Desire and the Bible: Lessons in Hermeneutics, Spirituality, and Discipleship

July 27, 2017
Reading the Bible through the Lens of Desire

In the next couple of weeks, we will return to the series “Theology in a New Key.” Today, I want to ask you a question. Have you ever wanted something so badly that you began to see it everywhere you looked? Your desire for a specific thing, experience, or person begins to affect how you see the world.

That can happen even when we are reading Scripture. Sometimes, we intentionally search the Scriptures for what they might say about something we want. At other times, the desire is so overwhelming that it affects our thinking about Scripture even when we are not consciously seeking God on that issue.

Either way, we are reading Scripture through the lens of our desire, and it is a dangerous thing to do. Obviously, dishonorable desires lead us into sin, and we do not want to read Scripture in a way that justifies sin. But even honorable desires can lead us astray when they are the primary reasons that we read the Bible or the primary criteria by which we evaluate its meaning.

Imagine a husband and wife who desperately want a child. They have been told that they cannot conceive, and their hearts are broken. Then they read 1 Samuel 1. Will they see in this story a reflection of God’s care for them and a reminder that, if God is willing, He can give them a child? Or, will they see a promise that God will give them a child if they only ask Him fervently enough? And what happens to their faith if a child is not part of God’s plan for their life together?

Reading the Bible through the Lens of Selfless Love

So how do we avoid the trap of interpreting Scripture through the lens of our desire? One way is to read the Bible through the lens of selfless love. The New Testament is nearly universal in its affirmation of love as both the chief moral standard and as the logical foundation upon which all other biblical standards are based (see, for example, Matthew 22:34-40; John 15:9-14; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-14). By its very definition, this love moves us beyond ourselves. It directs our attention to the God who made us and to the people whom God has placed in our lives.

When we read the Bible through the lens of selfless love, we move beyond asking the question, “What does this mean for me?” Indeed, our focus shifts to, “What does this mean for the people whom God has called me to love, and how does it reflect the heart of the One from whom it originates?” It is not that the Bible’s meaning for our situation, our needs, and our desires is irrelevant. Rather, the point is that we will be able to more accurately evaluate the meaning of the Bible for us when we set that concern aside in order to hear God’s voice and see God’s heart.

Reading the Bible through the Lens of Sacrifice

A second way that we can avoid the trap of reading Scripture through the lens of our desire is to read it through the lens of sacrifice. Contrary to what some would like to believe, Christianity is, and always has been, a religion of sacrifice (see, for example, Romans 12:1-2). We follow the example of Jesus our Lord. Just as he sacrificed his life for our good, so also we sacrifice our lives for the good of others, for the good of Christ’s Kingdom, and for the glory of God.

The point is not that we are supposed to avoid our desires whenever we interact with God. In fact, God wants us to bring all of our desires—even the ones that aren’t so holy—into our conversations with Him. He even wants us to bring them to our reading of Scripture. Why? Because some of those desires—especially the ones that aren’t so holy—will have to be sacrificed.

When we read the story of the Bible through the lens of sacrifice, we begin to ask ourselves, “What might God have me to give up for the sake of His Kingdom?” rather than “What can I gain from my association with God’s Kingdom?” We are still going to want things, of course, and it will still hurt when God asks us to lay something down that is dear to us. Nevertheless, embracing the reality and the importance of sacrifice will give us the perspective we need to discern when God may want to bless us by fulfilling a desire and when God may want to make us better by asking us to lay a desire down.

Share Your Wisdom

So how do you avoid reading the Scriptures through the lens of your desires? Share the wisdom that you have gained in the “Comments” section below.

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