The pleasures of life are everywhere you turn. You couldn’t escape pleasure if you tried. Do you know why? There is only one answer: because God wanted it that way. With wisdom and purpose, he created a world that is stuffed to overflowing with pleasures of every kind.
There are pleasures of sight, sound, taste, and touch. There are pleasures of thought and emotion. There are pleasures of location, situation, and relationship. Pleasure exists because it fits with God’s purpose for his creation. It is one of his chief gifts to us.
If God created pleasure, then pleasure is not the problem. The problem comes when we understand pleasure in the wrong way and then involve ourselves in pleasure in ways that are the direct result of the wrong interpretations we have made.
Like everything else, when it comes to pleasure we need some kind of interpretive guide, and God’s creation of the garden of Eden and the placing of Adam and Eve in it provide the perfect interpretive tool for us. Let me suggest five critical perspectives on pleasures that emerge as you look at it through the interpretive window of the garden.
1. The ascetics have it wrong. Asceticism (from the Greek work for “training” or “exercise”) has been around for a long time. The chief worldview of the ascetic is that by renouncing worldly pleasures you can achieve a higher spiritual state.
The problem with asceticism is that it misunderstands the nature of God’s creation and the nature of human beings and, in so doing, makes pleasure the problem. The existence of the garden of Eden in a world of perfection simply blows asceticism away.
2. Pleasure is God-glorifying. God’s creative intention was to bring glory to himself by the pleasures that he created. Pleasures were meant to amaze you not with their existence but with the wisdom, power, and glory of the one who made them. They were put on earth to be one of God’s means of getting your attention and capturing your heart.
For example, the pleasure of sex is meant to remind me of the glory of my intimate union with Christ that only grace could produce. The pleasure of food is meant to motivate me to seek the heart-satisfying sustenance of the bread and wine that is Christ. The pleasure of all things beautiful is designed to cause me to gaze upon the Lord, who is perfect in beauty in every way.
The pleasure of sound is meant to cause me to listen to the sounds of the one whose every utterance is a thing of beauty. The pleasure of touch was created to remind me of the glory of one whose touch alone has the power to comfort, heal, and transform.
The pleasure of human affection is meant to induce me to celebrate the glory of God’s eternal, undeserved, self-sacrificing love. The pleasure of rest is meant to draw my heart toward the one who in his life, death, and resurrection purchased for me an eternal Sabbath of rest.
3. Pleasure demands boundaries. It is important to recognize that the pleasures of the garden weren’t boundless. God set boundaries for Adam and Eve. He gifted them with the glorious pleasures to be enjoyed but within the limits that he set. They were not to have a self-centered anytime-anyway relationship to pleasure.
The boundaries were a protection. The rules themselves let Adam and Eve know that they weren’t in charge. The rules reminded them that they were created for the purposes of another. The rules weren’t pleasure destroying or enjoyment inhibiting. The rules were there to protect the hearts of Adam and Eve so they would be free to liberally enjoy the pleasures of the created world without being dominated, addicted, or controlled by them.
There is an overarching philosophy in Western culture that tells us that authority destroys freedom and rules wreck pleasure. It’s the “pleasure isn’t really pleasurable when there are rules attached to it” worldview.
Eden was the most beautiful place that ever existed, filled with perfect pleasures of every kind, yet its continuance depended on Adam and Eve staying inside of God’s protective boundaries. It’s the horror of the human existence that they decided not to do this. Boundless pleasure is a deception. By God’s design it doesn’t exist, and if it did it could never work.
4. Your life of pleasure is protected only by pleasure. Your heart and mine will be controlled by some kind of pleasure. When your heart is ruled by the desire for a particular kind of pleasure, you cannot stop thinking about it, you can’t shut off your desire for it, so you will do anything you can to get it. This is a dangerous place to be, and it is a destructive way to live.
So if a man’s heart is ruled by sexual pleasure, he will put wonderful things in his life at risk in pursuit of this thing that he is convinced he cannot live without. Or if someone’s heart is ruled by the pleasure of food, he will eat the wrong things way too often and in much too great a quantity. Meanwhile he will ignore the empirical evidence of weight gain, hypertension, and diabetes that are God-given warning signs that he is serving the wrong master.
It is only when your heart is mastered by the one who created all the pleasures that can so easily addict that your world of pleasure is protected and can live in balance. If your principal motive is that God would be pleased, then you can liberally enjoy the variegated pleasures of the created world without rendering yourself fat, addicted, and in debt.
5. When it comes to pleasure, what seems good is often not good. At some point in the conversation with the Serpent, Eve began to look at a very bad thing and saw a very good thing. But the temporary pleasure of the fruit of the forbidden tree was not a good thing for her to consume. It opened a floodgate of destruction, judgment, and death.
Pleasure can be incredibly seductive. Pleasure is often deceptive. Be warned: your pleasures will tell you lies. Your pleasures will make promises they cannot fulfill. Your pleasures will offer you life when in fact they will deliver you the opposite.
So where do we go from here?
There is one final, intensely practical question that needs to be asked. It gets at the heart of how good pleasures become dangerous things. It also gets at the heart of who you are and how you were designed by God to function. Here’s the question: What are you asking of your pleasures?
You have been placed by God in a pleasure-saturated world. You have been hardwired with the senses to take in and enjoy the pleasures that are around you. In short, you are a pleasure seeker. The issue for you is what kind of pleasures will you give you heart to, and what will you ask of those pleasures?
The good pleasures that God created for our enjoyment and for his glory become bad and dangerous things when we ask those pleasures to do for us what they were not intended by God to do.
The pleasures that God created and embedded in the world that he made for us were never intended to be where you and I look for identity, inner rest, contentment, or the stability of well-being that every human being seeks. Pleasure will never be your savior.
There is a loving, capable, and willing Savior who offers you in his grace everything you need. Pleasure can offer you momentary joy. It can remind you of the greater glory of God, but it must never become your functional God-replacement.
Adapted from Sex & Money © 2013 by Paul David Tripp, pages 55-64. Used by permission of Crossway. All rights reserved. Used with permission.