On October 4, 2011

Christians and Pleasure

So I love this picture. It’s from the prohibition era, and it’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s iconic for what I believe many people think of when they think of Jesus followers. We don’t cuss or chew, or go with girls who do.

In her book, “The Kindness of God” Janet Soskice writes about how when women have their first baby they tend to feel guilty about the amount of affection that they feel toward their child. They’ve never had an experience quite like this before and so sometimes they will struggle with guilt.

She wrote about how one woman found her devotional life in ruins after her first child. So she went to three different churches because she worried about her lack of time with God. One preacher told her to get up an hour earlier than the baby to pray with God, another preacher told her to have her husband watch the baby three times a week so she could make Mass, and another told her, “Don’t worry about that right now, the church is praying for you.”

All of that sounds like decent enough advice, but…

The problem is that none of it takes into account that perhaps the best way that this woman might experience life with God is through her baby.

Did you know that when a woman nurses, her body releases doses of oxycotin? So God wired mothers up, to where when they nurse their newborn it gives them neurochemicals that produce feelings of intimacy and deep affection. So much so, that in tests on rats, mother rats choose their newborns over cocaine.

Here’s the point…we have been taught to think of pleasure has something that we should feel guilty for, but God wired us up this way. Now there are ways that we can and have abused pleasure, it can, of course, make a great servant and a horrible master. But we must never forget pleasure was God’s idea.And if we let it, it doesn’t point away from Him, in fact, it does the opposite.

Here’s a question for you to chew on for a bit: Do you think that Jesus enjoyed life? I know that it was said the Messiah would be a man of sorrows, and certainly Jesus practiced heroic ways of withdrawing from the world as well. But the question remains: Did Jesus enjoy life? Because your answer to that question, as a follower of Jesus, will shape the way you approach your own.

I find Jesus to be a pretty compelling argument for Christian celebration. He went to all the Jewish feast, and most of the time he was the life of the party (see John 2, or John 7). He lived in deep community, made jokes, saw people well, and everytime he hung out with people on the outside it seemed like a party broke out. He was actually defined by the religious people of his day as a glutton and drunkard; not because he was those things but obviously because he didn’t abstain from them the way they did.

I think Jesus enjoyed life, because Jesus knew who God was.

Jesus’ story about the Prodigal son, I think gives us the best glimpse into the way Jesus approached the world. Sometimes people will break your heart. Sometimes things don’t turn out like you’d hoped. Sometimes the persons you love the most refuse to be in the same room with one another. But there is something beautiful going on in the background. There is a feast that is reconciling the world, there is music and there is dancing to the beat of the Gospel. Because even in the middle of tragedy, God is still good.

Think about even the cross for a moment. Jesus didn’t do that because of sheer duty. Hebrews tells us Jesus approached the Cross for the Joy set before him. Because He knew what God was doing through that. That in the moment of His own suffering He was the Father running out to meet the Prodigal. He was reconciling the world back to God. So Jesus approaches great suffering…with great joy.

Frederick Buechner once said “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” I think that’s exactly right. Christians are at their best when they have one foot in the suffering of this world, and one foot in their hope for the next. They suffer with the world today and celebrate with the world to come. They see the glimpses of pleasure that God has given us here not as vices to be avoided (though there are some misuses of pleasure) but as signposts that point to the promises of God. Promises that the world God made is good, and he will one day redeem all of it.

So we feast with our friends remembering that one day no one will ever be hungry again, and then mobilize toward making that a reality today.

We dance to the music of Creation, in hopes that one day everyone will be dancing with us.

Pleasure points to God. Jesus seemed to know that. The question is do we?

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  • http://twitter.com/alexwellss alex wells

    LOVE THIS!  so true! thank you!

  • Mike

    Great commentary, Jonathan. 

    My church is working its way through the “Not a Fan” study, and a few of the exercises encourage you to imagine Jesus interacting with you, speaking to you, etc.  I quickly discovered that my vision of Jesus steered toward a stiff, KJV speaking Savior and I was appalled with myself.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Mike, I’ve heard of that book, but I’ve not read it. Kyle Idleman is a great communicator. I’m glad that it’s blessing you. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Alex!

  • http://www.facebook.com/merlin.ray.talley Trey Talley

    It’s my hope that, one day, people will say, “Christians know how to party!”  Until then, my family celebrates with others every chance we get.  Last week was a great example.

    A friend of ours had been out of work for a while and praying for a job for just as long.  His need had been on the prayer list at church, we had personally prayed for a job together and our care group had been praying as well.  When he landed a job, my family invited their family over to the house that night and told them we’d provide dinner so we could celebrate this blessing together.  As we were eating, he mentioned that he almost decided not to come because he had already thanked God in prayer.  He felt that was the end of the story.  He also said he isn’t much of a “celebrating kind of guy”, even though I beg to differ since we’ve watched plenty of sports together.  You should see him when his team scores a touchdown or the other boxer goes down for the count!

    In between bites for the next few minutes we talked about parables Jesus told that involved celebrating good news together and the numerous times Jesus himself appeared at parties.  After the conversation moved on I thought back to the simple prayer my son offered before we stared eating, “God thank you that Jeremiah and Lily and baby Lydia and Joe and Rachel are here to have fun with us tonight.  In Jesus name, Amen.”  I think he said it pretty well. 

    I wonder if we spent even just the same amount of time celebrating together as we do commiserating together, if the world would start to see us as the life of the party here on earth.  That just might be a good thing.

  • http://twitter.com/pcunningham3 Philip Cunningham

    God series so far, Jonathan.

    Love that picture.  Are you watching the Ken Burns series on PBS this
    week?  The story of prohibition in our country is flooring me.  Pleasure is a good thing.  But it was certainly also a plague on our land as it was an idol for many for decades before & after prohibition.  Learning that history at least helps me understand better our tribe’s aversion to pleasure.

  • Cawilliams94

    Great post! My ‘bible study life’ was never more in tatters than when my kids were babies a few years ago. But God has never spoken to me more clearly than in those precious moments in the middle of a night, rocking a baby.

  • Carlee Lane

    This is really good. I think you’re exactly right about Jesus having joy in His heart as he went into the worst suffering. This is the distinction of happiness and joy at the most extreme. Joy is a choice everyday because it’s freely given by God. We have to work for our own happiness, and because it’s human-made and circumstancial, it’s fleeting. That’s why we have Joy in the midst of suffering, because we have Jesus- who demonstrated exactly this. Pretty cool when you think about it. By the way, this is just me rambling to myself. I just did it here in the comment section to let you know I read it, loved it, and had feedback while I was reading. Bravo, brother. Keep choosing joy!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Carlee! Great point about the difference between happiness and joy. Thanks for your comment, it was much more than “just rambling”!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Hey Philip, thanks! No I haven’t seen it, but it sounds really interesting. I wonder if PBS puts stuff on Hulu? 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks! Yeah, there’s a reason that Jesus used children as a visual aid for the Kingdom of God. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    That’s a great example Trey! One of the most helpful books I’ve read on this has been Pure Pleasure by Gary Thomas. There’s some great insights to dismantling this kind of approach to God and life…sounds like that is exactly what you are doing. Keep it up brother!

  • http://westcoastwitness.com/ Wes Woodell

    If drinking will keep those women from trying to kiss me, then bottoms up!

    -W

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Haha, you’re so funny Wes…are you at Catalyst this year? 

  • http://westcoastwitness.com/ Wes Woodell

    Didn’t go, but lots of my friends did. Heard it was good. How was Francis’ lesson?