The Pursuit of Pleasure
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
9th October 2006
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“Just one final question for you Paul,” asked the interviewer, “What are your hobbies?”
The Apostle drew his breath. If there was one question he was bound to be asked in Australia this was it. Why did the Australian Christians always want to know about his hobbies? Was it because they thought he had none? Was it because it is only in hobbies that he could be an Australian to reach Australians? Was it because Australians thought Christians had none and so it was to prove he was human after all? Was it because it is in your hobbies that you reveal the true you? Was it because the most important thing about an Australian is his hobbies?
Well what would the Apostle have answered about his hobbies?
We have come once more to the end of the football season. For some this is a matter of relief and pleasure - the end of the brutal mindless expression of thuggery that has taken over public media. Soon the same people are likely to be complaining about the endless hours of TV time taken up by cricket. For others the end of the footy season is the excitement of the finals, though for some of us once again it is the disappointment that our team was not there.
What place does pleasure play in our lives, and what place should it play?
The Bible opposes asceticism. Those who deny the pleasures of food and drink and marriage do so by “the teachings of demons”. God has made all things for our enjoyment. They are to be received with thanksgiving. (1 Timothy 4:1-5). God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” ( I Timothy 6:17) Even our bodies can be glorious for the glory of young men is their strength. (Proverbs 20:29)
The Bible also talks of beauty and pleasure. It speaks of the pleasures in playing music or in the bride dressed for her wedding. Ecclesiastes, while decrying the vanity of pleasure seeking, still speaks of the pleasure that can be found in possessions and work. (e.g. chapter 2) Beauty is acknowledged in flowers and cities, in women and in God’s holiness.
God is also said to have pleasure. He finds pleasure in his creation and his creatures. He finds no pleasure in our sinfulness nor in our death, but desires that we should turn from sin and live. Like the joy of the woman who finds the lost coin or the shepherd who finds the lost sheep or the father whose prodigal returns - so God rejoices over one sinner who repents.
Yet the pursuit of pleasure is a sad mistake. “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich” Proverbs 21:17). The “lovers of pleasure” are roundly condemned in 2 Timothy 3:4 for they love pleasure instead of loving God. This could be sadly written on our hedonistic city’s tombstone.
Yet Paul was not ignorant of sport. He used boxing and athletics to illustrate his arguments. And Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because unlike John the Baptist he did not avoid the pleasures of the party. (Luke 6: 31-35)
It is in that contrast between John and Jesus that a key to a Christian’s attitude to pleasures is found. For as Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us, there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”. For God has made everything “beautiful in its time.”
John came with the message of repentance and judgement. It was a time for fasting. Jesus came bringing the salvation of the kingdom of God. It was a time to rejoice. So when he was asked why his disciples did not fast he likened himself to a bridegroom at his wedding. Weddings are not the time to fast but to feast.
So it is with us. There are times to down tools and rejoice in the good things God has given to us. Just as there are times to fall to prayer for the problems that we face in a fallen world. To make pleasure our aim instead of finding our pleasure in God is to make pleasure into our god. Such a god will always disappoint for he who pursues pleasure will ultimately never find it.
Pleasure is a by-product not an end point. Pleasure is what you have in other things or people. They must matter more to you than your own pleasure if you are to find true pleasure in them. He who pursues God will rejoice and be glad in all the good things God has given to him - from football to ballet from gherkins to steak. And the greatest pleasure that he will have is in God himself.