Does God See My Desire As Good? A Lesson From Cain and Able

The first date kind of desire

A few days ago, I was sitting in a bar at a little restaurant near my home when I witnessed a beautiful scene: a first date between two strangers. They met online through a popular dating site (ok, maybe I was eavesdropping a bit) and as the date progressed, I heard them ask questions and confirm things they had already shared with one another online.

“You like fishing in the winter?”
“You actually ate alligator?!”

As they opened up and shared with one another, I noticed their body language change. They moved closer and closer together. I believe they were experiencing desire.

Desire – “a feeling that moves one towards something, to strongly wish or want something.”

In the Christian environment I grew up in, desire was rarely talked about positively. Instead, it was labeled as something to suppress, capture, control, and even kill. I grew up thinking desire was a den of destruction bent on destroying us. But over the years, I have slowly, slowly began to learn that desire is simply something that moves us towards something we want. You see, desire moves, pulls, and causes us to seek out something that’s stirring us to action.

The Cain and Abel kind of desire

The Cain and Abel story is a classic tale of desire. Never thought of it that way before? Let me explain. In Genesis 4 we hear about two brothers who bring their own individual offering to God. The text says,

Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the first born animals of his heard, choice cuts of meat. God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk.

God’s response seems a little harsh, doesn’t it? But instead of looking at the offering itself, God is looking at the heart behind the offering. When we read the story, we see two offerings with unequal responses, but God sees two hearts with different intents of desire.

Abel’s offering is brought with his desire to share his very best with God. Cain’s offering is brought with his desire to keep his best possessions and only… kinda give God… just some of it… since he has to. Though it’s easy to judge Cain for his desire to keep his best to himself, I can’t help but notice all the times I too bring God just some of the fruit. Like when I say to another, “I forgive you, but…”

See, the kind of desire that causes us to look inward is desire that’s about what I need, how I can get what I need, and how I can protect myself. I am consuming something because I absolutely need it. When I experience desire and look up knowing the desire has the power to overtake me, I am seeking to be in communion with another.

Desire is not the enemy, it has a purpose.

Can my desire move me toward the Creator?

While I was stealing glances at the first-date couple next to me, I saw him rest his hand casually on her knee. This is the perfect example of desire in real life and in real time! As I continued to sit near them, I felt the anticipation and the desire of these two to be near one another.

If we are created to experience desire and move towards another, could that actually be good?

The longing to be near, to touch, to be with, to be seen, and to be held is not bad. The desire to move towards holds so many deeper meanings. When a man and woman experience the rush of desire together, the desire moves them towards each other.

When experiencing desire, maybe the more important questions are: What if our desire for another actually has something to teach us about desiring God? How do I engage with desire?

Desire that is squashed, denied, or suppressed allows attitudes of anger and selfishness to flourish. Desire that is acknowledged, felt, and expressed will create an ongoing dialogue of engagement.

When treated with respect, desire can be the avenue through which we learn to engage with one another vulnerably, authentically, and with integrity. Desire can lead one to either consume—like we see Cain doing—or be in communion with another, precisely what Abel is doing by offering God the very, very best of what he had.

At the core, desire is meant to move us toward our Creator in order to be more fully alive with all that God created.

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