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Understanding Human Desire

I read some interesting words from Miroslav Volf, who is a theologian at Yale Divinity School. He says there are two types of wealth in this life.

The first he calls “richness of having.” This of course involves all of the material possessions and financial assets that we own.

The second type of wealth is what he calls “richness of being.” This has to do with our souls and the sense of well-being we experience.

He goes on to say that modern people are totally focused on richness of having because we believe that this is where happiness lies. However, Volf says the great irony is that though we relentlessly pursue richness of having, what we really long for is richness of being. We foolishly scramble after richness of having because we somehow have come to believe it will produce richness of being. But it never does, because it can’t.

Another way of looking at this is to consider the desires of the human body. When we enter into this life we hunger, thirst, and get tired. So we eat, drink, rest, and sleep. When we hit puberty, our sexual desire kicks in. This is the sensual side of life and where the desire for pleasure originates. These of course are desires that must be fulfilled in order for us to stay alive and carry on the human race.

However, we have other desires in our lives that clearly are not desires of the body. We all have a desire for joy and happiness, for peace, and for love (not sex). These are not physical desires of the body, but spiritual longings of the soul. The Bible on a number of occasions indicates that our souls have a thirst that only God can quench. King David says:

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God … (Psalm 42:2)

The problem is that modern people are attempting to satisfy the spiritual yearnings of the soul with the physical pleasure of life. However it doesn’t work. It can’t.

C.S. Lewis put it this way:

Over the centuries men have tried to invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside of God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history – greed, poverty, selfish ambition, war, prostitution, classes, brutal empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

The reason why it can never succeed in this? God made us; invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. God designed humans to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way, without bothering to have a relationship with Himself. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

Augustine put it simply:

If there is a God who brought us into existence, then the deepest chambers of our souls simply cannot be filled up by anything less than Him.

Modern people are clearly struggling to find happiness because they do not know where to look for it. As Daniel Gilbert, the prominent psychologist of Harvard put it:

“Most people do not know what will lead to their ultimate well-being, because our desires bear little relation to the things that truly make us happy.”


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author www.amazon.com/author/richardesimmons3.

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