Why does God have a reputation to some people as being a cosmic kill-joy?
Why do some people resist becoming believers because they have this idea that the Christian life is “boring”?
Is there any truth behind these common beliefs? Is the Christian experience truly nothing but ascetic self-denial, frustration of the flesh, spiritual suffering, pain and death?
1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
So what is wrong with pleasure? Wasn’t mankind created in the Garden of Eden?
The kind of pleasure that James warns us about is not the simple enjoyment of God’s glory and His creation. The Pleasure referred to here is merely a cheap SUBSTITUTE for our God-given DESIRE for magnificence. This Pleasure is a DISTRACTION from the real thing – something that we ENTERTAIN ourselves with to relieve the stress and worry in us, when we actually should be working on some important roadblock in our spiritual lives, which is the true source of that stress and worry. These distractions give us the opportunity to shunt or anesthetize the throbbing pain of our desires, and “check-out” from our life in the real world for a while. The Bible describes this as SPIRITUAL ADULTERY.
Of course, it is evident that God will not help us indulge ourselves in this kind of DISSIPATION, since it would be an encouragement for us to continue being lazy adulterers. (Dissipation is anything a person does that consumes time, money, energy and resources, and gives no benefit in return for the investment spent.) If we were pursuing the REAL THING (a high-quality LIFE in the Kingdom of God), our lives may become more difficult at present, but will be a lot smoother after a time.
Verse nine seems to indicate that God wants us to be sad. But I believe the intended meaning here is that we should repent from indulging in our cheap pleasures, and start making real progress in our lives.
It might help if I give a good definition of “sin” here. In other blog posts, I’ve described sin as being a sort of spiritual addiction. This is true, but at its’ root, sin is when we take something from God that is magnificently good, and we jerry-rig it into something easy, cheap and “cute”. Sin could also be described as very poor and inefficient stewardship with our own lives, which is the most precious wealth we have been entrusted with.
Why do people sin? People sin because of many reasons. Usually, it’s because they don’t have the hope, or the faith, or the resources, or the diligence to do the work necessary to achieve the goodness promised by the will of God. Maybe they are just plain lazy, or maybe their cognition of God’s kingdom has been warped by all the wrong kinds of suffering and abuses in this world.
Some people know what they should be doing, but they simply prefer to enjoy the quick thrills and cheap shots of a sinful lifestyle. Some people recognize the promise of God’s goodness for themselves, but since they are so far from achieving it, they lose hope and dabble in more convenient and immediate “pleasures”.
Like drinking alcohol, masturbating, snorting cocaine or any other kind of “pleasurable” habit, it sure makes things seem better for a time, but when you come down from the high, you still have the same broken life and the same problems, and you’re a little bit older and a little bit poorer. After a while of this, you’ll reach the end with nothing to show for it.
Personally, I think the most popular sinful pleasures among most people, are watching TV (whatever is on) and browsing the internet aimlessly for hours and hours. These habits are basically dissipation. Vain and lustful fantasy comes in second, and gluttony follows in third. Greed and envy are also very widespread obsessions that consume people’s lives.
I think the most deceiving kind of sinful lifestyle is the one which seems quite religious, moral, law-abiding, good and nice on the outside, but the irony is that it is still merely a cheap, convenient pleasure, all the same. Many people who profess to be Christians subscribe to this kind of lifestyle, but I suspect that many of them may be deceived, because God usually calls the believer to live an extremely thrilling, roller-coaster kind of life. Those with sufficient faith will readily see this challenge, and make some effort to force their way into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 11:12).
But somehow, the lukewarm people who believe the truth but fail to do anything truly risky, are commonly considered to be the true “Christians” in this fallen world, thus creating the illusion that God is boring. This paradox is frequently discussed in the Bible.
14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him (Jesus). 15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. 16 “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. 17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. 18 “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Note that Jesus also points out the behavior of the Pharisees to be spiritual adultery.
If we are to ponder these truths for a moment, we will find that what appears to be right, according to the standards presented to us by the world we live in, is actually worthless or even wrong, in relation to what God expects us to achieve. What we see through the worlds perspective looks totally different from what we see through God’s eyes.
1st Samuel 16
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
With this in mind, we may conclude that true pleasure, in terms of what God desires to give us, cannot necessarily be obtained through wealth, a life of ease, or even certain relationships, and that we must look deeper than these things, if we are to find true joy in our lives.
So the answer to the question is… Yes! God intends us to enjoy a life of immense pleasure, but we commonly settle for momentary diversions, because we fail to grasp what it is that God truly wants us to have and achieve in life. Then, we are tempted to blame God, or give up hope, rather than to make the necessary efforts to possess what God is offering us.
I urge you to take responsibility for your life and do whatever you need to do to make it count for something.
1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Imagine that… Jesus, the Son of God, endured the suffering of the cross, in order to achieve JOY! That is the ultimate Pleasure Principle! As believers, we are each challenged to follow the same pattern.
[Eds. note: For a correct understanding of suffering in the Christian life, read about the purpose of God’s Silence During Suffering.]