Faith and desiring to desire.
Many years ago I got into an argument with my philosophy instructor. He claimed that he sometimes did things he didn’t want to do, such as visiting his mother-in-law. I claimed the fact he chose to do it implied he did want it, and the only things you do you don’t want to do are accidents. “The only thing I’ve done I didn’t want to do,” I said with rhetorical hyperbole, “was fall down stairs.” As neither of us cared to spend the time to attack the other’s logic, the argument ended in stalemate.
Since then I have had occasion to reflect on that conversation many times. What he meant, of course, was that visiting his mother-in-law was a means to an end and not an end in itself. He desired to please his wife enough to visit her mother, even though that act was not desirable without that larger picture. But the thought it spawned has gone far beyond that distinction.
In my excessive introspections I find many kinds of desires. The flesh tells me to eat, sleep, and put bruised thumbs in my mouth. The hormones tell me to seek attention and acceptance and female company. Habit tells me to pull the e-brake before I put the car in park. Aesthetics tells me to seek out pleasant environments, and reason tells me to scrub the sink to satisfy aesthetics. Compassion tells me to serve, even strangers, even anonymously. And so on.
Often the various sources of desire within me conflict. Thus, I find that choosing which desire to heed is my principle form of exercising my free will.
One of the things I have come to believe over the years is that, in addition to providing assertions of the ought (desires), these sources also provide assertions of the is (perceptions). Habit, flesh, and reason all tell me I am deficient in nutrition at times, and do not always agree. What I see is impacted by what I expect to see (habit), what light enters my eyes (flesh), what I hope to see (aesthetics) and what I believe possible (reason). And so on. Thus the second principle form of exercising free will: choosing which perception to believe.
I sometimes define Faith as listening to the spirit instead of the flesh. If you don’t know what I mean by “the spirit” here, I don’t know how to describe it to you except by pointing it out, and as blogs are monologues that isn’t really possible here. But the point is that faith is, at least in part, choosing between inherently-available beliefs and desires; the faithful have, in the words of Christ, “chosen that good part”.
But if desires and beliefs are chosen by us, oughtn’t there be desires that impact which choice we make? Indeed there are. Who among us has not wished, at one time or another, that we wanted to do what we felt we must do? And these desires can, in turn, train our other desires. I’ve written before about limitations in that change, but scripture asserts that our desires to believe and desire good things can be used to change ourselves for the better.