulation, over individualization, and over personalization.  Why else would we struggle so with such things as obesity, addiction, sexual misconduct, depression, fear, insecurity, and greed?  These are not the problems of a lack of anything but too much -- too many things, too much availability, and too cheap the initial cost.  The end result is that we find it hard to focus on any one thing and have squandered our attention spans on the memes of Facebook, the videos of TikTok, and the news that fits in 15 seconds.  We have turned stones into bread at the whisper of the devil but we are not content.  Jesus rebuke of the devil reminds us that things cannot satisfy our longing.  Man does not live on bread alone.  Life is not a circus and a buffet for couch potatoes. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Lk 12:15).  It is the bread of God's Word that satisfies and the wonder of His unmerited grace and unlimited mercy that turns our hearts to praise and contentment.  

We are helping no one when we encourage them to explore the desires of their hearts or to find contentment and joy in the things and experiences of this mortal life.  God helps us by confronting us with all that these things cannot do while at the same time pointing us to that which does satisfy.  His Word that tabernacles in our hearts by the power of the Spirit... His water that cleanses not only externally but from within by creating a new heart within us... His absolution that reclaims us from our detours and dead ends of sin... His body and blood that satisfies our hunger and quenches our thirst with the promise of what is to come.  If we learned anything in Lent and drew any comfort from Easter Sunday, it ought to derail our unrestrained pursuit of desire for it can lead only to death -- the living death of the tormented and the eternal torment of death without end.

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