Proverbs 13:19 is a very simple aphorism. It contrasts the fulfillment of desire with turning from evil, an interesting comparison. At first glance, it might be taken to mean that happiness is life's highest purpose. I think that would be going too far and stretching the truth a bit.
It is interesting to note, though, that desire "fulfilled" is sweet to the soul. It seems obvious, doesn't it?
After all, who doesn't like having their desires fulfilled?
It may appear that the proverb encourages us to chase after anything and everything we desire. If that is the case, we should eat as much candy as we want. But what parent allows a child to fill up on candy before dinner?
Don't worry about eating the green beans, Junior," says Mom. "We'll gag ourselves to death on Sweet Tarts instead.
It's a death trap!
The proverb says nothing about the nature of the desire being fulfilled. Any desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good thing. Just as too much candy can rot the teeth, too much of a desire fulfilled can ruin a man (and a woman, too).
Never mind that the proverb doesn't define what a "soul" is, exactly.
We can get deep into that hole, but I'll spare you. Suffice it to say that most theologians today think of the soul as the immaterial part of a human being while the body is the material. In other words, the popular view is dichotomous. I don't share that view. I believe there is a very distinct difference between soul and spirit.
The soul represents that mind, will, emotions, intellect, and imagination. Those parts of us that are immaterial but cognitive. All of those functions are controlled by the brain, but if you were to crack a skull and take a peek, you couldn't see them. All you'd see is gray matter. Essentially, you'd be looking at neurons. But those neurons control the functions of the physical body as well as the functions of the immaterial soul. To keep it short, the soul and body are intrinsically connected.
I don't think that is the case with the spirit. The spirit is a deeper essence, the immaterial beyond the immaterial. A higher component than the highest component of the soul. Other than that, I can't say much.
If I were to guess, I'd say the spirit extends from both body and soul while not relying on either for its being. And I'd also say most of us push it aside, ignore it, most of the time, preferring instead to live within our souls. And that's why much of today's Christian theology is shallow. It doesn't penetrate the depths of spirit it needs to penetrate for teachers, leaders, and their followers to fully benefit from.
But I have jumped off the path. Desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul. But to the spirit it can be like tooth decay.
That isn't to say that we should never get what we want. Turning from evil is detestable to fools.
Is It Foolish To Want Things?
Why does this proverb contrast desires fulfilled with evil? Surely, there must be a connection.
At first glance, we may be tempted to think that desires are good because ... why else contrast them with them evil? This is where diving a little deeper can help us better understand the message.
There's nothing inherently wrong with desires. All of us have them. We want a new car, a bigger house, a more loving spouse, children who behave themselves in public, a decent paying job, and world peace. But we also know we can't have everything we want, which is why it's so sweet when we get them. Ah! But do we ever question whether a certain desire is worth having?
Should we covet other men's wives? Should we desire the death of a neighbor? Should we want that new tech gadget our neighbor just purchased but which we can't afford?
I think we can agree that not all desires are equal. Not all desires are good.
Well then, if we can agree that some desires ought not to be had, then it would behoove us to sort through them to determine which ones are worth pursuing and which ones may lead to destruction or create undue conflict. We must reflect. We must judge ourselves with regard to desire (not others) and determine which desires are worth having and whether a certain time is the right time to have them—just as we would do with a child and his candy. This is precisely the type of activity that fools despise. To such persons, self-examination is a waste of time.
The wise person takes the time to examine themselves, to ensure that what they want is consistent with God's will and is healthy for themselves, their friends and family, and their communities. When it is determined that a certain desire would wreak havoc, then the wise ditch it like molded bread. The fool, on the other hand, runs headlong into evil.
Have you examined yourself today?
Allen Taylor is the author of I Am Not the King.
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