Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Embrace Pleasure with Sophistication

Question: Gary, in your book, Pure Pleasure, you ask readers to “embrace pleasure with sophistication.” Can you explain what that means? (Sarah in MD)

Thanks for asking, Sarah. Pleasure is a gift from God. It is good. He designed us to receive pleasure in many ways, and in fact is preparing us for an eternity of pleasure. We must also realize, however, that a hierarchy of pleasure exists—with God at the top—that orders all of our other pleasures. If the hierarchy gets broken or becomes skewed, then lesser pleasures will begin to war against the primary one, delight in Christ.

As Christians, we have an awful tendency to “over correct.” We see our error (“Oh, so maybe I can legitimately accept and even cultivate pleasure; I see how I’ve endangered myself and dishonored God with a prohibitionist mindset”), and then rush to the other extreme to get away from that error, only to create a new one (“I want to ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ for the rest of my life!”). Writing a book like this presents exactly that grave danger. Today’s church, frankly, has not earned a reputation for intellectual sophistication. Instead of holding things in a healthy balance, we tend to bounce back and forth between dangerous extremes.

Some who read my book, Pure Pleasure, looking for an escape from responsibility, will cling to theological truths about God and pleasure primarily to justify their unbalanced lives of ongoing entertainment. Ruin and misery await them. Others will likely dismiss all this talk about pleasure as superficial, trite permission to live perpetually in a “Disneyland” faith. They risk suffering a breakdown or getting lured into hypocrisy and addiction. Both attitudes—hedonistic license or pharisaic prohibitionism —grieve God.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Loving Creation more than the Creator?

Question: Gary, is it really okay to enjoy the things in the world? Or, is that loving creation more than the Creator? (Sam in TX)

Thanks for your question, Sam. Recent traditions of Christianity have had, in my view, a very slanted and negative view of the world, in a way that injures our souls, opposes abundant life, and dishonors the God who created a wonderful place for us to live. When John tells us not to love the world or anything in the world (1 John 2:15-17), and James tells us that friendship with the world is hatred toward God (4:4), they do not instruct us to despise the sound of a baby’s laugh, the taste of cold watermelon on a hot, sunny day, or the drama of achievement.

Instead, they warn us away from finding our happiness and fulfillment in social systems, polluted appetites, or actions that antagonize God. John makes this crystal clear when he defines the world’s sinful cravings as lust, boasting, and wayward desires. In other words, the Bible condemns polluted pleasures.

The problem is that we take the Bible’s condemnation of the “world” as condemnation of the “earth.” This serious mistake has unfortunate consequences to our souls and our view of life. Much of the “world” stands against God and rebels against him; God created the earth to reveal himself to us and to provide a place where we can enjoy him.

I am bold enough to believe that God created this world not to tempt us, but to reveal himself to us. Even this fallen world provides windows through which we may glimpse the one who created it.

We have to remember that God isn’t just our redeemer; he is also our creator. He made us and he made this world. So, when we participate in this world as he made it, we celebrate him every bit as much as we honor him when we do things that reflect his redeeming work. In fact, it insults him to deny the glory of his creativity. When we speak of God only as Savior, we use him as a rescuer—but he is much more than that. He invites us to truly enjoy him and all that he has made, no longer using God merely to enjoy the world (setting us free from addictions, reclaiming our finances, restoring health), but also using the world to enjoy God.

How can it honor God to ask him to solve our problems, fix our families, and remove the stain of sin—while ignoring what he delights to create, color, and fashion? This is as foolish as someone learning to play the guitar simply to develop stronger and more nimble fingers, or taking up playing the flute so that he can improve his ability to breathe. It misses the beauty and poetry of the entire exercise, reducing this world to a utilitarian throwaway bereft of the mystery and wonder of an infinitely creative and generous God.