15 September 2009

Why do fools fall (and stay) in love?

by Dan Phillips
Longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul,
thus it is an abomination to fools to give up evil.
Proverbs 13:19 (Modern Language Bible)
My mother-in-law remarked what a smart little baby Josiah was, some 12+ years ago. Like all babies, he would want something he shouldn't have (let's say, her purse). She would do what works with all babies: present him with a distraction (let's say, her keys, jangle-jangle).

Josiah would play with the keys happily enough... for a moment. Then he'd go right back to looking for the purse. Not to be distracted, that one. 'Siah knew what he wanted.

That smart baby displayed a quality that isn't so smart in grownups.

Why do fools do what fools do? You've seen what I'm about to describe. If you're honest with and about yourself, you've probably done it.

Every pastor and probably every Christian has known a fool who is on a sinful, idiotic, destructive course. (Which is to say: being a fool.) From where you're standing, it doesn't even make sinful sense. Every sane person you know looks at it with slack jaw. The Bible is crystal-clear — which, if the person professes faith in Christ, is supposed to mean something. Any flow-chart starting where that person is ends in disaster, barring a sharp 180 sometime soon.

Yet on he or she goes, grimly determined and undeterred, stubbornly resisting every Biblical plea and warning, long after he can rub even two rational defenses together. The flight from God persists.

Why?, you wonder until your brain itches and throbs, and the tears flow.

The answer is as simple as it is unsatisfying: he does it because he's convinced it will bring him delight.

And that explains every sin, from Satan's rebellion to Adam's burbling idiocy to Judas' treachery to Right Honorable Reverend A. Postate's latest "discovery" to your and my "li'l peccadillo." Every sin. The sinner does what he does because he is convinced that it will bring him happiness, delight, joy. It seems right. He doesn't care where it ends.

That is why he persists, long after his life falls to shambles and he sees his own character collapse like the two towers in New York. That is why all the pleas and warnings and tears of his Biblically-faithful friends fall on deaf ears. He is like the ruined gambler, absolutely convinced that the next dollar will bring untold riches... or the next dollar... or the next dollar....

As with most (all?) such things, it reveals defective faith. If the person claims to be a Christian, he either does not heartily believe what he says he believes, or he doesn't really believe it at all. He calls Jesus Lord, but does not do as He says (Luke 6:46). He calls God his fountain of joy and life, but seeks joy and life away from Him and in defiance of Him.

What to do?

For ourselves: pray, watch, stay humble and rebukable.

For others: the same. Point to Christ. Point to Scripture. They may flee to a thousand evasions (check out this post for reminders and specifics). Don't weary, don't lose heart — you wouldn't want someone to lose heart with you if you strayed, would you?

But over all and above all and through all: pray. It takes the Spirit of God to transform our desires. By definition, we can't do it ourselves. Our wills are free to choose according to our nature, but our wills are not uncaused causes. We need the Spirit of God to transform us, so that we begin to desire what we do not now desire, and no longer desire what we once did.

Or even more to the point, we need Him to transform our desires and convictions. The desire to be happy is not an evil desire. Nothing wrong with it. A man's desire for respect and significance, a woman's desire for love and security... these are not evil desires. God built them into us.

Our problem is that we seek out broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:12-13). We look for love —and delight — in all the wrong places. We see it in being-as-God, not in taking delight in God (Psalm 16:11; 37:4).

What we need is the from-the-heart conviction that all we desire and need is to be found in Christ Himself and in walking His way in faith.

God grant us such ears and eyes.

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

As part of my daily Bible reading, I've been reading Proverbs over and over and over, using Hebrew, various translations, and (once) the TNIV.

This month I'm using the Modern Language Bible. It was a version done by some really good men, but it never caught on. You can't even get it for BW or most (any?) Bible study tools.

I read a chapter a day. Thus my reading for September 13 was Proverbs 13. The MLB version of Proverbs 13:19 made me look at the version again... and led to this post.

And now you know that.

DJP said...

The MLB is not even available for iPhone (snif).

David Kyle said...

"The answer is as simple as it is unsatisfying: he does it because he's convinced it will bring him delight."

But Dan... why do we think that??????? Arrrrggghhhhh!

Pierre Saikaley said...

Here's an interesting problem...

1. It is often said by Calvinists that dead men can't respond. As you say, "you are dead in your trespasses & sins." Eph. 2:1.

In Romans 6, it says that "in the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus."

If being dead in sin means one can't respond to God then does being dead TO sin mean that the Christian cannot respond to sin?

I reference this question from Answers in Action.

Perhaps further to this question, if we Christians have the indwelling Spirit/flesh battle ongoing then is it a matter of the Spirit getting the upper hand in my will?

At my church I was taught that the Spirit doesn't cause us to act in one way or the other, but that he prompts us, or leads us to act rightly. He doesn't cause me to pray, but he gives me the desire to pray, and I choose to pray.

So practically speaking, should I fill my mind with the Word to get more desire for God's will. When tempted, is it more of the Word in me that will cause the temptation to sin to lose it's allure?

"How shall a young man keep his way pure, by keeping it according to Thy Word. Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I may not sin against Thee." Psalm 119:11

DJP said...


DJP said...

I swear, if this meta is turned into an academic argument about Calvinism vs. Arminianism, I will delete comments and shut it down.

James Joyce said...

Every sin I have ever committed seemed like a good idea at the time.

DJP said...

Thanks, James, for a good example of the fact that "deep" and "lengthy" are not necessarily synonyms. Truly.

Anonymous said...

This is particularly timely for me, Dan. Both as a rebuke and as an encouragement.
(I don't know how God pulls things like this off, but pull them off he does.)

About what you wrote specifically, I'm stupid and I like to sin. And, when I'm feeling like I don't like sin still I do what I don't want to do and don't do what I want to do.
Which puts me in pretty good company, I suppose, but for all the wrong reasons.

Sometimes being human stinks, but I'll take it. It also brings occasion for grace, and that's a good thing.

Pierre Saikaley said...

(sigh) Sorry...I probably should not have written the 1st part of my post. Wanna delete it to save the headaches? Go ahead.

The 2nd part stands.

Again, I apologize if I went off topic.

DJP said...

Zaphon, dude, just a general warning shot. I know how these things can go, and this one isn't going to.

olan strickland said...

Sin is delicious, delightful, and desirable - until you see God for who He is and sin for what it is!

NoLongerBlind said...

Still struggling - albeit, most of the time, not enough - against the reactive, reflexive-type sin of impatient, "this isn't the way I want this situation to be" anger; in hind sight, I always hate myself for reacting the way I did.

It's still difficult for me to see this as something I really wanted to do for the sake of selfish gain, or pleasure, or whatever motive might be ascribed to it; at the same time, I fully realize that I'm absolutely responsible for my sinful re-action (as opposed to a God-glorifying, appropriate re-sponse to the moment).

My comfort, but not excuse, is Paul's lament, in Romans 7: "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me."

Tom W.

Al said...

I think when the Christian fool says in his heart there is no God he does not become an atheist at that point. He simply abandons what has been revealed about God and replaces it with a little god of his own making. This god is much more understanding, gentle and forgiving than the One who bore his sins in the first place; and that is the height of foolishness.

al sends

Jared Reed said...


You must have kids. My most humbling times are when I do the reflexive/reactive sins (while doing day to day with my boys)and then my wife pulls me aside to point them out. Followed by me and any number of my boys sitting at the dining room table as I apologize to them. It has to be grace that God would let me put my foot in my mouth and then use it for teaching my children. Experience has a high tuition, but it pays off.

NoLongerBlind said...

BaseDad - yup! Although, my outbursts unfortunately aren't limited to being directed at them - sometimes, to my greater shame, my wife is the unfortunate recipient.

And, as you so aptly pointed out, the ensuing process of seeking reconciliation is a God-given opportunity for teaching - and for humbling me!

David Regier said...

The reminder to pray seems so, well, simple. But I find that I resist praying. So I ponder why I'm so resistant. Then I try to think through the theological implications. And I hang onto a comfy doctrine that says I'm fine, until I do the same stupid thing again.

But the Lord tells us: pray.

Thanks, Dan

Anonymous said...

BaseDad & NLB,

I'm right with you there. Much as I hate it at the time, I am eternally grateful for the way my wife and my kids don't let me get away with me sin.

If anything is a sharpening influence, it's those at home.

David Regier said...

BTW, when I saw "MLB version," I figured it had study notes by Derek Jeter and Manny Ramirez.

SandMan said...

Thank you for the post, Dan.

re: Our problem is that we seek out broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:12-13). We look for love —and delight — in all the wrong places. We see it in being-as-God, not in taking delight in God

This is something I have been thinking about a lot, recently. I have realized that I have been replacing my desire FOR God with what I desire FROM God… what I want God to do…rather than asking Him to make me the man He wants, who’ll do what He wants, and a man who wants only Him.

It seems subtle until I write it out... and then it is a clear as day. I thank God for His immeasurable patience with me.

James Scott Bell said...

Praise God that his "divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him." And that because of this, we are to "make every effort to add" to our faith goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. (see 2 Pet. 1)

For this to happen, pray diligently for the Spirit, as Dan rightly emphasizes.

Solameanie said...


Just, wow.

Stefan Ewing said...

Dan, this post is so good and nourishing in so many ways.

I've come to the conclusion that I don't sufficiently fear God, contra Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 13:4; Psalm 86:11; Proverbs 1:7; Ecclesiastes 12:13; etc., etc., etc.

So along with consciously putting the Cross more at the centre of my praying recently, I've also been praying for God to teach me to fear Him.

Not to say that we should live paralyzed by mortal fear of the Almighty or fear of losing our salvation, but by remembering what the wages of our sins are...and what the only punishment is that we deserve every day for breaking His commandments, but by His unmerited grace through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ.

anonymous said...

I know this sounds like duh...but what I bring to bear on myself is that I have to love God more than my sin.

I have to love Him with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength.

DJP.."The answer is as simple as it is unsatisfying: he does it because he's convinced it will bring him delight."

When I am convinced that Christ is my delight then I will love Him and keep His commandments. I have to keep asking myself...do I love Him more than x,y or z sin? After I look at it through that light, the sin no longer brings delight. I see that the sin is bringing me happiness/delight/comfort at the moment but at the same time it is grieving my Lord who died for me.

Thank God for His amazing grace...while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Jared Reed said...


I was thinking the same thing. I was on my way to find an MLB and see if the Yankees were in any of the footnotes!

What is a good one liner, zinger, ending remark during a witness encounter when you are convinced (by the circle shaped remarks) that you are indeed talking to a "fool"? ie Jude 1:23.

You know, where you feel like physically shaking someones head but other people are watching.

Scottj said...

I am working on my third of thirteen sermons on Proverbs. Your comments are really helpful. Thanks. I'm using Waltke's 2 volume commentary on Proverbs, which is very helpful. If any readers here have access to JSTOR, EBSCO or ATLA, he wrote four articles in 2008 in Bibliotheca Sacra, "Fundamentals for Preaching the Book of Proverbs." Really helpful. Thanks again for posting your insights.

DJP said...

You can also listen to Waltke's lectures based on those articles, though some of the things he said drove me a little nuts.

Bob Johnson said...

A most helpful post today. I've been praying for a couple, one of whom seems determined to let the marriage self-destruct. Lately, the prayers have been less frequent and intense. Your reminder that I wouldn't want fellow believers to give up on me was a rebuke and encouragement. Thanks.

Gov98 said...

Boy is this a good post.

It's an important reminder for me, because it's so easy to get caught up in something that you just don't need to get caught up in, and more importantly, when I get caught up in loving my own thought process more than anything else. That is sin.

And it sure is easy for me to love my own thoughts more than anything else.

Todd Saunders said...

I sure appreciate being able to listen to you preach here on occassions like this. This kind of stuff does not open the door for any kind of debating. My own stubborn natural tendency is to strain it to see if I could find a gnat. Not even a couple of Reformed gnat droppings. Thanks for this sort of thing. Don't let anyone cause you to delete this thing.

Not 'the' pretty smart Todd,


JSA said...

For once, I strongly disagree with a post on this site. I think that the analysis in this post shows a serious misapprehension of human nature. It's the sort of analysis I would expect from someone who hasn't done much work with drug addiction, suicides, and the like.

The argument upon which the entire thesis is based is, indeed, "unsatisfying". You say, "he does it because he's convinced it will bring him delight." That's basically argument by tautology, because "convinced it will bring him delight" is another way of saying "what he wants to do". You might as well have said, "he desires to do it because he desires to do it". I realize that you could have clarified, but you didn't, so it's left looking wishy-washy and semantics-free.

The truth is, people sin because they know it will bring destruction, and the rationalization of the sin as being profitable is a non-essential and after-the-fact coincidence. Very many people sin without even bothering to rationalize it as being profitable.

Seriously, I don't think this has anything to do with Arminian versus Calvinist -- even Jacob Arminius held steadfastly to the total depravity of the human heart. The definition you propounded here seems to be arguing that sin is simply a matter of confusion about consequences, and I don't know *where* in Christian theology that viewpoint has a place.

And don't try saying that Adam and Eve were "confused" or "ignorant" about the consequences of eating from the tree. That is the one thing that they had least excuse to be concerned about. Even when there is only *one* thing in the entire universe that will bring self-destruction, you can be assured that Adam's seed will find and do it.

Todd Saunders said...

I do like to think that the reason for our existance is that "it pleases God".

So finally, apart from God, MY reason for MY existance, is to please me. (And God remains unpleased at that because I don't own it, He does.)

So I do agree with the way the post puts it.

Not the smart Todd

Andrew Faris said...


One of my favorite posts you've ever written, not surprisingly because I have been dealing with a person who fits your description exactly.

A Christian girl who is getting text messages from a man on his wedding day (to a different woman) that say, "I still love you" and doesn't, apparently, realized how messed up it is. I've racked my brain at her unbelievable decisions, and all I can come up with is, "This woman is everything Proverbs describes as a fool."

And yet I've barely prayed for her.

So what does that make me? Here's a hint: I'm thinking of a four letter word that starts with "f", but it's not that one.

Christians in Context

Stefan Ewing said...

Re my last comment, on fearing God:

I know that for a lot of folks growing up, they only learned to fear God, and didn't learn of His grace and love. All Law and no Gospel = not healthy.

For me, however—especially as concerns my battles with sin and temptation—I've been too big on the grace and mercy of God, and not concerned enough about His holiness and righteousness, so my course correction goes in the opposite direction.

DJP said...

Andrew: And yet I've barely prayed for her.

Ohh dude, I wish I could tell you that I've no idea what you're talking about, but God would hate it if I'd lie like that.

I know far too well. Just happened the other day. I'm surprised I don't have a palm-shaped dent in my forehead.

SandMan said...

@ Joshua:

he desires to do it because he desires to do it".

That sums it up for me… and proves the total depravity of man… and the point that Dan is making. We sin because we want to even if will it we destroy us. Why? Because, we want to. The reason you stated is that they want to be destroyed. What about:

Ephesians 5:29

After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—

I think that scripture clearly states that everyone loves themselves too much. In light of this, an attempt at self-destruction is still just a willful decision to ignore the salvation of God, and an unsuccessful attempt to escape the judgment of God on one’s own terms (regardless of the means). ie. "I will die before I bend the knee to Christ!"

And our prayers for them are still the most effective thing we can do for them… as Dan stated. What’s to disagree with?

DJP said...

Yep: "among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2:3).

JSA said...

To argue that men's sin is a result of miscalculation about short-term personal gain versus larger personal interest, is to discard everything that is unique about Christianity. If that's what you get from the Bible, you'd do just as well to read Quran or Gita. The "body" analogy you quote from Ephesians is actually from the Gita, and was popular from Seneca or some Roman statesman like that during Paul's time. It's a perfectly good analogy to use rhetorically, but it's not a valid summary of Christian teaching on evil.

The garden story is unambiguous. So is the rest of the Bible. People do not choose self-destruction because they are confused or ignorant about what it means to "live more fully". They choose self-destruction *because* it is self-destruction.

People choose death. They don't "Attempt to choose life, and end up, to their great surprise, finding death". That is the key insight about human nature that sets Torah apart from all other systems. Every other system panders to man's deceitful and pelagian heart.

NewManNoggs said...

Another great post Dan.

DJP said...

Boy, Joshua. You have a lot of emotion and opinion. Do you have any Scripture? Care to deal with any of the Scriptures in the post or meta?

NewManNoggs said...

Ooh! Ooh! Mr. Phillips!! (thrusting my hand in the air)

I have a scriptute, but it only reinforces your point.

James 1:14

DJP said...

As I've tried to help broken-hearted Christians grapple with why loved ones who profess faith in Christ might do such horrid, immoral, baffling things, I've said "I think part of your problem is that you're trying to make sin make sense. It doesn't. At root, it's insane."

It is the irrational, all-evidence-and-reason-to-the-contrary-notwithstanding conviction that this is the way to get what will really make me happy.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Adam and Eve chose to eat the cursed fruit not because they hadn't been told what the consequences would be, and not because they judged the consequences to be worth it, but because they didn't believe God when he told them what the consequences would be.
That's the same thing we do, when we disobey God. I know, because despite repenting, I still have a lot of experience with disobeying.

DJP said...

Exactly. God said A, the Serpent said "Nahh," Eve said "Looks really good to me; I think I'll find out for myself," and Adam said "Yes, dear."

JSA said...

Boy, Joshua. You have a lot of emotion and opinion. Do you have any Scripture? Care to deal with any of the Scriptures in the post or meta?

Let me start by saying that you obviously put some thought into the post, and you are normally spot-on. So I didn't intend for you to get defensive. However, I think the truth is pretty clear in this case.

As for scriptures, why not start with the scriptures that both John Calvin and Jacob Arminius used to defend the doctrine of the total depravity of man? There are about 30 references here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_depravity

From these scriptural references, and the specific sins mentioned within, it can be seen that "total depravity" extends far beyond "harming others for my own gain" (otherwise, you might as well be a Hindu) and even beyond "disobeying God arbitrarily for short-term pleasure". Total depravity extends to our very self.

The garden story is very instructive here. Adam and Eve were not confused about what their outcome would be. They didn't even try that defense with God. This was rebellion, not miscalculation. So I guess my question to you would be: where is the scriptural evidence that God considers sin to be a result of confusion or ignorance about consequences? I see zero evidence to support that. And frankly, I'm a little surprised to find that the question has even come up with a Calvinist *or* Arminian.

DJP said...

I don't think Arminius or Calvin are going to comment on this blog. If they do... well, okay, that'd be creepy.

You wanted to present the view, Joshua, and you're welcome to. But you've got to start bringing some "there" there. So far, you just haven't.

It in no way clashes with total depravity, which I could no more disbelieve than I could the wetness of water. Have you even read the meta? Ephesians 2? Genesis 3? Sinners do what they do because they want to, they desire to, it pleases them, it promises them happiness. James 1? Enticed and lured? Genesis 3 - desirable to make one wise? Paul confirms she'd bought Satan's line totally (2 Timothy 2).

Dude, start bringing something — which, as I said, you're welcome to do — or consider reconsidering.

Anonymous said...


That's exactly right. I sin because I don't really believe it'll wreck me, and because I want to be like God.

After all, who wouldn't?

And that's the trap.

Trap's only work because the mouse is sure he can gain cheese at no personal cost. He, like me, is wrong. I, like him, want cheese, not a bar on the back of my neck.

But the bar, we get. And the bar, He took, giving me better than cheese in the process.

What a merciful God.

mike said...

being of German decent, growing up in the south, every grown woman i knew cooked great.
and then...
I became a fat boy.
so those who said they loved me, helped me by telling me i was big boned, and from a line of stout people, it was nor could be my fault.
an arrogant jerk doctor who obviously hated me and was prejudiced against "my kind" asked me "why do you suppose you possess such a shadow?"
"because, if you insist on keeping it, you will not be so long upon this earth".
But, I love to eat, more than I loved to not be corpulent.
But to die for it? NOW, I must disregard this man and his hateful message, or….
A pretty wise man once asked in a blog, “Do we love our sin”? lots of times I do.

Phil said...

Dan, I think it gets right to heart of not only the problem of sin, but the difference between Reformed Christ centered thinking and raise-your-hand-have-a-latte-and-be-saved neoevalgelicalism. Well done sir.

The problem is We see it in being-as-God, not in taking delight in God

Solameanie said...

I'm beginning to think Dan and Frank's theme song should be "Any Major Dude Will Tell You." (just kidding)

Seriously, in terms of making sense of evil, wasn't it C.S. Lewis who said something like "sin would be funny if it wasn't so deadly serious?" That's not the exact quote but it's the main idea. I am always amazed at my own capacity to snort in derision or contempt at the sin of others, all the while trying to make excuses for my own.

And really, maybe sin shouldn't be too terribly funny to us, because Jesus paid a very high penalty on our behalf because of it.

Persis said...


Your post hits close to home. It is heartbreaking to watch a professing believer rush headlong after sin and still believe that God is fine with it. Sin by its very nature is deceitful (Heb 3:13). At some point there are no more words to be said, but I can continue to pray. I am also reminded but for the grace of God, there go I.


DJP said...

Heartbreaking. Crushing.

Scary. Sobering.

Anonymous said...

Really really convicting and really scary. Thanks for this great post.

Rachael Starke said...

My lunchtime reading was Piper's "God's Passion For His Glory", wherein Piper is fleshing out Jonathan Edward's expansion on St. Augustine's belief that:

"Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy. There is no man who does not desire this, and each one desires it with such earnestness that he perfers it to all other things."

If you're off base, Dan, you're in awful good company. :)

Jugulum said...

We sin (in part) because we believe the lie that the sin will be better than following God's will.

Part of the work of God in sanctifying us is changing our hearts. So that we stop believing the lie, and become convinced of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

It's not just becoming convinced, "sin is bad, sin is bad, don't sin, don't sin". It's not just putting off the old man. It's putting on the new. It's setting our minds on things above.

It's Colossians 3, and Philippians 3.

It's learning down in the depths of our hearts that God's way is better, and more to be desired.

It's not just sin management; it's awakening to life, in Christ.

Heath Norment said...

REALLY needed to hear that today; right now. Thanks for the post. It has served to rebuke my growing indifference towards certain sins and mentalities.

Mike Riccardi said...

A wonderful reminder, Dan. We all need to know this and believe this about our sin.

Thanks for writing.

Lilly Garcia said...

Thank you for this encouragement to pray for those who are on foolish paths. I have several friends, family members, and acquaintances who need a lot of prayer! May God keep us humble and give us the diligence and patience we need.

JSA said...

James 1 (for example) seems to support my assertion about what scripture says. James in fact seems to take specific pains to make this clear: "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." Why add the part in bold unless it contributes meaningfully? The conscious rationalization that something will "feel good" is a consequence of the evil impulse, not its cause. This is common knowledge to any seductress or shyster, but seems to be ignored by those of us who like to think of man as a rational creature. The excuses that people use to "justify" their actions are not to be confused with the causes.

Likewise, Ephesians 2 and 2 Timothy 2 seem to support my interpretation that human nature is controlled by the evil one, who has anything but our bodily pleasure in mind. Nowhere does scripture say that the disobedience was caused by the miscalculation.

Romans 7 is pretty explicit, too. Paul doesn't say "I sin because I mistakenly think it will bring me pleasure". He just doesn't.

Anyway, you are the expert on theological matters, so I'll think about this some more. I'm sure I could be wrong. To be honest, I'm surprised to find that what I'm saying is not automatically considered to be orthodox Calvinism. Even if I don't feel that you've really answered my points about what scripture says, you've at least done me the great service of letting me know that I'm quite possibly wrong -- and that's a good start!

Jugulum said...

But doesn't "evil desire" assume that the object of desire seems attractive? How do you separate desire from perception of value?

Susan said...

1. I second Jugulum's point.

2. My lunch reading today was Hosea 14. The funny thing is that the pages in my Bible are stuck together in such a way that Hosea 14 often comes into sight when I open the Bible. When that happens I consider it a providential reminder from God telling me to repent. It was certainly an interesting work day today--it ended with my saying to myself, "If you want to get well (emotionally, which hopefully will lead to better physical health), you need to stop sinning." To continue on the path of self-destruction is indeed a foolish thing to do--yet how often do I go there!

RichardS said...

Without totally trying to agree or disagree with Joshua or others, there is also another side to the story. I would say this is somewhat complimentary (goes along with rather than saying good things about) rather than being in tension with what has been said before. People sin because they want to be like God and they hate God. Eve sinned because she wanted to be like God, or at leat that is what the devil promised her and seems to be what she "bit" on.

Romans 1:18-32 gives two sides to the issue. Man sins because he is trying to suppress the truth about God and yet man sins because God is turning the wretch over to his sin. Man does want to follow his sinful desires, and yet his sinful desires are driven by a hatred and enmity to God. Man follows after his desire to obtain the greatest good for himself, and yet he seeks that greatest desire out of enmity to God and a desire to suppress the truth of God. Man desires to seek his own desires in seeking his own glory and honor, yet in doing so he is not honoring God and is exchanging the truth of God for a lie. While it is true that man does seek his greatest desire and pleasure, but his greatest desire is to be rid of God.

JSA said...

@Jugulum - I'm apparently not as orthodox Calvinist on this point as I thought, so don't take this as an attempt to persuade you. Maybe explaining the path I went down will help determine where I went off the tracks.

But doesn't "evil desire" assume that the object of desire seems attractive? How do you separate desire from perception of value?

Yes. The Bible tells us that we are drawn to self-destruction like moths to a flame. So, yes, self-destruction seems attractive to people. This is what all of the scriptures cited seem to be clearly saying -- without Christ dwelling within us, our desires are from the evil spirit. And even when we abide in Christ, we must contend with these evil desires.

Paul explains that the heart of the disobedient is a slave to the evil spirit. Does this evil spirit cause our totally depraved heart to be motivated by self-interest and "fullness of life"? There is no evidence for this in scripture. See Matthew 5:5. See Matthew 17:15. See Matthew 9:17. And what did the evil spirits do as soon as they occupied the pigs? Nowhere does it say, "the demons convinced the man that he would derive great pleasure from cutting himself". The only thing that separates the garden-variety unbeliever from these demon-possessed men is the propensity to manufacture excuses for their behavior and pretend that it was about self-interest. In all other aspects, they are slaves to the same spirit, as Paul clearly states.

The fact that some people ex-post-facto rationalize self-destruction as self-interest is considered irrelevant in these passages. In fact, it is considered irrelevant in pretty much all of the Bible. Paul never considers it important when writing on fallen nature, including in Romans 7. The language used seems to be always language of slavery, never of rationally maximizing choice.

To use DJP's accurate paraphrasing of Eve, the "I think I'll find out for myself" component was far more important to the story than the "looks really good to me" part. This isn't a story about risking death to have better sex or a better high; it's not even a story about someone gambling on risk of death to find out what it would be like to be like God. There was no ambiguity or "chance" involved. This story was about the entire human race declaring that we would rather be dead than not be equal to God. The rebellion and the death were inseparable, and have been ever since.

Mark B. Hanson said...

The perfect summary of the human condition: "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Not only is sin stupid, sin makes you stupid:

Adam's sin made him think he could hide from God.

Aaron's sin made him think he could lie to a man who had just come from God's presence (about where the golden calf came from).

David's sin made him think that God wouldn't notice his sin of murdering Uriah to get Bathsheba.

Ananias' and Sapphira's sin made them believe that God wouldn't care - or wouldn't act - if they lied to the apostles a little.

Sin makes you stupid. I know it has done that for me...

Nash Equilibrium said...

As an example of this, "the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread." Prov 6:26

Yeah, a loaf of bread is pretty doggone stupid.

JSA said...

Sin makes you stupid. I know it has done that for me...

Yeah, my life was so much nicer before I was a stupid sinner. You know, when I was smart and sinless. When I operated out of calculations intended to maximize my fullness of life.

As an example of this, "the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread." Prov 6:26

I assume you're joking? Somehow, I don't think that verse was talking about intellect or skill at rationally calculating outcomes. If anything, the man who isn't very good at maximizing self-gain won't be a very good bread supply for the prostitute.

DJP said...

Jushua, dude, I'm telling you this to be a friend.

Sometimes, when you're "seeing" something nobody else is, it's because you're smarter than everyone else.

Most of the time, not so much.

Somehow, you are missing the entire point of the entire post and each and every comment since then.

JSA said...

Hey Dan,

I got that part of the message pretty clear. You think that my discernment is wack (you're smarter than me, I already knew that). You've effectively used tautology, repeated assertion, and ad hominem speculation about my motivations to communicate your conviction that I'm wrong -- I heard, and I don't even dispute the high probability of being wrong.

Were you intending to help me understand where, specifically, I went wrong in the scripture and meta I provided? I understand you're a busy guy, so feel free to send me off to do some homework. I wouldn't be surprised if what I was describing is some tired old heresy that has a name I could look up, and find the rebuttals provided by previous Church leaders.

Susan said...

Strategem: As an example of this, "the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread." Prov 6:26

Joshua: I assume you're joking? Somehow, I don't think that verse was talking about intellect or skill at rationally calculating outcomes. If anything, the man who isn't very good at maximizing self-gain won't be a very good bread supply for the prostitute.

What's not to get from that verse Strategem quoted? It's self-explanatory.

JSA said...

What's not to get from that verse Strategem quoted? It's self-explanatory.

Yep, I agree. Proverbs 6:26 is self-explanatory. Of course it doesn't say that prostitutes cause a man's intellect to become impaired. I assumed that strategem's comment about that was tongue-in-cheek.

In my Bible, Proverbs 6:26 cross-references Proverbs 5:9 and Proverbs 29:3. All make the same point. "Bread" is used here as it is used elsewhere in the Bible; to symbolize day-to-day sustenance. The prostitute turns a man into her loaf of bread. It's the same sort of metaphor you see in the story of the woman at the well -- the woman had been looking to her many husbands as the source of her material security, and Christ told her to draw from the well/source that would never run dry.

In any case, I assume this is not controversial? When the Bible talks about stupidity (impaired intellect, judgment, etc.) it uses a variety of symbols. But "bread" is never one of the symbols of stupidity.

Stefan Ewing said...

Um...okay...as regards Proverbs 6:26, Joshua seems to be closer to the mark than Stratagem.

The ESV renders the verse as, "for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life."

Or the Septuagint says (according to the ESV), "for a prostitute leaves a man with nothing but a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life."

The context being that getting into an adulterous relationship is extremely unwise (not to mention a violation of the letter and spirit of God's law), with enormous consequences:

"Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?" (verse 27)

Stefan Ewing said...

Sorry, Stratagem...I'm really not trying to pick on you.

And as regards the rest of Joshua's argument, I'm not really sure about that.

We sin because we want to, right? I mean, why would we sin if we didn't want to? And even if it's self destructive behaviour that's deleterious to our immediate health and well-being, isn't it still born out of desire—because we want to numb ourselves, or repress some emotion, or prove something, or avoid having to deal our own sins or someone else's sins against us?

...And I did some really, really stupid things when I was a lot younger, so I should know a thing or two about it.

JSA said...


"because we want to numb ourselves, or repress some emotion, or prove something, or avoid having to deal our own sins or someone else's sins against us?"

I agree 100% with this; that's pretty much what I am saying. I was reacting more to the language about people sinning because they are seeking "happiness", "delight", and "joy". I was reacting especially strongly to the claim that sin is a result of God-given desires getting confused or calculated incorrectly. The Bible clearly says that our sinful desire comes from the evil one, and are in total rebellion to God. Nowhere does the Bible ever say that sin is basically good, God-given impulses that need to be "educated". Sin is defeated by total surrender to God, not by "reforming" and pointing the sinful desires at a holier target.

DJP's framing of sin as "mistaken deployment of the God-given desire for joy" seemed very Pelagian to me -- it's like the guy who says, "I really just intended to go to the bar with friends to witness about Christ, but got slightly inebriated, so I ended up in a one-night stand with a woman I was trying to teach about Jesus." He is willing to admit only to the "sin" of mistakenly thinking that alcohol would bring him joy, and then pins everything else on that. As if the dude had the best of intentions, but the momentary slip of getting drunk impaired his judgment.

If this isn't his first time getting drunk, then he is drinking specifically because he knows it will lower his inhibitions and enable him to do the thing he secretly intends to do.

Or like the pastor who smoked meth and did bad things with his drug dealer. To claim that the "bad things" were an unintended consequence of the meth smoking is to fundamentally minsunderstand sin, and is to "flatter ourselves with deception". There is a real desire beneath every sin, and if you follow the thread back far enough, it's a very bad desire. The lesson of the Bible is not to say, "stay away from meth, since it might cause you to accidentally self-destruct in spite of the joy the meth brings". The lesson is, "fallen man's deepest desires are totally depraved, and thank God every day for saving you, such that you'll never know how deep was the abyss you were striving to leap into".

DJP said...

I'm taking a poll.

Yes or no responses only, please.

Two questions for everyone who read my post, and Joshua's 10:19 AM, September 17, 2009 comment:

1. Do you think Joshua gives any indication that he understands my post? Yes, or no?

2. Do you think Joshua should have taken my 9:02 AM, September 16, 2009 more seriously? Yes, or no?

Stefan Ewing said...

1. Sadly, no.

2. Sadly, yes.

...On the premise that even the most knowingly self-destructive behaviour is done out of an illusory desire for some kind of fulfilment.

JSA said...


1. No, apparently
2. Yes

Who is going to vote against the guy who runs the blog? Not me!

It's a relief to think that the disagreement was simply misinterpretation, since you never seemed to be espousing such ideas before. IMO, the post could be improved for clarity, especially for new readers who aren't aware of your solid theology and might be tempted to read you the wrong way. But that's just one man's opinion...

DJP said...

Anybody, everybody, all the time. But they've probably moved on.

One guy, however likable and intense, having a problem, and insisting he still has a problem even after patient soul upon patient soul tries to help him out, doesn't indicate a defect in the post's clarity to me.

But suggestions are always welcome.

Rachael Starke said...


Not to drag this thing out indefinitely, but would you be willing to disclose what decade you were born in? I've been hazarding a guess about where some of this struggle might be coming from, based on this interchange and your profile, but I could easily be mistaken.

JSA said...

@Rachael - I'm 35 and married with children, like yourself. I've also spent years dealing with people who had drug and gambling addictions, including close friends who committed suicide. These are topics that I've studied fairly extensively. So I, personally, would not (for example) excuse a gambling addict's behavior as being primarily caused by a desire for "the next payout". The stated desire for the next payout is always the verbalized rationalization of something else.

Rachael Starke said...

Well, I was wrong then, so thanks for responding.

To encourage you, I vividly remember an interchange here several years ago along the lines of "Christians and non-Christians are no different when it comes to needing to hear the gospel." I got really wrapped around the axle when some folks exposed some potential error behind that statement, which led to a two-hour conversation with my husband, which led to a lot of reading on the doctrine of regeneration, which then led to a sudden, Holy-Spirit-fuelled transformation of my thinking about the subject. And then of my living. It really was a wonderful turning point in my walk with God.

And it all started right here, with this kind of exchange. So God bless you as you wrestle with this. Given that you're continuing to work with the kind of people you've described, the end result might hopefully be even more effectiveness for the glory of God in the rescuing of the lost.

JSA said...

Thanks, Rachael. So far, I have a solid track record of failure at helping people in these situations (besides the basic temporal assistance, of course). And yeah, it's ongoing -- one really sad case just this month of a gambling addict I've known for 5+ years losing everything and being deported. The pain and disappointment of seeing people get hurt, and failing in attempts to help them, has given me a lot of motivation to press into scripture for answers and rely on God more, and has really changed *my* life. So it's been an unequivocal success for me personally. But I sure hope you are right, and that I can actually succeed in helping one of these people or others like them to know God someday.

Stefan Ewing said...


May the Holy Spirit give you strength and manifest Himself in power through your work, and bring glory to God the Father as He calls His own to redemption through the broken body and shed blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.