One of the more famous C.S. Lewis quotes deals with how we relate to our desires. It’s a good one:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory)
But there is a possible pitfall here in thinking that drink and sex and ambition are like mud pies; that is, things to be avoided by grown-ups who know the real joys of Gospel promises. It’s almost as if to fight Kant and the Stoics, Lewis is calling in the forces of Plato and the Gnostics. But that’s not at all where Lewis is going with it and Paul showed me how to read Lewis just the other day:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Paul says that it will come to pass that certain people in the church will be going through their lives, see the great unsettling power of their desires and think that control over those desires would mean control over their lives. In turn, these people make vows of celibacy and require fasts from food as a means to holiness. Like Lewis’ modern men who thought it selfish to want to be happy, these people think to marry and have sex or to feast on rich foods dulls the spiritual edge. Not so, says Paul. In fact, he says a lot more than that. He says this way of thinking comes from a devotion to “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” It’s a lie straight from the devil’s mouth.
But calling this way of thinking a lie doesn’t solve the dilemma of strong desires for happiness and sex and food. If that’s demonic self-control, what’s godly self-control look like? Paul doesn’t leave us in the dark: “nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” There is no kind of good that God hasn’t made to be received with thanksgiving, from sex to sports to mountains to books. Lewis’ and Paul’s ascetics see the destructive nature of humanity’s stronger desires and conclude in fear that these desires are to be avoided and the objects are to be forbidden. The ascetics seek to make themselves holy. But Christ says he’s the one who makes holy. Not only has he made all good things, but he’s told us how to rightly interact with them in his word and given us a relationship with him so that we might talk to him about them. So as Christians we don’t have to choose between our base physical desires and our exalted spiritual desires, as if that separation existed. For us, by the word of God and prayer, it’s all key limes, meringue and graham cracker crust–not a mud pie in sight.