The Good Beneath the Sin: Heart Longings

C.S. Lewis once swapped letters with a friend who had asked him whether he thought Good and Evil to be eternally coexistent realities. Using an analogy from Star Wars, his question was something like whether, in God’s Universe, there are two sides of “the Force” that must always remain in balance: the Light and the Dark. Lewis replied “No.” More specifically, he said that Evil cannot exist on its own. The idea that there can be “no good without evil” or no “light side without a dark side” is definitely wrong, said Lewis.

On the other hand, Lewis asserted that “no evil without good” is definitely true. Evil is just a parasite that survives off of the good. There would be no evil if there was no good that evil could corrupt. Sin would not have come into the world if there had been no God to disobey. The world did not begin Fallen into evil and sin, but Created very good.

This is crucial to understand if we’re to really grasp the significance of humanity’s “fallen condition” and God’s “redemptive solution.” Before the Fall and before Christ’s Redemption, there was humanity’s Creation, and everything about us was good, including our “heart longings.”

By “heart longings” we mean people’s deepest desires, wants, or motives. Heart longings are the deep-rooted needs that drive everything people do. Although the Bible clearly teaches that the hearts of fallen people have become “deceitful above all things” and “desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9), it also strongly affirms the fact that the heart’s deepest desires are good, and that God wants to fulfill them: “Delight yourself in the Lord, in he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).

The problem with heart longings is not that they exist, but that we go about fulfilling them in the wrong ways. Take, for example, our longing for acceptance: deep down God has created in us the desire to know and experience his warm and gratuitous acceptance as his beloved children; but instead of acknowledging his fatherly kindness, we go about trying to find acceptance in every other conceivable way, e.g., earning it through our good works; people-pleasing; selling ourselves out. This is part of our “fallen condition.” It is not that our desires (e.g., acceptance, honor, worth, love, beauty, etc.) are evil, but that they are misdirected. We are “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

The following passage from Lewis illustrates this point remarkable well:

Supposing you are taking a dog on a lead through a turnstile or past a post. You know what happens (apart from his usual ceremonies in passing a post!). He tries to go the wrong side and gets his lead looped round the post. You see that he can’t do it, and therefore pull him back. You pull him back because you want to enable him to go forward. He wants exactly the same thing–namely to go forward: for that very reason he resists your pull back, or, if he is an obedient dog, yields to if reluctantly as a matter of duty which seems to him to be quite in opposition to his own will: tho’ in fact it is only by yielding to you that he will ever succeed in getting where he wants.
… I don’t know if you will agree at once that this is a parallel to the situation between God and man: but I will work it out on the assumption that you do. Let us go back to the original question–whether and, if so, in what sense God contains, say, my evil will–or ‘understands’ it. The answer is God not only understands but shares the desire which is at the root of all my evil–the desires for complete and ecstatic happiness. He made me for no other purpose than to enjoy it. But He knows, and I do not, how it can be really and permanently attained.
-“Letter to Arthur Greeves, Sept. 12 1933,” in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. 2, edited by Walter Hooper (Wheaton: Harpers Collins, 2004).

God’s “redemptive solution” is to show us the true way to life and the fulfillment of all our heart longings, and he does so in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus says to all those who are thirsty, “Come to me and drink” (Jn. 7:37) and to those who are wearied by heavy burdens, “I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Jesus knows people are fallen, but he also knows their deepest longings are good, and he came to meet them.

One important implication of all this is that, when we consider people’s (or our own) fallen condition, we must always also consider the good heart longing(s) that underlie it. The solution to their problem will always mean showing them (not just their sins, weaknesses, etc.) but how to get those heart longings satisfied.

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Brett Brett (39 Posts)

PhD Student in Pastoral Theology at Southern Seminary. Married to Rachael. Father of two girls and a boy. Louisville, KY.

1 Comment The Good Beneath the Sin: Heart Longings

  1. Josh DysonJosh Dyson

    Thanks, Brett. I always enjoy reading!

    On the two passages quoted above (Jeremiah and Psalms), would you say that the first is indicative of an unregenerate heart and the second of a regenerate heart?

    A follow up question with regard to the dog analogy: the dog just seems to be confused rather than “unregenerate”. In light of your post, and with reference to “heart desires/longings”, what would you say happens at regeneration?



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