I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
– Ecclesiastes 2:1-3
WARNING: The following quote is from The Screwtape Letters.
“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of the Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever-diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return – that is what really gladdens our Father’s heart.”
– C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (emphasis the author’s)
For those who have not been exposed to The Screwtape Letters, the letters are written by a fictitious senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, who has been assigned to the ‘patient.’ It is Wormwood’s job to tempt the patient to win the patient’s soul for their ‘Father’ Below (the Devil), but being a novice, his uncle is helping him. The references to the Enemy refer to God. With that in mind, you can get what Screwtape is trying to convey in a portion of this one of many letters.
Basically, Screwtape is, in a way, repeating what Solomon said in the Scriptures above; pleasure, for pleasure’s sake, is meaningless.
I remember when gaming systems were first hitting the markets. My wife saw a prize drawing for the latest system at a grocery store. They had run out of application forms. The box was over-filled with them. She took her grocery receipt and ripped it in half. She wrote the two boy’s names on each half with our address and the home phone number. Our younger son, at twelve years old, won the gaming system.
We had moved from our home the year before in North Augusta, SC to Mississippi, where I was working on a NASA project. Our house in South Carolina had not sold. We were strapped for cash. This winning of a prize looked like a blessing, but it was, in its way, Wormwood doing his worst.
The more that the boys played, the better they got. New games came out every month. The new games had something better about them. The old games were mastered quickly. Okay, the Legend of Zelda took them a long time. Other games were timeless as good social games to play with a friend. But the purchase of each new game was money that would have been better spent elsewhere. Each mastered game left the boys ‘bored.’
Solomon mentions a few pleasures that adults have tried. Laughter is madness, says Solomon. I have heard documentaries of many of the famed comedians of the past century. Most had it hard growing up. Many used humor to get out of the troubles that came their way. In a way, many used humor to keep from crying. Maybe that is where Solomon gets the idea that laughter is madness.
Don’t get me wrong. When I get in front of a crowd, I use laughter to do two things. The first is to calm my nerves. The second is a mental image that I create in my mind: ‘If they are laughing, they are not trying to do me harm.’ Hey, I have been in front of classes that have attacked when I stated facts that disagreed with their misconceptions (usually verbally, but a couple of times physically), but if the humor didn’t go over that well, the worst I got were groans.
Solomon also mentions wine. Ah, the world has become more sophisticated since then. We have beer, wine, and the hard stuff. We have pills to bring you up, pills to bring you down, and pills to help you go to sleep. There are drugs taken in pill form, by means of shots, and by snorting up the nose. Some drugs are legal but are misused. Other drugs are illegally obtained.
Some of these drugs immediately start to destroy the body from within, while others take their time. Some are addictive, while others are less so. Less addictive, except they leave you empty, ready for the next pleasure. Lewis’ description of ever-increasing craving for ever-diminishing pleasure is quite apt for almost all the artificial pleasures, especially the pleasures through better chemistry.
Don’t get me wrong. I have heard that a glass of wine with a meal helps digestion, but Solomon was talking about wine drinking as a pleasure. Other than the pleasure of the taste that one could get from a single sip, wine as pleasure requires the second glass, then the third. At some point, you are having a lot of pleasure. There are just two problems: the hangover and the lack of memory regarding the pleasure that you had. I have heard friends say, “I cannot remember last night at all. I must have had a great time.”
I asked a friend, who was a teetotaler, why he was going to beer bashes. He said, “You don’t know the fun you are missing. You get to watch everyone else make a total fool out of themselves, but you are the only one who remembers what happened the next day. It’s a blast!” Hopefully, if people left the party by car, there were a few others, designated drivers, who were also sober. When my friend made these comments, designated drivers had not become a ‘thing’ yet.
Yet, some of my more lasting pleasures have been in studying the Bible and discussing the Scriptures and their meaning with God and Christian friends. Have you ever had a really long talk with God? For almost half of my years working at the last job, I taught a class, or a few classes, each year in the Southeast of the USA. We had repeat business in West Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama (a lot there), Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas. I would drive the demonstration equipment to the site. Sometimes there would be 14-16 hours of driving time. I would often start a conversation with God when I left the office and not finish the conversation until I checked into the hotel that night. On the trips when I was distracted by the traffic, the problems at work or the unusual demands of the customer, the drive seemed to take forever. There was no pleasure when I was not praying along the road. There was no Joy. And to add insult to injury, when I had a drive like that, I was exhausted when class started the next morning.
If you seek pleasure, God is the greatest pleasure you can find.