Holiness and Pleasure Pt II

We ended the last post with a couple of questions:

So then, is holiness compatible with an outright pursuit of pleasure?

Perhaps our lack of discipline is an unwitting fortune and we should stop feeling so guilty about our indulgences?


Should, then, holiness be compatible with a life spent pursuing pleasure?

To answer that question we have to do a little history...

In the beginning God made all that exists and declared that it was a thing of beauty and pleasure:

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:31

God made a Garden and called it Eden, it was a place of pleasurable surroundings:

And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.
Genesis 2:9

God placed Adam in the garden to enjoy its fruits and to protect and nourish this place of beauty:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Genesis 2:15

God made a wife for Adam; the couple were then told to enjoy the world God had made, to come together and create children, and to join in the reign of God over this good earth. There was no alienation, no fear, no curse, no sin:

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Genesis 2:25


The story doesn't end there, however. Adam and Eve rebel against God's sovereignty, they chose to ignore His good decrees and listened instead to the voice of the destroyer. The promise was made, "I can give you pleasure that God cannot." And our first parents listened to the deceiver. They pursued pleasure (which they already had in abundance) and gave up peace (which they could never regain). They gave up everything and got nothing in return.

The results of this rebellious choice was the curse we still see in effect today...

The man and the woman were set at odds against each other, humans alienated from other humans; there was alienation between humanity and the world itself, no longer a luscious garden, but an inhospitable place of toil and danger; humans were even alienated within themselves, ashamed of their own appearance and identity. But curse upon curses, human arrogance had driven a wedge between humanity and the Good Creator who loved them...

Our price in the devil's bargain was our freedom. His payment to us was the fleeting pleasure of ill-gotten gain, swiftly replaced by the realization of the ensuing consequences.

A wonderful analogy (for those of you who have seen the movie Aladdin) is the villain Jaffar, who is offered the complete and unlimited power of the godlike genie, and upon receiving this power is then made aware of the condition of that power: he is enslaved, bound to the lamp and the desires of whomever holds it.


Any discussion of pleasure and holiness must begin with this history in mind; we are enslaved. God created us for freedom, and we chose bondage. It is often thought that freedom is the ability to do whatever one wishes, yet we would hardly call it 'freedom' to put sugar in our gas tank; or to use a guitar as a doorstop, or to use our uncovered hand to pull food from the oven. Rather, freedom is what we have when we operate our vehicle with proper care and concern for the operating instructions; freedom is what the master musician has after decades of diligently honing her skills; freedom is what we have when we use our bodies in ways consistent with God's purposes...

Abuse your 'freedom' and you lose it, pay attention to God's intent and gain untold freedom. It is with this reality in mind that we approach holiness and pleasure; we do not really know what pleasure is! And so we must unlearn our habits, we must discipline ourselves towards holiness, if we are to begin to taste of true pleasure...


Holiness and Pleasure

Just what is the nature of the relationship between holiness and pleasure?

In generations past, Christians would have easily and confidently answered 'holiness eschews pleasure in this world, in order to have it in the next.' That same underlying attitude informs much of our contemporary answer to that question, at least at the popular level. We simply lack discipline.

We believe holiness is the denial of pleasure, yet we are too weak to avoid pleasure, so instead we simply feel guilty...

...how sad!


But holiness is not the avoidance of pleasure, rather, holiness is the state of belonging to God. Holy objects are objects that are 'set apart' for a specific use, the Tabernacle and the Temple were places set apart for worship and sacrifice. Holy people are similarly set apart, having a deep connection to the Creator that marks them out from those who do not.

We often define holiness as the avoidance of certain 'things' (and we have ongoing debates about what those 'things' are), yet we should rather define holiness as the pursuit of certain things, or even the pursuit of the One Thing...


So then, is holiness compatible with an outright pursuit of pleasure?

Perhaps our lack of discipline is an unwitting fortune and we should stop feeling so guilty about our indulgences?



Christian Hedonism

Click on the title link to read a wiki article on the term which was originally coined by pastor John Piper.

This is a continuation of commentary on Parker's poem 'Partial Comfort.'


We give those devils too much credit when we let hell claim pleasure as its own invention and possession!

It is not the demons who thought up the idea of physical pleasure, nor did they craft the synapses in such a way as to make sexual touch pleasing, or fine food a fulfilling experience. God gave us the capacity to enjoy the physical, emotional, and spiritual union of sex; He granted us the ability to make fine wines; He created bodies capable of dance and song, minds capable of poetry and story.

It is not a defect in sex that causes God to condemn promiscuity, nor is it a defect in grapes that causes God to warn against drunkenness! Ask the addict, ask the porn star, they will tell you how long ago the pleasure left these activities. It is not the sober man who yearns for a life consumed with battered ex-wives, neglected children, and countless rehab and court fines; nor is it the happily married woman who longs for a life of objectification and mistrust, not to mention acyclovir and hemorrhoidectomies...

I have used my own body for pleasure in inappropriate ways, and the longer I did, the more power those activities had over my will, and the less pleasure those activities gave me.

Do you begin to now see why our Teacher calls the devil a liar, a destroyer, and a thief?

Whatever pleasures you can image, they sprang forth from the mind of God! It is evil that twists those pleasures to other ends, or grabs those pleasures at the expense of other greater pleasures, or pursues them in inappropriate times or ways; it is evil that ultimately robs those pleasurable activities of their very pleasure, leaving us instead with an addictive compulsion to an activity that we cannot do without, and yet provides us with little or no pleasure, and much pain and destruction.

Do you see now what sheer nonsense such sentiments as Parker's are? Do you see the ridiculous nature of the claim that God wants to punish us for our pleasure, while the devil wants to give us more of it? Does it not now become clear that it is God who desires us to enjoy 'pleasures forevermore!?'

More to come...


Dorothy Parker

Whose love is given over-well
Shall look on Helen's face in hell
Whilst they whose love is thin and wise
May view John Knox in paradise


This poem is certainly in agreement with popular sentiment.

Those who love too much, whose lives are consumed with love, will see true beauty (albeit in hell); however, those who are more concerned with righteousness, and a wisdom that leads them to eschew such an all-consuming passion, will be rewarded with harps and clouds (albeit they miss out on pleasure in the process).

This poem then, does a wonderful job of summarizing, succinctly and accurately (not to mention poetically) many popular thoughts surrounding ideas of holiness and depravity, beauty and truth, divine punishment and reward, wisdom and pleasure, love, and perhaps others:

Love is here defined in terms of physical/sexual desire and pleasure (hence the allusion to Helen).

Wisdom is here defined in terms of a deliberate denial of that sort of love.

Righteousness is defined in terms of avoiding certain pleasurable activities out of compliance to divine fiat.

Depravity is defined in terms of pursuing pleasure.

Truth is set in opposition to beauty; what is wise and true is not compatible with what is enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing.

God punishes those who enjoy themselves, and rewards those who live ascetic lives.


So what do you think:

Do people who 'love' flamboyantly and deeply end up in hell? Is hell the place where real pleasure is, and the end result of a life of pleasure?

More to come...


Partial Comfort

Whose love is given over-well
Shall look on Helen's face in hell,
Whilst they whose love is thin and wise,
May view John Knox in paradise.

Dorothy Parker


What do you think?