What lies deepest inside authentic faith is the truth that God is the object of all human desire, no matter how earthy and unholy that desire might seem at times. This implies that everything we desire is contained in God.
We see this expressed in the Psalms, which tell us that God is the object of our desires, and in Jesus, who tells us that it is in God that our deepest hungers and thirsts will be satiated. And so we pray, without perhaps ever really being conscious of what we are saying: My soul longs for you in the night. You, Lord, alone, can fill my heart. You, O Lord, are my all. But is it really God that we are longing for in the night and aching for in our desires?
Do we really believe that God is the real object of our desires? When we look at all that is beautiful, full of life, attractive, sexually alluring and pleasurable on earth, do we really think and believe that this is contained in an infinitely richer way inside of God and inside the life into which God invites us?
Do we really believe that the joys of heaven will surpass the pleasures of earth and that, already in this world, the pleasures of virtue trump the sensations of sin? Do we really believe that faith will give us what we desire?
It would seem not. We, and most everyone else, struggle to turn our attention towards God. We find religious practice and prayer more of a disruption to life than an entry into it, more a duty than an offer, more an asceticism than a joy, and more as something that has us missing out on life than entering into its depths.
In most of us, if we are honest, there is a secret envy of those who recklessly plumb sacred energy for their own pleasure — that is, we doggedly do our duty in committing ourselves to something higher, but, like the older brother of the prodigal son, we mostly serve God out of obligation and are bitter about the fact that many others do not. This side of eternity, virtue often envies sin and, truth be told, this is particularly true regarding sexuality.
But partly this is natural and a sign of health, given that the brute reality of our physicality and the pressures of the present moment naturally impose themselves on us in a way that can make the things of God and spirit seem abstract and unreal. That is simply the human condition, and God no doubt understands. You would have to be a true mystic to be above this.
However, it can be helpful to tease out more explicitly something we profess in faith, namely, that all that we find attractive, beautiful, irresistible, erotic and pleasurable here on earth is found, even more fully, inside of its source, God.
God is better looking than any movie star. God is more intelligent than the brightest scientist or philosopher. God is more witty and funny than the best of our comedians. God is more creative than any artist, writer or innovator in history. God is more sophisticated than the most learned person on earth. God is more exuberant than any young person.
God is more popular than any rock star. And, not least, God is more erotic and sexually attractive than any woman, man or sexual image on earth. We don’t ordinarily think that or believe this about God, but those statements are as much dogma as are the strictest church doctrines on record. Everything that is alluring on earth is inside of God, in even a richer form, since God is its author.
However, that does not take away the power of earthly things to allure, nor should it. Countless things can overwhelm us with their stunning reality: a beautiful person, a sunset, a piece of music, a work of art, youthful exuberance, a baby’s innocence, someone’s wit, feelings of intimacy, feelings of nostalgia, a glass of wine on the right evening, a stirring in our sexuality, or, most deeply of all, an inchoate sense of the uniqueness and preciousness of our own lives.
We need to honor those things and thank God for the gift, even as we make ourselves aware that all of this is found more richly inside of God and that we lose nothing when virtue, religion and commitment ask us to sacrifice these things for something higher. Jesus, himself, promises that whatever we give up for what is higher will be given back to us a hundredfold.
Knowing this, we should live our lives fully enjoying what is earthy and earthly. The beauties and pleasures of this life are a gift from God, meant to be enjoyed. But, by being aware of their source, we can also then be free enough to accept the very real limits that life puts on our desires. And, better still, we need not fear death since what we lose will be trumped one-hundredfold by what we gain.