Lust is the primeval, fallen instinct and demand for nothingness, nihil.
Lust or covetousness is idolatry, the worship of idols.
And idols are literally, nothing (1 Cor. 8:4).
Lust is the worship of nothingness, blankness, emptiness, the dark, the formless, the void.
Why do we desire nothingness?
Because we desire to make reality for ourselves. We desire to make ourselves, our own meanings, our own futures, our own universe, or as Oprah might put it, our own truth.
This is why the New Testament so often warns against evil desires, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes. Lust is not just a minor or even somewhat perverse sexual desire. One of the great tricks of the devil has been to isolate “lust” to the category of sexual desire. Of course lust happens there, but biblically speaking, lust is something far broader and deeper and cosmic in nature. It includes sexual rebellion and anarchy, but it is actually the foundational desire for all rebellion, all anarchy, all lawlessness, all self-deification. This is why there can be no coherence or status quo for the sexual revolution. It is necessarily nihilistic. It cannot stop until there is nothing, until everything that has been made has been unmade.
Many times in the New Testament lust is tied to the flesh, desires for things, for stuff, for gratification:
“And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful” (Mk. 4:19).
But the Bible also frequently describes lust as far more cosmic, as something reaching down into the very core of reality:
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (Jn. 8:44).
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of this world” (1 Jn. 2:16).
The lust of the flesh, the lust of our eyes is full of the worldly pride of the devil.
“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves…” (Rom. 1:24).
This lust flows directly from the rejection of God our Maker and the worship of created things (idols) in place of God. Lusts arise from that origin, the desire to displace God our Maker.
“This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other…” (Gal. 5:16-17, cf. Rom. 6:12, 7:7-8, Eph. 2:3, 4:22, Col. 3:5, 1 Thess. 4:5, 1 Tim. 6:9).
Many of these New Testament references frame lust as the crucial point of battle for the Christian, warfare between God’s Spirit and our former self or the remaining rebellion in our flesh. These lusts are not merely the desire to gratify some particular appetite, they are flash points of the deeper, ancient desire to dethrone God, to unmake and remake the world according to our own whims, to be our own maker, to be the captains of our destinies, to be gods.
Let me connect the dots a little more.
Lust for food, for sex, for wealth, for respect, for intimacy, for love – on the surface, it can be difficult to see how these can be desires for nothing. Because of course that is not at all what we think we are desiring. What we think we want is that thing, that experience.
But this is the insidiousness of lust. That thing, that precious, that experience, that pleasure does not exist. The devil holds out an image, a picture, an imaginary offer, a mirage. But you say, yes it does exist! I saw it on the commercial. I saw the joy on her face, the pleasure in his eyes. I’ve imagined being loved like that, desired like that, cherished like that. Exactly. You’ve imagined it. It was a picture, a movie. It isn’t real. It’s fabricated. You’ve seen an image that seems to depict joy, happiness, pleasure, but it’s an image, an icon, an idol. It isn’t real.
Ok, you say, but I know my friend is real. I’ve seen her marriage, her car, her body, his job, his family, his leadership. She is real; he is real. Yes, of course they are real, and it very well may be that they truly enjoy those gifts. But lust imagines that you could steal them for yourself. Lust imagines taking what is not yours and enjoying it as though it were. But this is the thing: that’s impossible. You cannot actually steal what is not yours and enjoy it as though it is. Yes, you can steal another man’s car, another man’s job, another man’s wife, but when you have done so, you will find that you don’t actually have what they had. Because it turns out that the enjoyment and pleasure in the gifts of God is all bound up in the fact that these things are gifts from God, received with joy and thankfulness.
So there we are again, recognizing that lust and covetousness is not merely desiring something that is not yours – it is actually desiring nothingness, desiring the world unmade, the gifts of God un-given, so that you can remake the world according to your own wisdom. This is why lust is not merely a little bit of foolish daydreaming. The Bible describes it as central to the great war:
“For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts…” (2 Tim. 3:6).
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world…” (Tit. 2:11-12).
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
All of this is why when it comes to the triumvirate of virtues: truth, goodness, and beauty, Christians must always insist on a hierarchy with truth at the top, followed by goodness, and beauty the necessary derivative of truth and goodness, but not the other way around. Men naturally want pleasures and joy without sound doctrine. This is what lust always wants: pleasure and beauty and joy without truth. Itchy ears turn away from the truth. Lust is the demand for fables.
In other words, beauty does not exist by itself. True beauty is only and always the glory and radiance of truth and goodness. But the moment beauty is divorced from the foundation of truth and goodness it is offering a false world, a mythological world, a non-existent world of beauty apart from God’s truth and goodness. Of course sin and rebellion in God’s world is always parasitic. Sin and rebellion only exist by secretly drawing their strength from the truth they hate and despise. Who gave you that mind? Those hands? Those eyes? That breath in your lungs? Those feelings throbbing in your heart? The One who made you has given you those gifts, those gifts we so quickly use to demand nothingness, that the world be unmade, and remade, according to our lusts. Talk about fables.
So then, the end of our lusts is literally nothing. There is nothing there. It is cold, dark, and utterly lonely.
But we serve the God who creates ex nihilo. We serve the God who speaks light into our darkness, who speaks life into our death. We serve the God who does not leave us in our vain imaginations. We serve the God who is the Truth, which is to say the God who is the only foundation of all goodness and beauty. He came for us in the person of His Son, the Truth in flesh, in order to tell the truth about our sin and folly, in order to stand in our place, to receive that deep and furious judgment due to us, in order to bring us home, in order that the truth might set us free. Seen in this light, self-control, temperance, sobriety, and modesty – these are not virtues that deny the goodness of this world in any way. Rather, they are emphatically the virtues that ground us precisely in the goodness of this world. They understand that all the false offers of pleasures and self-seeking are fables, myths, fleeting sparks that fade to black. But the truth of God, the sound doctrine of God, is the foundation of all beauty. And at His right hand are pleasures forevermore.