Posted by: Moses | May 5, 2008

BJU Oratory 2008

The Problem of Pleasure

I. Introduction: Everybody wants to be happy. But many times when I grew up it seemed to me that my choice wasn’t between being happy or sad, right or wrong, but a convoluted mixture of the two: a choice between doing what was right, or being happy for a little while. Well, my goal for today will be to convince you that even our fleeting joys, point toward, rather than oppose true Joy. Through some of the writings of C.S. Lewis, we will look at three different facets of Joy: Pleasure, Design, and Sin.

II. Pleasure: God has created a world where every pleasure in and of itself is fleeting.
a. King Solomon proves to himself in Ecclesiastes that pure hedonism doesn’t pay off. You end up holding nothing more than the wind.

b. Most of us are not that brazen though. Instead, we search for pleasure in a variety of diversions. Here’s a funny word for what happens to those diversions: cloy. Cloy describes the feeling you get when you’ve had one scoop of ice cream too many, and you vow never to eat ice cream again. Whatever pleasure you had from ice cream has been destroyed by over-use. It has cloyed.

C.S. Lewis’s favorite entertainments back before World War I were stories about the adventures of the Norse gods, “from these books again and again I received the stab of Joy. I did not yet notice that it was, very gradually, becoming rarer” (43) . All pleasures eventually cloy!

III. Design: So what is a Christian to do? Are we supposed to disavow joy? It seems like it’s hardwired into us. We seem to be designed to pursue joy! But what’s the point if it’s just going to vanish? Should we just fight the whole tendency? Turn Stoic or monastic?

a. Solomon saw that all the toil around him vanished away but then observed that all of it was still “from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy.”

So for the one who just pursues pleasure? Solomon sees only worthless wind. But for the one who enjoys creation as from the hand of his God: he sees wisdom, knowledge, and joy.

b. Lewis describes this concept in a letter to his friend Malcom, describing how God had taught him in a rather mundane way as he was standing in an old decrepit tool shed: “The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place… Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished…Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, ninety-odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.”

Those sunbeams that Lewis described are like everything God created, every good thing in the world. However, looking at a beautiful sunbeam is one thing, but it doesn’t get you very far. How much more beautiful is it to experience the sunbeam’s purpose and see the glory of God that is displayed in it?

IV. Sin: Well in that case shouldn’t I be able to do anything I want? Just make sure I treat it as from the hand of God? Trace the sunbeam to the sun; nothing should be sin right?

a. Well, what happens when we try to enjoy a pleasure outside of God’s design? The husk of pleasure remains, a husk that will just blow away, but you lose the kernel, the weight and worth of joy. The longing, the desire for something more, the glorification of God as the giver: all that dies. In another letter to his friend Malcom, C.S. Lewis asks the same question: ‘Aren’t there bad, unlawful pleasures?’ Certainly there are. But in calling them ‘bad pleasures’ I take it we are using a kind of shorthand. We mean ‘pleasures snatched by unlawful acts.’ It is the stealing of the apples that is bad, not the sweetness. That does not palliate the stealing. It makes it worse. There is sacrilege in the theft. We have abused a holy thing.

b. “I have tried since that moment, to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different…. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore. Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun. ” Lewis does something magnificent here; he starts where we did, asking if we are allowed to sin, whether we can snatch pleasures unlawfully, but he redirects us, teaching us to pursue joy in everything around us, within God’s design, for the glory of God!

V. Synthesis: Now let’s try to bring this together into a synthesis. Because the pleasures around us are fleeting, and yet we seem designed to enjoy things, and we can’t just indulge in anything under the sun. It seems that we were designed so that the pleasures around us, remind us to worship their giver, and point to their completion in the presence of God.

a. But also from this stems our frustration, we know that we should pursue some sort of joy, but all that we perceive around us is physical, temporal stuff. C.S. Lewis contends boldly in his sermon The Weight of Glory that “Our desires are not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased!”

VI. Paul describes this same Conclusion in his letter to the Corinthians speaking of a “weight of glory” beyond our comprehension. At the end of his book the Last Battle, Lewis describes a new country of Narnia. This new Narnia was different, but not in the sense that it wasn’t Narnia anymore; but that it was somehow being “more real” than the Narnia they had known. In a similar way, the pleasures and joy that we trace up to glory here on earth, someday will be complete. Someday it will be obvious that fleeting pleasures and our eternal joy don’t have to be at odds. In God’s plan they are intricately linked by worship. Cloy will be destroyed! We will be satiated and yet never bored! Some day, we will see our completely transcendent God face to face, and we will be transformed, knowing and enjoying Him!

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Responses

  1. This was good. Even the snap. I was impressed and blessed. And I was also very proud that that nerdy kid I met in high school who I grew up with and whose leadership I grew up under was standing before a crowd of thousands having won an honorable award. =) Good Job, Daniel. Thank you for the blessing.


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