Plato and the end of desires

January 8, 2010

I’ve begun reading a great devotional: A Faith and Culture Devotional: Daily Readings in Art, Science, and Life by Kullberg and Arrington. It contains reflections from a Christian viewpoint on a variety of issues, such as archaeology, the beauty of art, philosophy, and the Human Genome Project.  It is, for lack of a better term, quite relevant to our times.

The reflection I read today is about Plato, the so-called “philosopher of love.”  He lived in a time when philosophers shaped a view of love that ended in empty physical passion or destruction.  But Plato knew that a universal desire of love–to love another, and to be loved by another–must have a greater end.  As the devotional puts it, “He cannot believe that any common and natural desire is ultimately incapable of finding its proper fulfillment.”  There must be a goal, an object of this love.  For Christians, that goal and object is God Himself.  The fulfillment of our desire to love and be loved is found in God.  To seek that fulfillment in anyone or anything else results in emptiness, disappointment.

I think the same perspective applies to other universal desires: the desire for justice (right conquering wrong), beauty, truth, and the partner of love, relationship.  If we believe in God as our Creator, then we must believe that these desires were planted in us by Him.  And if God is who He says He is–holy, unchanging, all-loving, all-merciful–then He is the end of all human desires.  Only He can fulfill; the rest of His creation, tainted by sin, is only a dim reflection of its Creator, and thus a less-than-fulfilling answer to love, justice, beauty, truth, and relationship.

These desires, I think, are like God’s hook in our hearts.  Our desire for these transcendent things, if infiltrated by grace, lead us back to a transcendent being.

Today’s devotional left me with a gratitude I cannot describe in words.  What a mysterious thing it is to know a God who knows our desires better than we do.


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