One of the C.S. Lewis’ most famous points came on the heels of his talking about our pleasures. Which is something that Lewis knew something about. J.R.R. Tolkien once made fun of Lewis for what he chose to give up for Lent. He drank 3 ale’s a day at the local tavern. For Lent, C.S. Lewis decided to just drink two.*
So he’s quite the spiritual giant.
Now, Lewis’ obviously knew heartbreak and pain as well. But he also had a deep appreciation for pleasure, and it’s purposes in the world. Because there is a reason in God’s good world that things are created to bring pleasure, and we are created to enjoy certain things. But C.S. Lewis’ famous point about pleasure is that nothing truly satisfies. Every good thing leaves us hoping for more of it, or deeper experience of it. And this, Lewis says, is one of the great lessons of pleasure. That moment of unsatisfaction is actually a God-given gift pointing to something else. Something deeper.
When we approach pleasure as an end we often find ourselves battling addictions or depression or despair. Because no thing and no person can give what most of us are actually looking for. Jurgen Moltmann comes at this from another angle:
“Why have people in our modern world become so perverted? Because both consciously and unconsciously they are dominated by the fear of death. Their greed for life is really their fear of death: and the fear of death finds expression in an unbridled hunger for power. “You only live once” we are told “you might miss out on something” this hunger for pleasure for possessions for power the thirst for recognition through success and admiration-that is the perversion of modern men and women. That is their godlessness. “
The fear of death is really behind their greed for life.
But for Jesus followers, we believe that God created both us, and the very things that give us pleasure. We believe that God wired up the world in such a way as to frustrate us from time to time because as much as we’d like them to fully satisfy us, they cannot. They are sign post that point to another reality.
Henry Drummond was a nineteenth century writer who was fascinated with the Christian Scriptures view of Heaven. He was intrigued by what Jesus followers believe about life after death. Here’s what Drummond wrote:
“No other religion which has a Heaven ever had a Heaven like this. The Greek, if he looked forward at all, awaited the Elysian Fields; the Eastern sought Nirvana. All other Heavens have been Gardens, Dreamlands-passivities more or less aimless. Even to the majority among ourselves Heaven is a siesta and not a City…The Heaven of Christianity is different from all other Heaven, because the religion of Christianity is different than all other religions. Christianity is the religion of Cities. It moves among real things. Its sphere is the street, the market-place, the working-life of the world.
If Heaven were a siesta, religion might be conceived of as a reverie. If the future life were to be mainly spent in a Temple, the present life might be mainly spent in Church. But if Heaven be a City, the life of those who are going there must be a real life. The person who would enter John’s Heaven…must be a real person.”
This is the point, and why I quoted Drummond so long, Eschatology (or what you think happens in the age to come) shapes what we do and how we live now. If you think that the next thing God is doing is going to be some cloudy, other-worldly thing, than you will most certainly become the kind of person who tries to avoid things that are here, in this world. But the Jewish Christian story is saying something to us, God created the world and said it was good, yes it’s broken, yes it’s fallen. But it’s still good. And so the things that are in it, aren’t inherently bad, they can be used that way, but they can also be used to point toward God’s ultimate dream for the world.
Which brings us back to C.S. Lewis’ famous point. The reason pleasure is both so intoxicating and so frustrating is because it cannot truly satisfy, but it points us to the day when those desires will be fully and completely fulfilled. Because Augustine is right that “Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Him.” Every gift points us back to the giver. Every pleasure is a signpost that points to the City of God.
The City of Satisfaction.
*This is the final blog in this series about Pleasure, if you are interested in any of this, I found Gary Thomas’ great book Pure Pleasure very helpful.