Pleasure is God’s idea.
That statement might come as a surprise to some of you. It is an insight that did not come to me overnight. For generations the Devil has succeeded in deceiving most of the church into believing that God hates the idea of pleasure and likes nothing better than to spoil our fun.
For much of my early life as a Christian I was heavily motivated by guilt. Like all of us, my soul craved pleasure, yet at the same time I was unable to enjoy the legitimate God-given pleasures of the created order without guilt. Deliverance did not come overnight, but I am grateful that the Lord has opened my eyes and helped me to see the implications of his goodness more clearly.
It is true that some forms of pleasure are sinful, and some forms of sin are pleasurable, but that doesn’t change the fact that pleasure in itself is from God. Sinful pleasures are a distortion of legitimate God-given pleasures. What makes them sinful is not the fact that they are pleasurable, but the fact that they spring from some form of idolatry (worshipping something other than the true God).
Take sex for example. Even though Jesus made it clear that in the resurrection life, sexual relations would no longer be part of our experience (Luke 20:34-36), in this created order sex is one of the highest forms of both physical and emotional pleasure. The Bible celebrates the joys of sexual love within marriage, yet for generations the Devil has succeeded in convincing many that sex was his territory, something inherently shameful. Nothing could be further from the truth. If God had a problem with sexuality, why would he present the first woman to the first man naked? The creation account clearly states that in this naked condition the first couple felt no shame (Genesis 2:25), yet tragically the area of sexuality continues to be an area that many Christians have trouble talking about because they somehow think it is dirty. This is nothing more or less than a lie from the pit of hell.
At the same time, we live in a culture that has made sex into an idol, and increasingly celebrates sexual experience in any and all forms, without any hint of modesty or restraint. This brings nothing but pain and destruction. It’s no accident that the Enemy has targetted this area in particular because it is so close to the heart of God. True intimacy in marriage is beautiful and good in itself, and has great power to bring blessing. It was God’s chosen means to fill the earth with people who would represent Him and steward His creation (Genesis 1:27-28).
Yet the Bible also makes it clear that this wonderful blessing is not the highest good but rather points us to an even greater source of delight – the delight of intimate fellowship with God. As the Psalmist wrote,
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
This is what we were made for and what alone will ultimately satisfy our souls. When we get this clearly into focus, we can enjoy legitimate created pleasures as gifts of a good God, without making idols of them. Addictions of all forms spring from wounded and deceived hearts that are crying out for fulfilment. Once our hearts become enraptured with God, our souls are healed so that we can enjoy secondary pleasures without being enslaved by them.
This isn’t an instant process of course. I still battle temptation and I know that battle won’t be over as long as I am in this life. But I am so glad that I have learned to rely on the goodness of God who wants to delight my soul – and yours – with the pleasures that He alone can give, pleasures that will satisfy forever.