Lust of the eyes

Confessing my sins, Part Two: The Bible highlights three: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Let’s take a look at our eyes.

Why do my eyes lust?

“Lust” is a rather loaded word. Modern translators give us slightly different takes: “the things our eyes see and want,” “a craving for everything we see,” or “the greedy desire of the eyes.”

Before I leave the house to travel downstate, my wife gives me this look.

She knows I’ll make a pilgrimage to Elderly Instruments, the king of stringed instrument sales in the Midwest. I’ll roll into the showroom, spy that beautiful Martin D-45 guitar on the wall with ebony, mahogany, and East Indian rosewood, take it down, and try it out for a minute or 12 or 45, but then I’ll remember her wise but stern words spoken just before I left: “We’re not buying any new guitars!”

But, but …

And don’t get me started on bicycles and snowblowers and gadgets and Graphgear 1000 Pentel mechanical pencils.

I’m sort of like Bill Murray in that great movie, “What About Bob,” crying, “I need! I need!”

An uncle of mine built a cottage on the shore of a lake in Wisconsin. Many decades later, an inspector who knew about the porous, rocky soil, showed up to check on the backyard septic system. He knew that whatever went in might eventually seep down into the water table, into the lake, into the well.

My uncle said, “Don’t worry, it’s fine. I’ll show you.”

He grabbed a hose and aimed it in full blast. It should have overflowed in minutes. But no. It never even filled. The water was leaking out as fast as it went in.

He had to install a new holding tank and eventually a new, expensive septic field.

I’m like that.

Well, not a septic system, per se, but I’m porous and leaky.

And Netflix flushes excrement daily, so I’ve got to be careful.

Um, on to a new metaphor: Our endless material desires are just smoke in the breeze.

There’s a book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes. The narrator says, “And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them (2:10).”

He had everything: riches, learning, property, power. But it didn’t work. It didn’t provide what he desired. He concluded that the satisfaction we hope to get from grasping to fill our lives with those things is “hevel.”

Hevel can be translated as “ungraspable,” like the wind, like dew on the grass on a hot July morning. Quickly gone.

Hevel is used 37 times in Ecclesiastes. Nothing is certain. Life is fleeting. Finding meaning is hard. It slips through our fingers before we know it.

Hevel is a part of our existence. We can’t get what we long for.

But we search.

We see and we want. More and more. We’re trying to find stability, for meaning, for security in the chaos.

Where does that discontentment in a world that is uncertain lead us?

Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist, said that materialism has become the new system we use to get meaning in life. He said that atheism hasn’t replaced Christianity here in the West.

Shopping has.

Jesus said, “be on your guard against any type of greed, for a person’s life is not about having a lot of possessions (Luke 12:15).”

But the Amazon package finally drops on our doorstep. A few days later, the thrill has worn off and we’re back scrolling Facebook Marketplace for the next thing. Our brains crave another boost of dopamine.

Sin is often called “missing the mark.” Our misdirection is seeking to find a solid foothold in purpose, meaning, and security in that which is ungraspable. It’s just mist.

Can we say we mist the mark?

We all know wealthy people who have it all and are still miserable, searching, longing, and surprised that all they have amassed is just an empty vapor trail in the rearview mirror.

Jesus also said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also … The eye is the lamp of the body … if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

The solution is deep and radical: We need to face our emptiness head on.

Move toward the pain, the uncertainty, the hevel, the ungraspable nature of our existence. Grab its throat and rebel against filling a god-shaped hole in our hearts with false joy that leaks out as fast as it goes in.

Attachment to God is the only source of lasting joy and peace. I can be satisfied with Him. And, when my eyes start to demand more and more, I can give it all away and still be content.

Phil Cook is a teacher, works in northern Michigan with Biglife, an international disciple-making ministry, and serves on the Board of Directors for Sunrise Mission in Alpena.


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