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Pleasure and Christianity: Synthesis or Antithesis?

August 8, 2011

Allow me to present a particular example, without context, that has been bothering me for quite some time.

I was born and raised an Evangelical Baptist; notably, there are certain connotations that arise from such a connection. Probably the most prominent is the constant focus, especially for young persons, to get married as quickly as possible. My parents, who were married in their late 20s, were not at all concerned by this particular part of the “Christian culture”, and basically let me do what I please. The impetus for getting married early stems from several sources: parental concerns (or forcing marriage), trying to kick one’s children out of the house, and probably the worst culprit, a fear of sin.

I’m not saying, of course, that fear of sin is a bad thing; all Christians, at some point or another, need to recognize sin in their own lives, confront it, pray about it, and take steps to correct it. What I am worried about is when the fear of sin takes over one’s life, until all other concerns hold second billing. That includes Christ, of course; I’ve seen this phenomenon in just about every Christian environment I’ve ever entered. Some call it “legalism”, and it is still around, believe it or not. Even Catholic doctrine has mostly eliminated this particular strain, but it remains in Evangelical circles all the more.

Thus, “pleasure” enters into the discussion. The problem, in my view, is that pleasure gains a negative connotation – I.e., a connection to “sin”. So, things such as watching movies, listening to music, playing video games, drinking alcohol and venturing at all into popular cultures becomes falsely conflated with “sin”, and ultimately banned from “true Christians”.

Pleasure, as I define it, is the enjoyment of any particular activity, physical or mental. This can go from intellectual delights such as philosophical and theological discussion (hey, the point of this here blog!) or as base as a good glass of Riesling and sex. Pleasure, like anything else, is good in moderation, bad in both excess and forced decession (I learned a new word). Moderation itself isn’t really found in the Bible, but a related word is: temperance. I’ll give a few (that I stole from another website) to say as such. Again, translations vary, but I think it looks obvious enough:

Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. – Philippians 4:5 NKJV

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. – 1 Corinthians 9:25a NKJV

Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls. – Proverbs 25:28 NKJV

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; – Ephesians 5:18 KJV

For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty. – Proverbs 23:21a NKJV

Paul repeatedly states that Christ has freed us from the Law, yet we try to “reintegrate” it into ours lives. Have we not learned that the “wages of sin is death”? Why, exactly, would we regress willingly to a state before Christ saved humanity? It is, in fact, the fear of freedom. We need to control ourselves, and we certainly have the power in Christ to do so, but our need FOR control drives us to create arbitrary rules for ourselves (I’m talking about Christians, here) that aren’t necessarily Scriptural. It doesn’t apparently matter that Jesus turns water into wine and gets everyone drunk there (and we have no idea how good a drinker Jesus was, either), and certainly nothing is said of it in Scripture. People even justify their abstinence from drinking by convincing themselves that “wine” in the Bible is some kind of different, low alcohol content fermented substance. Christians don’t need to dilute themselves, but control themselves.

As such, “pleasure” is never the antithesis of Christianity, but a central component. This is not quite John Piper’s Christian Hedonism (God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. ), but it’s a start. When Christians reject pleasure, which God obviously created us with the capacity to have, whatever it might be, we reject a part of the creation. Like everything else, pleasure has been corrupted by sin, but that can’t mean we avoid it altogether. It’s simply a part of human existence, whether one likes it or not. You might, even by accident, experience pleasure; what differentiates one from the other is your motive behind such pleasurable activities. When Christ states that sin begins in the mind, he isn’t joking. You can even take pleasure in NOT having pleasure, a kind of pride.

Let’s all say this boils down to Christians needing temperance and self-control. Still, what greater pleasure is there than to be saved in Christ? The ones experienced on earth give us glimpses, mere flashes, of heavenly pleasure, of a perfect world, of an Eden that has been hidden away. Why deny such things, if done in the proper mode. As such, pleasure isn’t antithetical, but essential. We must rejoice, nay, are commanded as such (Philippians 4:4 ), and we should do so willingly. Joy should be a pleasure in itself; everything just adds to it.

That’s why I play video games, after all – pleasure.

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