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Willard: Desire as the Alternative to Moral Knowledge

27 September 2008

Yesterday in his lecture series at George Fox Seminary, Dallas Willard talked about desire. I referred to it in the first post in this series, but want to delve into it a little more. 

Willard stated that "When you don’t have moral knowledge on which to base your action, imageyour action comes to be based on desire."   He goes on to say that "Desire creates the problems, especially when it comes to the masses."

This is a basic Bible principle that we sometimes forget, but which is being lived out right before us in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. (as I noted in my previous post).  

We see it illustrated in Romans 1:21-24:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

The removal of the knowledge of God/moral knowledge resulted in their lives being consumed by enslavement to desire. 

The same example can be seen in the Eve story: 

Gen. 3:6: When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

She DESIRED.  All Satan had to do was to get her to remove God as a credible authority of moral knowledge, and then he knew that she would succumb to her desire.

Desire in and of itself is not bad. In fact Dallas states that desire is essential to life. Hunger is a desire which pushes us to eat and to grow and hunt food.  Sexual desire pushes us to procreate.  But when desire is not informed by moral knowledge it will always be destructive.  Dallas stated that desire is never satisfied; you can never limit it. It is always pushing forward for more and more. It obsesses on the thing it desires. 

Interestingly Willard does not say that "moral knowledge" must control desire.  Instead he states that, "The problem is to subordinate desire to what is good; i.e. to subordinate it to love, because love wants what is good."  The type of love that he is talking about is not soft, warm, fuzzy love, but a hard headed look at what is good, what is right, what is best. 

The problem with people in our culture understanding the above statement of subordinating desire to love is that our culture does not understand love. People call many things love when in reality they are just expressions of desire. 

Willard ended his second presentation with a forceful emphasis that Jesus is the only moral teacher who brings us an adequate defense against desire. 

There are so many preaching points in just this inadequate summary of what he taught about desire that it could be an entire sermon series.   While his purpose was not homiletic, it is an incredible resource of preaching materials.  He will be publishing a book on Moral Knowledge in the future.  I think that it would be well worth the time and money invested in it. 

 

Dallas ended his day with talking about an specific application of moral knowledge in the area of pornography.  I want to think through that tomorrow.

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