So goes the chorus of U2’s song from the first single off of Rattle and Hum from 1988. The song describes how desire comes in all shapes and sizes, affecting both drug addicts and preachers, and how they will pursue drugs, lust, and money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money. For those of you who know the song, you’ll get that. The music video is mixed with images and slogans. In one scene, the words “Jesus defeated Satan” is seen spray-painted on the hood of a black car. The camera then zooms out and reveals that the car is parked out in front of a theatre promoting it’s ‘product’: “Good time girls, hot blonds.” These provocative images show a contrast between the truths of the Kingdom and the desires of this world. This U2 song popped in my head a few times as I read Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. One main point of the book is that human beings are primarily not thinkers or even believers. Saying the human person is simply a thinking thing denies biology. Smith says that if a person is just a thinking thing, than “we could describe this as ‘bubble head’ Christianity, so fixated on the cognitive that it assumes a picture of human beings that look like bobble heads: mammoth heads that dwarf an almost nonexistent body” (pg. 42). Smith also says that the human person is more than a believer: “I find that the person-as believer model still tends to operate with a very disembodied, individualistic picture of the human person. The beliefs that orient me still seem quite disconnected from the body, and with little or no attachment to the things I do as a body, and so with little attachment to the others that my body bumps into, embraces, hugs, and touches… If I bump into a ‘thinking thing’ and a ‘believing thing’ on the street, I don’t think I’d notice much difference” (pg.45).
Smith thus describes the human person this way: I am what I love. The human person, Smith says, is a lover. Human as thinker and believer captures slices of what it means to be a human, but human as lover captures what it means to be human from the gut as opposed to the head. Smith writes, This Augustinian model of human persons resists the rationalism and quasi-rationalism of the earlier models by shifting the centre of gravity of human identity, as it were, down from the heady regions of the mind closer the central regions of our bodies, in particular, our kardia- our gut or heart… This model of the person as desiring creature also contests the earlier models by articulating a more dynamic sense of human identity as both unfolding and developing over time (a process of formation), as something characterized by a kind of dynamic flow. The human person is the sort of creature who can never be captured in a snapshot; we need video in order to do justice to this dynamism (pg.47). I’ll stop quoting Smith now and simply reflect on how this book has impacted me. Every seminarian and pastor needs to read this book! Few books have impacted me more. In fact, I cannot think of another book that has challenged the way I live the every day. If I am a creature of desire, than what I desire is obviously important. Desiring the Kingdom is more than living ethically. Desiring the Kingdom means I want God’s intent for this creation here and now. It doesn’t escape reality; it allows true reality to penetrate our current existence. Thy Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven is something that can happen already.
As both Bono and Smith point out, we desire wrong things, of course. Sin is misdirected, confused, wrong, and evil desire. Even the word desire is often associated with sin. Redeeming the word desire in the context of God and his Kingdom capture what Jesus asks us to do in the Sermon on the Mount: Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). To seek is a verb tied to the eyes, which is the organ connected to our kardia.
So as we begin a new church, I do so thinking through what it really means to love the Lord with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbour as myself. As you consider how you are as creature of desire, which desires in your life seek the Kingdom first? Which ones don’t? Is your Kingdom desire clear, and can people spot it in you? How does the lens of desiring the Kingdom challenge the way you view the image of God in yourself and others?
These are important questions to answer in our culture of false desires. In our culture of comforts filled with many desire idols, it’s important to redeem the passionate, intentional, and godly word desire. A person with desires directed in line with the Kingdom is a person drunk on the Spirit and the Fruit He gives us.