Doesn’t Christianity condemn desire - the Puritans
and all that?
Not at all. Quite the contrary. Christianity takes
desire seriously - far more seriously than the stoic or the mere
hedonist. Christianity refuses to budge from the fact that man was
made for pleasure, that his beginning and his end is a paradise, and
that the goal of living is to find Life. Jesus knows the dilemma of
desire and he speaks to it in nearly everything he says.
When it comes to the moral question, it is neither
simply yes or no to desire, but always what we do with our desire.
Christianity recognizes that we have desire gone mad within us. But
it does not seek to rectify the problem by killing desire; rather,
it seeks the healing of desire, just as it seeks the healing of
every other part of our human being.
"Two things contribute to our sanctification,"
wrote Pascal. "Pains and pleasures." And while we know that
our journey is strewn with danger and difficulty, "the
difficulties they meet with are not without pleasure, and cannot be
overcome without pleasure."
Where do you find Jesus saying, "The problem with
you people is, you want too much. If you’d just learn to be happy
with less, we’d all get along just fine." "My commands are for your
good," he says, "always."
Something has gone wrong in us, very wrong indeed.
So wrong that we have to be told that joy is not found in having
another man’s wife, but in having our own. But the point is not the
law, the point is the joy. Need I say more than this: Modern
Christianity has brought an entire group of people to the point
where they have to be told that sex is, in the words of one book,
"intended for pleasure."
God is realistic. He knows that ecstasy is not an
option; we are made for bliss and we must have it, one way or
another. He also knows that happiness is fragile and rests upon a
foundation greater than happiness. All the Christian disciplines
were formulated at one time or another in an attempt to heal
desire’s waywardness, and so by means of obedience, bring us home to
bliss. Walter Brueggemann suggests that faith on its way to maturity
moves from "duty to delight." If it is not moving, then it has
become stagnant. If it has changed the goal from delight to duty, it
has gone backwards; it is regressing. This is the great lost truth
of the Christian faith, that correction of Judaism made by Jesus and
passed on to us:
The goal of morality is not morality - it is ecstasy. You are
intended for pleasure!