It can be one of those horribly complicated discussions that goes around a table in circles for hours on end without ever arriving at a concrete, black and white conclusion. After awhile, the people around the table are either beginning to stare blankly into their cold and unfinished mugs of coffee, fully satisfied with leaving the issue in a pool of gray, or zealously ordering another round of espresso shots hardly content to leave the discussion hanging on a fragile string.
It is the problem of pleasure.
Most have heard before of its opponent, the problem of pain. The one that dives into the world of grief, suffering, poverty and death–many times seemingly undeserved circumstances–and asks, If God is a good God, why does He allow thousands of children to die from AIDS? If He really loved me, why did He allow me to get this disease?
I’ve come to realize perhaps it is easier for us to engage in passionate debate over the problem of pain rather than the problem of pleasure; and the reason is this:
The problem of pain looks through human eyes, observes everything “evil” and “unfair” and “unfortunate” on earth, without taking any responsibility, it simply points to the Creator and wonders, Why is He allowing this? It says in a sense, I thought God was good, yet these things are making his character appear evil.
Rarely in the discussion are we brave enough to turn the finger around and point it at ourselves. Rarely does the problem of pain come to anyone asking, If we are so blessed, so fortunate and so able, why are thousands of children still dying of AIDS?
It is quite easier for us to associate the problem of pain with some kind of blemish in God’s character rather than our own character. It hardly ever messes with our own flaws and failures to intervene.
Oh, but it is not so with the problem of pleasure.
This problem has haunted my mind and thoughts in the recent months and for the majority of the time there is no one sitting around the table with me to keep my mind rational and bounce off my complicated musings.
The problem of pleasure thinks, If God created so many good things to be enjoyed, how am I supposed to enjoy them without feeling guilty about all the people in the world who cannot enjoy them? When making decisions in life about where I’ll live, who I’ll marry, what I’ll do, is my own personal happiness allowed to be a factor? Is it OK for me to delight in the simple pleasures of a massage or a bowl of chocolate brownie ice cream? If God does not want me to actively pursue pleasure, does He want me to actively pursue suffering, or simply be willing to suffer if He asks me to? How much pleasure in my life is allowed?
All of these questions too easily point to me, asking, What should I be doing? What does my life need to look like?
I was thinking about all this the other day and I started to think about the five senses–our God-given abilities to feel, taste, smell, see and hear. Why did He create us with ears to hear a beautiful symphony? Why did He give us taste buds that are able to savor filet mignon and the perfect cup of coffee? Why did He allow us to not only bask in the beauty of flowers but also delight in their wonderful smells?
I believe these things point to a God who joyfully created us with the ability to experience pleasure. His creation is magnificent and in His extravagant love and abundance, He allowed us to share in it by creating us with the senses to do so.
Why then, is there a problem with pleasure?
Think back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were placed in a garden of infinite pleasures–the enchantment of the visible beauties of sunrises, night skies, and a thousand different animals. The soothing sound of waterfalls. The delicious taste of a perfectly ripe and juicy peach. The shameless delight of incredible sex out in a meadow of wildflowers. The soothing aroma of rose bushes and jasmine. And it was God who put them there.
Bring in The Fall: Sin enters the world and suddenly nothing is in the original state that God created it to be. A dreadful curse falls upon man, and every infant born from that time on is born into a sinful and evil state. This is where the Problem of Pleasure began.
Greed. Gluttony. Immorality. Seduction. Adultery. All pleasures gone horribly wrong.
If we look at God’s creation, it is quite obvious that pleasure in itself is not a sin, but rather a wonderful gift. But it is something that has been very deformed and abused by humanity. In the midst of humanity’s sinful nature, it became a god. It became something that mankind hungrily sought after for fulfillment and contentment rather than seeking the Almighty.
In choosing to love pleasure more than (or rather than) the One who created it, humanity has actually cheated itself out of enjoying pleasure to the max. When this worship of pleasure turns into greed, gluttony, adultery and all kinds of other evils, it only serves to leave a person poor and empty, lost and broken, still searching for something that will truly satisfy.
The truth is, the only thing that will ultimately satisfy is an intimate and unhindered relationship with the Almighty God. Enjoying pleasure is no longer a “problem” but rather an act of worship and adoration for the One who created it. As it is delighted in and enjoyed in the state it was created to be delighted and enjoyed in, God receives the glory as the Creator.
The problem of pleasure points the finger directly at my heart attitude. Is God being glorified? Who(or what) is being worshiped in this? Have I allowed a certain pleasure to become a god in my life, one from which I am seeking fulfillment? Am I enjoying this pleasure in the state that God meant it to be enjoyed in?
I do not have the entire issue resolved, and I’m not sure I ever will. But for now, I am challenged to look at my life, the things I enjoy and delight in, and ask myself, “Who (or what) is being worshiped?”
Let not pleasure become a god, but rather, worship and thank God for the pleasure.