Andrew Cameron’s essay on obsession, our heart’s disordered desires, is worth the price of the book called The Consolations of Theology. I don’t know what comes to mind when you hear the word “obsession,” perhaps Howard Hughes, but here’s how Cameron gets at what obsession is:
But first this point: obsessions are part of our life, the question is how to get through them to the true compass point of our truest desires. Might be a good day to think a bit about what your obsessions are.
So, again, what is an obsession?
It is about being under siege, about interests and attachments, whether good or bad, that somehow ‘get beyond us,’ where we are then out of control (31). We get at it by thinking about the NT Greek word epithumia, usually translated “desire” or “lust.” Not all desires, of course, are obsessions.
Augustine, who got psychology rolling in the Christian world when he looked inward in his fantastic Confessions [I’ve linked to my favorite edition], knew that we were filled with desires — for God, for self, for others,for sex, for money, for power. In fact, “concupiscence” (his word, Latin libido but he also liked the word cupiditas) shapes humans from the very beginning — from childhood.
1. Our senses can be trapped in what they sense.
2. Our scientific inquisitiveness can go too far.
3. Our social location can be too important.
We desire good things, but we desire them too much. That is obsession. Desiring the good more than it deserves to be desired. Obsessions blind us to our abundance and blinds us into thinking that the object of desire is scarce.
How then can we escape? Or, put differently, how can we crave or desire well?
1. In Christ: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9). His little exposition of the man trapped in a legion of evil spirits is powerful in this section.
2. In the Spirit: God’s Spirit is poured out in us when we are open to God.
3. Love commended: we are called to fix our desires on God and on others — there we find our true desires fulfilled.
CS Lewis, whom he quotes at the end, knew it well: “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak…. We are far too easily pleased.”
And he ends with this: “you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts — our obsessive hearts, we might say — find no peace until they rest in you.”