Spiritual Lust and Infatuation


A couple weeks back, I posted that one of the Enemy’s tricks is to stoke the fires of wanting more (“Tangleknot on Leading the Opponent’s Subjects Astray“). In that desire for more, Christians may even make the mistake of overdesiring to grow deeper in the Faith.

“But, Dan,” you say, “how can that ever be a bad thing?”

Well, it’s a bad thing when it leads to spiritual lust.

Lust happens when all the boundaries that normally hold good gifts in check fall away, leaving a naked core of desire that knows no limitations. It’s playing the piano—by dropping bricks on the strings. Performing that way may make a sound, but it’s noise, not beautiful music. It’s a misguided approach. Should one want to play the piano correctly, one should play it as its design demands it be played. And as any skilled pianist can attest, one does not go from “Chopsticks” to Carnegie Hall overnight.

Spiritual lust occurs when Christians in their desire to know God violate the design He created by which we can know Him, grow in Him, and develop intimacy with Him. In the desire to know God, people inflamed by spiritual lust can instead find themselves drawn away from God because they violated His means of approaching Him. They become moths drawn to a flame, plunging down the pathway toward strange fire.

Spiritual lust is a kind of addictive behavior because it will drink whatever it can find to feed the thirst.  A little or a lot, it doesn’t matter. Nor does the quality of the spiritual experience or its rightness in the eyes of God. Spiritual lust makes demands that must be filled, no matter the expense.

Adoring fans...That addiction often leads Christians into pointless searches for truth in places where no truth (or precious little) can be found. A prospector looking for gold nuggets would not likely find them examining the contents of a septic tank. Yet this is what some Christians do when they go on quests to find the truth of God in other religions. Or it’s what too many charismatics do when they hop a jet bound for the far side of the world to bask in some new “revival” rather than finding God right where He has always been. Some Christians will tolerate all manner of skubalon in hopes of finding some tiny morsel to feed their spiritual rapaciousness.

The sad truth is no path to deeper intimacy with God exists than the old-fashioned ways found through the classic spiritual disciplines of the faith. We can’t help but grow in the Lord if we pray, study, meditate, fast, embrace solitude, practice submission, live simply, serve others, worship, confess our sins, seek guidance from the Lord, and celebrate.

Too many Christians want faster methods than those. Or they want whatever’s “new.” But both of those are simply spiritual lust. And God will never be honored through lust of any kind.

Spiritual infatuation tangentially connects with spiritual lust, but in a different way. It’s what happens to Christians who begin to veer into spiritual lust, but who sidetrack quickly because they find what they believe to be the perfect object of their theological affection.

Just as we old fogies get a whimsically nostalgic smile on our faces when we see a young teen utterly smitten with another, so it is that we recognize the signs when a young Christian has discovered a truth for the first time. How many times have we seen others find a tiny nugget of truth they then use as the sole basis for constructing elaborate theologies? How often do we run into other Christians, even older ones who should know better, who are infatuated with one truth to the point that all other godly truths become irrelevant?

I have many friends who are involved in the International House of Prayer (IHOP). IHOP has built much of its teaching foundation around Mike Bickle’s concept of Bridal Theology, connecting the Song of Solomon to Revelation’s depiction of the Bride of Christ.

Though I have grave concerns regarding Bickle and the Kansas City Prophets movement he came out of, I think that the Bible does show that God has a profound love for us akin to that of a groom for his bride. We Christians can be encouraged by this understanding.

But a problem swiftly rises: Building an entire theology off bridal imagery leaves out a big chunk of the rest of the Bible. Doing so avoids other perfectly legitimate explanations of the Gospel. It also forces proponents to keep expanding the morsel, blowing it out of proportion to its basic reality. Think how easily infatuated kids gush about their objects of affection, inevitably magnifying the character of that person to superhuman—and clearly mistaken—levels. After awhile, the voice of reason no longer penetrates the gauzy dreams erected by the infatuated. The infatuated filter their entire experience of reality through their infatuation. And we all know where that leads.

But before some of you high-five each other and yell, “Dude, Edelen totally dissed IHOP,” let me offer a different subject: atonement. A gnarly subject, yes?

Many reading this will defend a penal substitutionary view of atonement to the death. I, myself, believe in a penal substitutionary atonement. That said, I will also claim that some of the other views on the atonement (such as the ransom, governmental, Christus Victor, and satisfaction views ) all have some very good points going for them. In fact, it may even be possible—at least as I see it—that all those views work together in synergy much the same way that the four Gospels reinforce each other and give us a more complete understanding of Jesus.

Yeah, I know, heresy.

When you get to the heart of this problem, though, too often the pitchfork and torches crowd are the ones suffering from a spiritual infatuation. Remember, if Martin Luther hadn’t called the Roman Catholic Church on its spiritual infatuations….

Spiritual lust and spiritual infatuation lead to one unavoidable reality: a defective understanding of the revealed truths of God. And that defective understanding leads to all sorts of blindness and error when taken to extremes.

Trust me, too many of us take them to their extremes.

All of us suffer from some amount of spiritual lust and spiritual infatuation; it’s part of the human condition. That said, we don’t have to be complacent about this tendency. True growth in Christ comes when we seek Him rightly, discern truth from error, and allow Him to show us how our infatuations may be keeping us from knowing Him by His design and in His time.


In the Bedroom


Ssshhhh! It's happenin' behind that door!Ah, that special someone!

You receive a letter, read it, and you’re smitten. The words. The passion. It’s love!

Your heart knows no limits when it comes to that special someone. Discovering little details about that unique person. It’s a thrill, a preoccupation. You can’t go even five minutes without thinking about that one who makes your heart leap.

Every day that passes you dedicate to making yourself the right person for your special someone. You get buff, become your best.You throw yourself into doing nice things for the one you love and for any friend associated with that perfect person.

And isn’t that dull ache of longing rapturous? Just to catch sight of that radiant face from far across the other side of your church! It’s delicious, isn’t it?

So the years go by, and the dull ache lingers. At some point, all that longing keeps going unmet. You catch glimpses of that special someone, and you read all the love letters, but frustration sets in. Talking about your frustration…well, most people don’t talk about it at all. Sure, a whole lot of others are in your same shoes. They have that perfect person in mind, too. They’re achey, and maybe even breaky for it. But the whole lot of you keeps a stiff upper lip while each talks about that special someone glimpsed once from across a crowded room. Some enchanted evening. A long time ago.

And the hope chest gets bigger—but emptier at the same time.

I’ve been married now for eleven years. First met my wife a little more than twelve years ago. If you asked me what it would be like to still be engaged after twelve years, never having made it to the bedroom, I’d say it would be a sort of living hell, actually. (Or something like this.)

I know too many Christians who have never made it to the bedroom with the Lord. They may very well love Him with a passionate love, but when you get right down to it, they’re missing out. They may be able to talk for hours about the Lord, but you can almost tell that something’s missing. They’re a lot like that poor fellow in the link. Hyped up, seemingly aware, but ultimately clueless.

And Adam knew Eve his wife….
—Genesis 4:1a

Now it doesn’t take a genius to comprehend the kind of knowing Adam and Eve engaged in.

And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me….
—Jeremiah 31:34a

Yep, same root Hebrew word for know in both those cases. But then, you already knew that. 😉

All kidding aside, getting to the bedroom is vital:

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
—John 17:3

Eternal life is knowing the Lord. Not knowing about Him, but knowing Him intimately. Yet how few people ever get to that intimate place! They go years and decades and it’s a life filled with frustrated longing that eventually turns to numbness and duty. The truly sad truth is that many Christians drown in that numbness and duty. They put on their game face every Sunday, but go home feeling like Charlie Brown trapped in an endless string of losses, back to the cold ground, naked save for boxers, staring at the sky from the pitcher’s mound after another line drive up the middle tore the clothes off again, all the time wondering, Why do I do this?

But who wants to admit to that kind of perpetual defeat? So the fake smile comes out until five minutes into the drive home. Then it’s packed away until the next Christian encounter.

So how do we end the frustration and make it to the bedroom?

We’ve got to want it. More specifically, we’ve got to want Him. No lukewarmness. No pretenses. We need a burning desire, and…

We need to drop the fear. I think the world is probably filled with nervous brides and grooms who while trying to find an outlet for their ardor on their wedding night are practically eaten alive by butterflies. Sure, it may be a bit nerve-racking that first time in the bedroom, but if we let fear consume us, we’ll never know consummation. Nor can fear be mitigated by controlling the circumstance of getting to the bedroom. Instead…

We need to allow the Lord to lead. He knows His way around the bedroom. He made the bedroom! In fact, He created what goes on in the bedroom. We simply can’t be like the bride who locks herself in the closet and then proceeds to tell her groom exactly how this thing is going to proceed. No, if we’re going to make it to the bedroom, we need to abandon the idea that we’re in charge. We need to relax our hold on our sobriety because the bedroom overflows with wine, the drink of gladness and joy, not duty and rules. We’re not to dictate to God what we will and will not accept. Nor do we need to be in control because…

No shame exists in the bedroom. One of the blessings of being married for several years years comes from the total freedom experienced in the bedroom. Freedom exists where shame vanishes. Each of us can be carefree in the presence of a spouse who has no agenda, who willingly and continuously says, “Yes, love.” In the same way, in Christ there is no shame for the one who trusts Him unconditionally. And this is a necessary understanding for us because…

Only in the bedroom is life created. The circle completes. We must want Him if we desire life. Rivers of living water flow out of even the dryest eunuch who finally enters the bedroom. Life is there—and life is birthed through the ones who dwell there. We must desire that life flow through us as if our very next breath depends upon it. Because it does.

I don’t know many people who make it to the Lord’s bedroom, but they’re unmistakable when I encounter them. The smell of the Lover’s cologne lingers on them. Their faces shine with the warm anointing oil of the Spirit. And their words drip with life and healing.

That person God uses for His glory.


Time for us all to forsake the question, “So what’s it like?” and take the Lover’s hand.

You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you. Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards. You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices—a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.
—Song of Solomon 4:7-16

The Intimate, Faraway God


You had to be living under a rock to miss the brouhaha over Mother Teresa’s confessionary book detailing the profound absence of the presence of God in her life. Not only did the secular media sources jump all over that news, but so did the Godblogosphere.

While I apologize for being late to this news story due to situations here at home, I feel the need to comment nonetheless. Perhaps in the wake of this story’s looming obsolescence (as is common in today’s frenetic media environment) people have had a chance to ponder it a bit more—or forget it completely. No matter the case, I hope to add grist to the mill or refresh your memory.

You can read the original Time article here.

I appreciate Mother Teresa’s work in India to the extent that she cared for the dying. Few of us would be so dedicated in such a hellhole as the one she ministered in. In that regard, she’s a far better person than I am.

On the other hand, no evidence exists that she told dying, hell-bound people how to be born again in Jesus Christ. To have ephemeral earthly comfort without eternal spiritual comfort is no comfort at all.

So in the end, I have strongly mixed feelings about Mother Teresa.

If you cruise the Christian blogosphere, you’ll find all sorts of opinions about the state of her soul. Some would damn all Catholics to hell, saying Teresa’s crisis of faith was due to a complete lack of saving grace; she didn’t feel Christ’s presence because she wasn’t born again. Others sympathetic to the Catholic cause are more lenient, claiming she partook of Christ’s sufferings by enduring an incredibly long, God-ordained “dark night of the soul.”

I’ll let readers decide where they stand on that continuum. Seeing as Teresa ministered in one of the bleakest spots on the planet, the slums of Calcutta, I can see how she might tend toward that dark night. Still, for the purposes of this post, I want to make the issue less about Teresa and more about you and me.

The longer I’m a Christian, the more people I encounter who put on a brave face concerning their own encounters with Christ. If I had to choose a side, I would say that I know far more Christians who would confess in secret that they never experience the feeling of God’s presence in their lives. In that way, they understand what Mother Teresa endured because they feel the same disconnection. That experience nags at them daily.

Can we be honest here? For every one Christian who claims an intimate, uniquely personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, I suspect there’s ten who have not.

That’s not a figure we Christians like to trumpet. I think it’s the dirty secret we don’t wish to discuss–ever. Why? Because it calls one’s salvation into question, at least by the standard that some Christians use.

When we talk about having a “personal relationship with Christ,” how many people can claim that this relationship resembles in every way (and better) the kind of relationship one has with a spouse?

To some people, to even ask that question is nuts. “Of course a person doesn’t have a relationship with God, a spiritual being, in the same way as a flesh and blood human being,” some would say. Others would argue, “Anyone who doesn’t have that kind of kind of relationship isn’t really filled with the Spirit and may not be a Christian at all!” Still others would say, “The truth lies somewhere in-between.”

I’ve had some interesting conversations with men of late. More than once I’ve heard them say that God responds to their wives’ prayers in a way that they themselves do not experience. One even went so far as to say that when something he’s been praying for happens in his favor, he has to check to see if his wife was praying the same thing. If she wasn’t, then he can rest knowing that God answered him alone. A dry weary land without waterOtherwise, he fears that his prayers go unheard if they don’t overlap his wife’s. (I may unpack that fear in a later post.)

If I polled men here, I would suspect that some of them are squirming in their seats over hearing this revelation.

Given this, I suspect that a lot of the Godblogosphere’s most vocal proponents of the Gospel harbor a real dryness on the inside for that voice of God they never seem to hear. And given how readily some talk and talk about the little two-sided chats they have with God every day, you won’t hear those dry folks fessing up.

In the case of Mother Teresa (or those of you out there who share her lot), I can say without hesitation that no matter what we might say about her spiritual state, she did one thing right: she pressed on.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture puts it this way:

“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
—Hosea 6:1-3

Most of us know the last sentence, v. 3. I like the other two as well, for they are Messianic prophecies that also apply to us Christians. Sometimes it takes two days out of three before God revives us. In a life of 80 years, that may be a long time to be dry. But His promise is sure if we press on, isn’t it?

I know plenty of atheists who gloated over Mother Teresa’s dryness. “See, see!” they shouted. “If Mother Teresa can’t touch God, there’s no one’s up there in heaven.”

But the thing about atheists is they know nothing about pressing on. They gave up before the second day, before the rains came.

I know a little about the rains. We’re officially at 19″ of rain for the year in my part of Ohio. The normal? Oh, about 30″. Now combine that with the hottest August on record around here, with five days over 100. Folks, it doesn’t get drier than that. My property looks like a moonscape with all the craters of dead, scorched grass. But as someone who fancies himself a farmer, I don’t give up. Because I know some day the rains will come. Maybe not tomorrow or the day after that, but some day.

So we press on.

As the Scriptures say:

I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.
—Proverbs 8:17

I believe that. I hope everyone reading this does.

I don’t know about Mother Teresa. I know about me, and I’m not always a fountain of refreshment. Still, the faraway God comes in intimate times and I find Him. Sometimes I find Him when I’m not pressing on. And sometimes I don’t find Him when I am. But He’s still there, and I take comfort in that knowledge.

I pray that you’re finding Him. If you’re not, know that you’re not alone. So don’t be discouraged; press on. If you simply can’t press on by yourself, enlist someone to press on with you. And don’t be surprised if you see in the one who helps you the very person of God.

Be blessed. And bless others.