Monday we opened the week talking about the relationship between Christian Hedonism and historic Reformed theology. Wednesday we looked at Pastor John’s fears and hopes for Christian Hedonism after he’s gone. Today we look at the title “Desiring God” and some alternatives. The question is from Trent in Columbus, Ohio.
“Pastor John, I was recently celebrating the impact of your ministry with a friend at Chick-fil-A of all places. We were both stumped by a question: How did you arrive at the name ‘Desiring God’ when so much of the ministry is not merely aspirational, but is focused on the actual act of enjoying God himself in Bible reading and in sermons, for example? Why not something more accurate like ‘Delighting in God’?”
I like this question. It’s a good question. It’s an insightful question. The answer will, I think, be illuminating. Trying to answer it really does reveal a great deal about the nature of Christian Hedonism and a little bit about me. Maybe a lot about me.
I’ll give you six reasons why the book has the title Desiring God. Some of them are more substantial than others, but they all figure in, I think.
Back when the book was being written, between 1983 and 1987, two books were very influential, popular, and significant. I admired these books very much: Knowing God by J.I. Packer and Loving God by Charles Colson.
“God is most glorified in us when we cleave to him alone for the ultimate satisfaction of all our desires.”
As an utterly unknown writer in those days, I had the wild and crazy dream that maybe my little book could someday be viewed as part of that trajectory by those great men. So it seemed like Desiring God would fit with Knowing God and Loving God.
Was that vain or what? I don’t know. It was a dream.
Alternative titles didn’t fit my sense of what might be arresting, intriguing, provocative, and true. Some of my criteria, for example, was that delighting seemed to be a word very few people use, except in more refined settings.
Enjoying God and Rejoicing in God seemed to me to have the feeling of too much religiosity and not enough ordinariness. Happy can’t be made a verb in English, and the phrase “being happy in God” sounded cheesy.
When it came down to it, Desiring God simply had the right sound and the right connotations for the impact I wanted the title to have. Of course, I could have been wrong.
Thirst, Seek, Faint
As I recall, in those days, a cluster of texts was having a tremendous effect on me for good, by awakening in me strong longings for God.
“We are prevented from feeling appropriately full, all-satisfying responses to God by our finitude in this life and by our sin.”
They were texts like Psalm 73: “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:24–26).
Or Psalm 42: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God” (Psalm 42:1–2). Or Psalm 63: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you” (Psalm 63:1).
All those texts seemed to point toward the profound importance of having a heart that continually desires God, pants for God, thirsts for God, seeks for God, faints for God. So that just seemed like, “Whoa, this is biblical.”
It was clear to me then, and it is even clearer now (however many years later) that every experience of delight, joy, satisfaction, happiness, contentment, cherishing, or restfulness, and every single experience in this present time and world of God’s goodness, wisdom, and love — no matter how deep, no matter how sweet, no matter how transforming — will be a mere taste of what is coming to us on the other side of the grave, in the resurrection.
This means that even when we have experiences that are full of real joy in God now, they are dominated by experiences of desire, because genuine spiritual, Christ-exalting joy is rooted in an infinite reality. We are prevented from feeling appropriately full, all-satisfying responses to that reality by our finitude in this life and by our sin.
Therefore, the concept of desire is central to the book because it’s central to the Christian life. It’s not an arbitrary choice. It’s built into our finitude. The very best experiences of joy in this world are incomplete and therefore baked in this desire.
No doubt I was influenced by C.S. Lewis. Nobody in my experience captured the utterly crucial dimension of human longing in this world as evidence of the next world.
“Every experience of delight in this present world will be a mere taste of what is coming to us in the resurrection.”
Desire was the very reality that brought C.S. Lewis to Christ. And desire remained a hallmark of all his experiences of God. I just found everything he wrote on this helpful. I would say, “Well yeah, that’s right.”
My own experience certainly played a huge role in the choice of Desiring God. I don’t have the sharpness of mind or the penetrating analytical abilities of a Lewis, or the capacities to observe the world like Lewis does. He’s just off-the-charts superior to me.
But everything he said about the longing of my heart in this finite, fallen world as ever-reaching, ever-grasping, ever-stretching to something beyond, never being content with the present experience of ultimate reality — all of it rang deeply true to me. It does to this day.
I am fundamentally a desire-er. That’s my life. I thought about this next sentence. In a sense, all I do in this world is direct, intensify, or diminish my desires. That’s all I do. That’s my life.
It wouldn’t be wrong to paraphrase Christian Hedonism like this: God is most glorified in us when we cleave to him alone for the ultimate satisfaction of all our desires. As far as I can remember, those are the reasons that I named the book Desiring God.