The Problem With Pleasure

Philip Yancey once wrote an article called The “Problem with Pleasure” it was, I think a play on the title of C S Lewis’s “The problem With Pain”.

His point was that we have all grown up with the belief that there is nothing wrong with, or even mysterious about pleasure and enjoyment. Such things represent the norm and need no explanation whilst pain and frustration are abnormal and need to be understood and corrected.

Even atheists, whose world view should, according to logic, regard such questions irrelevant, cannot resist delving into origins but usually only in respect of pain, rarely in respect of pleasure. When it comes to having a high view of comfort and a feeling that justice demands we never be robbed of it, atheists are just as passionate as theists. The pursuit of ones’ happiness is seen as such an unquestionable virtue that at least one country has it enshrined in its constitution.

When God wrote the constitution for humans he didn’t actually speak highly of pleasure or happiness, he simply attached those feelings to any activity that arose out of our doing what we were created to do. So multiplying, working, eating, subduing, creating and simply surveying the beauty of creation, if done with reference to God gave us immense pleasure. Sadly we also discovered that this pleasure was so resilient that we could still get to experience it to a degree without God.

In the Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis the older devil, writing to his student advises strongly against using logic because logic is on the side of God. I suspect delving too much into the origin and purpose of pleasure might be also. Satan wants us to focus on the negatives rather than the positives he can do his best work with people who see the glass half empty because he likes it when people start accusing God, or someone else of letting them down. While ever we feel we have a right to pleasure without actually asking where it came from, we are putty in Satan’s hands.

The moment we start to consider the problem of pleasure rather than simply pursuing it, we are likely to find ourselves at the door to Eden wanting to come home. Such contemplations will tend to reveal not only the real source of happiness but also whose to blame for the pain and frustration. Satan is sprung with his hands in God’s till.

Pleasure and our pursuit of it, is perfectly natural but in a fallen world it will always be frustrated because the universe that God created can only deliver true pleasure and happiness when its inhabitants seek it in relationship to God. Only in that paradigm is it possible for one person to maximise pleasure without stealing it from someone else.

So before you start having a shot at God over the problem of pain you might first contemplate the gift of pleasure and reflect on how much of it he has in store for those who stop whinging and let him be God.

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