It’s got to indicate a pretty disgusting level of self-complacency to go to one’s own writings for inspiration.
So naturally that’s what I’ll be doing tonight.
I wrote something here yesterday, and having writ, moved on. But as I thought about it, it seemed to me it was worth examining in its own right.
What I wrote was: Joylessness is an easy sin to ignore. It isn’t any fun, so how can it be bad?
Have you noticed how we (and I think I speak for most of us here) tend to equate pleasure with sin? And virtue with suffering and deprivation?
In a way I can understand how secular people would think this way. The concept is deep in our culture, probably a leftover from Victorianism (I could say Puritanism, but the Puritans really had a lot more fun than modern people give them credit for. So did the Victorians, for that matter).
But our culture is full of jokes about sin and virtue. “Everything fun is either illegal, immoral or fattening.” “Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris” (Oscar Wilde). Alfred Doolittle’s fulminations against “middle class morality” in Shaw’s “Pygmalion” (that’s “My Fair Lady” for you musical comedy fans).
But Christians often think this way too, and we ought to know better. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10, NIV). “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
In theory the Bible ought to count for more with Christians than quips from Wilde or Shaw.
But I know how it is. I suspect I know better than most, being famous for my depression and general sourness of disposition. Doing right seems to be so much work, and sin offers such welcome, immediate satisfaction.
(At this point in the essay I originally wrote a long disquisition on short-term vs. long-term gratification. I now realize that that wasn’t really what I wanted to write about. So I’ll try it over.)
Our cultural Puritanism (not to be confused with real Puritanism, for reasons explained above) tends to take it for granted that all pleasure is sin.
This is a snare of Satan.
One of the book passages that changed my life was the following from C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape (who, in case you don’t know, is a devil advising another devil in methods of temptation) writes in Chapter XXII:
[God is] a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it: at His right hand are “pleasures for evermore”. Ugh! …He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to use. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.
Pleasures are very often sinful. But they’re not always sinful. It seems to me one bad effect of Christian revivals is that as the original fervor fades, people try to keep it going artificially through the imposition of more and more rules. “If we just get people to stop doing this or that, their hearts will turn again to the Lord.” So certain people are forever looking for new things to declare sinful and forbid to others. There’s one Christian leader in particular (and no, I won’t tell you who he is. Some of you will guess) who (it seems to me) has built his entire career on searching the Scriptures for new things he can declare sinful, new laws he can lay on the backs of his fellow believers.
I say it’s wrong. I say we need more innocent pleasure, and if Pharisees insist on condemning people who do things not forbidden by the Word, then somebody ought to punch them in the nose.
Try it yourself.
You might find it pleasurable.