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
“Now then, listen, you lover of pleasure,
lounging in your security
and saying to yourself,
‘I am, and there is none besides me.
I will never be a widow
or suffer the loss of children.’
- Isaiah 47:8
Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
- Ezekiel 33:11
There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!
- Ecclesiastes 4:8
“I had grown to love the work of C. S. Lewis in college. But not until later did I buy the sermon called ‘The Weight of Glory.’ The first page of that sermon is one of the most influential pages of literature l have ever read. It goes like this:
‘If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.
‘If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord ﬁnds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased?’
“There it was in black and white, and to my mind it was totally compelling: It is not a bad thing to desire our own good. In fact the great problem of human beings is that they are far too easily pleased. They don’t seek pleasure with nearly the resolve and passion that they should. And so they settle for mud pies of appetite instead of infinite delight.”
- John Piper, Desiring God (not in bold/italics is Piper’s quote from The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis)
The Scriptures seem to all point toward not seeking earthly pleasures, but then the last one, from Ecclesiastes 4:8 states that not seeking pleasure that is readily available is meaningless as well. And I think that last Scripture is what Rev. John Piper is getting at here.
When I read The Weight of Glory, these same paragraphs formed my first note of notable words from the book.
Seeking pleasure for pleasure’s sake is going to get us into trouble every time, but I have learned that some of my greatest pleasures have come from seeking God, seeking God’s will in my life, and learning how to enjoy God’s will, even in the midst of this fallen world.
My mind usually goes down strange rabbit holes at these moments. The quotes above reminded me of a recording of an audio drama by Stan Freberg, Christmas Dragnet. SPOILER ALERT!! About to get to the end without going through the routine. The actors deliver their lines in true Dragnet deadpan. The “criminal” that is brought in is named Grudge. He is brought in for a “409635-dash-096704,” not believing in Santa Claus. It seems that Grudge is a hard case. He doesn’t believe in the Easter Bunny, either. He doesn’t believe in Columbus … or Cleveland … or Cincinnati. He’s not sure about Toledo. As the story unfolds, the two detectives take Grudge to the north pole where a brownie (because the elves were kind of busy that time of year) gives them a guided tour. Along the tour, they find a huge stack of Christmas presents. They were all addressed to Grudge, but as the brownie said, you had to believe to receive the gifts. By the end, Grudge believes … in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Columbus, and Cleveland, and Cincinnati. He delivers a line, just before they hear the bells of Santa’s sleigh: “I-I still ain’t made up my mind about Toledo.”
I did a lot of contract work in Toledo, northern Indiana, and southern Chicago, Illinois. I drove past Toledo a lot. I doubt if I ever went by Toledo without saying, “I still ain’t made up my mind about Toledo!”
But the point in this comical parody is that the gifts are there. We just have to believe. Frankly (and that is the name of Joe Wednesday’s partner, Frank Jones, and the chief is Captain Kellogg), I think Stan Freberg just went for the joke without much thought of the implications, but it works perfectly here.
But even then, are we too easily pleased? Is there even more? God is infinite. We have a finite capacity in understanding God and a finite capacity of receiving pleasure from God. So, there is more to God than we can handle, and that extra can be immensely pleasurable.
Yet, far too many who seek God never seem to find that enjoyment. They are content in having Jesus in their hearts. They may not mind the reminders to do better and reminders not do that bad thing they were thinking of doing. But to dig deeper? No, if people saw me digging that deep, they might think that I am weird or something.
Yes, I am weird, and my sister has said many times, “You are something else. Don’t know what!! But you are something … else.”
But if I am guilty of wanting more of Jesus, I can take the epithets.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.