In 2008, I attended a summer camp event hosted by my local church. The topic for the week, around which all teaching and discussion were centered, was the supreme goodness of God as described in Psalm 34. While I learned quite a bit during my time there, one of the most valuable “take-home” lessons of the week came from Saint Augustine, a favorite church father of our speaker, Perry Garrett.
Perry outlined for us Augustine’s philosophy of ordo amoris, or “the order of loves.” This idea, which is expressed most clearly in Augustine’s The City of God, refers to a divinely ordained hierarchy of human loves and pleasures. God sits at the pinnacle as the primary object of human satisfaction, and the single pleasure that is able to provide fulfillment proportionate to and beyond our my desire for it.
In 1 Timothy 4:4, Paul writes, “everything created by God is good.” One of God’s blessings to His creatures is that He has ordained all things for our use, benefit, and enjoyment. Money, sex, food, and other people are good gifts, but they were not designed to provide our lives with ultimate meaning. Ironically, our capacity to enjoy these things properly actually rests on whether or not God is central in our affections. Whatever we exalt above our Creator can only enslave us. As C.S. Lewis poignantly expressed in his treatise The Four Loves, anything other than God, “having become a god, becomes a demon.” Inordinate desire is never met in full; it is born of sin binds us to sin.
Once God is seated in his rightful place in our affections, our love for Him will sanctify our hearts and passions, leading us to value the things of this world appropriately. We will view God’s gifts not as ends in themselves, but as rays of light that draw our eyes up to the great and glorious Source of all that is good, of whom all earthly joys are mere shadows. God’s status as chief of our desires is not arbitrary; in 2008 I came to understand that He is in fact worthy of all my heart, all my soul and all my strength. His excellencies far outweigh, and His glories far outshine, all else that is offered. As Augustine prayed at the opening of his Confessions, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”