This is a guest blog by Steve Cota, a City Group leader at Austin City Life.
When we think of the word “obsession”, we typically think of a lust or perhaps something along the lines of the movie “Fatal Attraction”. The movie Obsessed tells the story of a woman obsessed with a co-worker, willing to go to great lengths to obtain him, regardless the consequences. Is this all there is to an obsession? Can our careers, sports and fitness also be obsessions?
What Determines an Obsession?
In the book Consolations of Theology, Andrew Cameron writes: “These [obsessions] are whole-body desires that wage war against our very selves.” They are not righteous obsessions. Cameron takes St. Augustine’s account of obsession and says, “We have proper longings for God the Father, for each other, and for all the goods of a good earth. But these proper longings are distorted and disordered into improper longings, many of which we call “obsessions”. Notice his distinction between proper and improper longings. It’s as if the line between proper and improper is not determined by the object of longing but the strength of our longing.
Obsession or desires aren’t evil in themselves. In fact, the Bible has accounts that share those obsessions or desires are good. For example, in Proverbs 13 there are these confessions of the truth’s about desires that are of a godly nature: “… but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (vs.12) “A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul…” (vs.19). Cameron explains, “We also see several NT appearances of strong desires as a form of moral excellence. Disciples, prophets, and angels long to see divine truth; apostles long to see Christ; or to see their people; or for their people to progress in faith; young men rightly long to care for God’s people.”
So the question is: “can we crave well?” Can the object of our obsession be a “righteous craving?” Cameron offers some thoughtful theological consolations for obsession:
- Rest in Christ: “We can rest safely in Christ, even in the grips of our obsessing weakness. At our worst, our most inhuman … when we are least like him but most need him…,” he will die for us. And thus bear our most damning unrighteous obsessions.
- Reorder Your Affections: “Christ opens the way for the Spirit to be poured in our aid.” “The Spirit reorders our affections to respond in joy to his divine and holy affection.”
- Fly to God in Prayer: “Then, under the gentle power of the Spirit,” flying to God in prayer to aim our obsessions toward these new joys. This joy is to love the proper object, the “perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God and of one another in God.”
We don’t need to find and cultivate obsessions or desires within ourselves, for they already exist. According to St. Augustine, it is finding the proper response to that reality about us. For us to aim toward these new loves, as opposed to our obsessional loves.“Augustine points us to the proper object of our love, so that the old treasures we obsessed about can fall away as boring, or find their proper place.” That proper place is well articulated by Augustine: “you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts, [may they] find no peace until they rest in you.”