The Continuum of Desire: Sin or Sadness?

Портрет красивой грустной девушки на мостуPeople hate on themselves for a lot of reasons. But Christians have a special tendency to become their own judge and jury, accusing and punishing themselves like a penitent pilgrim gone berserk. Please note, I don’t mean we shouldn’t judge our own hearts when real sin is the culprit (e.g., I Cor. 11:28). I am only saying that placing blame is so important to our sense of control, that we sometimes find sin where no sin exists. Take longing, for example. I’ve heard hurting people describe themselves as terrible sinners because they “covet” what someone else has – when in reality, they are only yearning for something good.

The word “covet,” as it is used in the Ten Commandments, is a synonym for “lust.” It means to find something so irresistibly desirable that it must be consumed on the spot. It is elsewhere described as an evil emotion, springing from a failure to love one’s neighbor and an inclination to plunder them (Prov. 12:2). Probing the use of the word in conversation, it is rarely true that we want to steal from someone else. A childless woman, for example, doesn’t really want to kidnap children off the playground, but that would be the evil intention of a genuinely covetous person. I think it can be helpful to put this emotion on a continuum. Let’s call it:

Continuum of Desire

And let’s use common sense and a dictionary to come up with a few definitions:

Hope = the feeling that something desirable will happen in the future

Longing = a wistful, unfulfilled desire for something perceived as good

Craving = an obsessive preoccupation with the object of one’s desire

Jealousy/Envy = the inability to be happy for someone else who has what one desires

Covetousness = the evil desire to steal what someone else has

Where does sin actually enter the picture? I’ll let you judge for yourself, but for me it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of craving – which becomes idolatry in its more extreme and demanding form. Hope is a virtue, and longing is a sadness. Neither of these emotions is inherently sinful. In fact, one of the deep, unlooked-for beauties of the Christian life is the ability to live with unfulfilled longings in a way that preserves good desires and yet gives God the right to be Lord over them.

So let’s stop labeling sadness as sin, and let’s reserve our righteous hatred for the truly evil.


Related Content:

Lessons from Longing – Colleen Alden

Godly Jealousy – Ray Stedman

Jealousy in Your Relationship – dearchristiancounselor.com