October 9, 2011

Damaging Desires


“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Even in laughter the heart may sorrow, and the end of mirth may be grief” (Proverbs 14:12‑13).

Do we really believe that God’s will is better for us than anything that is contrary to God’s will? Most of us would say yes, but the evidence suggests that we have a hard time cultivating an unconditional confidence that God’s way is best. We may give up certain things in order to do what is right, but we often make these sacrifices somewhat reluctantly, perhaps for no other reason than to keep from going to hell. Deep down, don’t we often feel that the thing we had to part with would have been a “better” fulfillment of our real desires, had God just allowed us to have it?

Perhaps the trouble is not that we have too little faith in God; it may just be that we have too much faith in ourselves. It’s an obvious fact that we live in an age that exalts the desires of the human heart, whatever they may be. Jeremiah’s prayer, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23), strikes us as quaint, if not primitive. We tend to view the doing of our “own thing” as wise, and even courageous.

When we reflect on the matter more deeply, however, what do our hearts tell us? If the honest truth be told, haven’t we each privately experienced the truth of the principle that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death”?

Wouldn’t it be wiser after all to have, with Jeremiah, a healthy distrust of our own ability to see what is lastingly good?

One of the profound tragedies of our present world is the persistence with which we pursue “fulfillments” that are bound to break our hearts. We find that many of our enjoyments leave a bitter, deadly aftertaste. Too often, our pleasure is followed by regret. But Solomon reached this conclusion long years ago: “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22). It takes trust to believe that this is true, that God’s will is better, really better, than any alternative.

 “A mother may understand that her little child would like to take a sparrow in its hand. She is careful to prevent that from happening, even though she is sure the child would be glad to have it . . . She knows a moment’s pleasure with the bird will bring great sadness later . . . She is guiding the child away from those pleasures which bring tears” (Guigo I).