I’m currently reading two books that serendipitously are perfectly paired. One is for bookclub — The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. The other is one of C-bear’s assigned books for school next year that I’m pre-reading — Desiring God by John Piper.
Now, I said they were perfectly paired, but it’s not because they are in any way similar. Here are a couple of quotes to give you a glimpse of just how different their underlying ideas are.
Dorian Gray, a handsome young man, falls under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton who explains to him that,
“Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind, and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it…that is one of the great secrets of life—to cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul…if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream…the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy…”from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I’m not convinced that he paints a very joyous picture, but Dorian is enamoured with Lord Henry’s novel ideas and goes on to
“…elaborate some new scheme of life…in the spiritualizing of the senses…Yes; there was to be…a new Hedonism that was to recreate life…it was never to accept any theory or system that would involve the sacrifice of any mode of passionate experience. Its aim, indeed, was to be experience itself, and not the fruits of experience, sweet or bitter as they might be…But it was to teach man to concentrate himself upon the moments of a life that is itself but a moment.”from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Desiring God proposes an entirely different form of hedonism — Christian Hedonism. As John Piper explains,
“It started to dawn on me that this persistent and undeniable yearning for happiness was not to be suppressed, but to be glutted — on God!
The pleasure Christian Hedonism seeks is the pleasure that is in God Himself.”from Desiring God by John Piper
So, with the stage set as to what has been buzzing around my brain these days, perhaps it will make more sense why the following verse stood out to me the other day as I was listening to a playlist in my Dwell audio Bible app. I was brushing my teeth when I heard,
Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.Ephesians 4:19 (NIV)
I stood there, struck by the irony of the phrase “having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality.” Somebody tell me how that makes any sense! A sensualist, like Lord Wotton or Dorian Gray, is a person devoted to physical pleasure. How can they possibly enjoy the very thing they are intent on if they’ve lost their sensitivity?! No wonder the verse ends by calling them greedy. They have a continual lust for more because they have become callous — they can’t feel what they want to feel, what they’ve devoted their lives to trying to feel. Their senses have dulled, and what is worse, this change in their senses is wreaking havoc in their will as well.
We were created with God-given appetites, modes of acquiring information and forming judgments. We have a sensitive appetite that gathers knowledge from the world around us through our physical senses. We also have rational appetites, like our will, that crave order and rely on reason for making decisions. God has created us to flourish when our sensitive appetite is submitted to our rational appetite and our rational appetite is in turn submitted to Him.
Aquinas says that “a modification in the sensitive appetite tends to bring about a change in the will.”
A modification in the sensitive appetite tends to bring about a change in the will.from Compendium of Theology by Thomas Aquinas
The lie of temptation is that you are strong willed, that you have your indulgence under control, that you can rule your passions. The trouble is, when we indulge our sensitive appetite, it weakens our will, eventually taking it captive and putting it to use towards its own ends. We find ourselves “willing” what would have abhorred us when our appetites were functioning properly. We’ve created a monster that has changed the very desires of our heart and now keeps us trapped in our sin.
I have heard countless preachers and Sunday school teachers talk about the destructive consequences of sin. They might admit that sin is “pleasurable for a season,” but it will cause lots of bad things to happen to you and your loved ones. Just DON’T do it! But I have yet to hear anyone warn us not to sin BECAUSE WE WILL LOVE IT! Who’s gonna say that from a pulpit? But that’s where the real danger lies! Yes, sin is destructive. Lives get broken, relationships get broken. Thank God healing and reconciliation are possible! But the most difficult thing of all to heal and restore is a disordered heart and a will that has been bent completely out of shape. That is deeper work! Work for the Spirit of God. Thank God that since He created our wills, He has the power to touch them and incline them again toward loving Him above all else. That brings us to the cusp of material for another blog post though. But in case you are trapped, in case your passions have your will pinned mercilessly in the dust, let me leave you with hope. God can give you a new heart when yours is beyond repair! Cry out to Him today. Run to the Father! Run to your Heavenly Father on this Father’s Day!