The desire for God is an appetite. That sentence looks far less revelatory on the page than how I’m experiencing that simple idea. I was driving home recently in the midafternoon aware that I was kind of hungry, but only a little bit, even though I hadn’t eaten yet. When I don’t eat much, I don’ t have much of a desire for food. When I eat too much, that’s when I want more of it. Thinking about that as I drove, I switched mental channels and thought the desire for God is like that: If I am away from him, I don’t feel a strong desire for him. But when I am fully present with him, I want more of him.
That’s great news for this reason: if I want more of God, I can increase my desire for him just like I would for anything else. For example, if I were interested in cultivating a desire for ice cream every day, I would start to eat just a little bit of ice cream every single day. (I don’t want that, but you get the idea.) If I want to cultivate my desire for God, I just need to taste a little bit more of him every day.
Creating an Appetite
In 5777, as part of a healing I didn’t yet know I needed, I spent a lot of time listening to worship music and singing. I found out later that bilateral music and singing transforms how the brain processes traumatic experiences–while you’re not even thinking about them or, as in my case, not even cognizant that they exist.
Those moments of singing were life to my bones, resurrection life having its way with my body. I never had it tested, but I suspect my serotonin levels were way high. He was transforming me with his fierce love. I was almost always giggling, and I had peace overflowing. I would sneak in a song if I had three minutes between conferences or classes. Like a young lover, I wanted to take advantage of every unoccupied second to fall into him.
Then, after a series of events that threw me off schedule, I kind of just… stopped. I wondered whether I wasn’t doing more harm than good by essentially cultivating self-indulgence. I’d taken an appetite of my flesh and substituted God as the consumable for my over-indulgent tendencies.
An Appetite on the Prowl
So instead of singing along to worship music, I spent a week of morning hours shopping for warm winter clothing, consumption turned toward the material world.
Then another week. Rationalization: The self-indulgent are dead while they’re alive; I didn’t want to be dead while I thought I was spending time with the Lord. I had to move on from that place.
It may not be hard to imagine that after two weeks, I’d effectively enslaved myself to covetousness, which is idolatry, wasting time online window-shopping. That was not an improvement in my condition physically or spiritually, and sin in one area was quick to spread through other areas of my life.
Harnessing the Evil Inclination
Judaism teaches the evil inclination is present all the time, but we are free to use it to serve evil purposes or serve good purposes. Ignore it, and it is an undiscerning, self-hating slave looking for the chance to be the cruelest master. Recognize it and rule over it–give it tasks to do each day–and it will behave. It certainly does crouch at the door, but we can subdue it instead of letting it subdue us. I wonder if it’s safe to say it’s a kind of engine that revs up behind each choice we make. It doesn’t choose the path for us, but it will accelerate our journey.
The conclusion of the matter is this: I was formed in iniquity; it’s deeply in my nature to stray from God through craving, craving, craving, the very thing that the apostle Peter says is corrupting the whole cosmos; but there is a safe place to invest the deepest attachment needs I have, and that’s in union with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I crave, so let me cultivate a craving for God, for godliness.
When we’re not thirsty, we can take a tiny sip anyway, and that sip will increase our thirst for him. When we’re not hungry, we can taste the smallest crumb, and that crumb will seed an overwhelming hunger for him.
The desire for God is an appetite. There’s no end to satisfaction in Him, and being satisfied in Him dilutes the appeal of substitutes. He is the great love of my life, and He deserves my greatest desires turned to Him and submitted to Him. If we are fully, voluntarily enslaved to Christ, that part of us that craves is occupied with him and we become radically free indeed.