Christianity, boredom, pleasure, Lewis & Piper.

Posted 24 Feb 2015

Surprised_couple  477x457px b&w.jpg
Surprised couple.

One of the things non-Christians claim is that Christianity is restrictive & boring. We “hear” ourselves (our flesh, in fact) say things like “prayer is boring”, & we think that the life choices of a Christian are dull, fun-less, characterised by austere, monk-like severity.

There is actually a lot of things that we Christians can do, many of them are the things we actually enjoying do too! There are not that many restrictions (given to us by God) on our behaviour, & in any case, ALL the restrictions are placed there by God out of love or us, & out of His desire NOT to see us hurt ourselves or other people, by any ill-conceived choices we might make. The 10 Commandments were God’s definitions for behaviour which would help Israel forge a new nation, based on the values of God, which would benefit everyone & harm no-one.
By defining “no-go” areas for us , God shows His love for us & His desire to keep us safe from physical, mental, spiritual harm. THAT’S how much God love us. A good parent would tell a child not to go near fire in case they got burned. It would be a negligent, uncaring parent who didn’t warn their ignorance child of the dangers of fire, & merely allowed them to find out for themselves how much harm they could cause themselves by playing with it! That kind of parental passivity is actually evil, since it doesn’t have the child’s best interests at heart.
So we see that God’s commandments & orders are actually for our benefit. Anyone who thinks that Christian is “too prescriptive” is failing to take this parental position into account.

“All things are permissible, but not everything is helpful”
Here’s a collection of versions of this scripture. Each one brings a slightly different aspect of the whole idea into view. Reading them all gives a much more complete understanding of most/all of the implications of what is being written to us.

1 Corinthians 10:23 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.

1 Corinthians 10:23 New International Version (NIV)
The Believer’s Freedom
23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

1 Corinthians 10:23 Living Bible (TLB)
23 You are certainly free to eat food offered to idols if you want to; it’s not against God’s laws to eat such meat, but that doesn’t mean that you should go ahead and do it. It may be perfectly legal, but it may not be best and helpful.

1 Corinthians 10:23 Amplified Bible (AMP)
23 All things are legitimate [permissible—and we are free to do anything we please], but not all things are helpful (expedient, profitable, and wholesome). All things are legitimate, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life].

1 Corinthians 10:23 The Message (MSG)
23-24 Looking at it one way, you could say, “Anything goes. Because of God’s immense generosity and grace, we don’t have to dissect and scrutinize every action to see if it will pass muster.” But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.

The sense in these scriptures is that, indeed, God’s grace has made all things permissible. But after that discovery, & in light of it, we can start to ask ourselves about each activity, action, thought or behaviour that we pursue. We can ask ourselves “Is this the absolute BEST thing I could be doing?” Yes, we can do anything, so the “playing field” is wide open, but it is wise to then ask “Even though I COULD do x,y,z, will that be the very BEST thing; will that bring me the most satisfaction; the most pleasure; the most security; the most comfort; etc.” Only if we REALLY scrutinise our current choices as honestly as we can, will we know whether what we are thinking & doing the very BEST things.

This can sound very close to selfishness – wondering about what is best for me! That is an honest starting point for us though. Whether we admit it to ourselves or try to cover that fact up, the truth is, we all start from the position “what is BEST for me”! That is not a surprise to God. He knows us THAT well!

After a while though (maybe 50 years of looking for MY best!) we begin to find that always seeking our own best is no longer enough. Now is the time for a real break though! If you look at the Message version of that scripture (see above), it ends with “But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.” Just getting by is actually what living for myself is all about. Although it is human nature (the flesh) to seek after my own benefit, that is really only “just getting by”. Eventually we tire of that, & wants something more significant in (& for) our lives. “Just getting by” is not enough.

After all those years of looking for what is BEST for ourselves (how ever long that is in each persons case) we will (if we are wise & determined enough!) discover that OUR OWN best is intricately related to someone else’s best, or everyone else’s best. What is best for me, ends up being BEST expressed as seeking the best for somebody else. That sounds altruistic & self-less: I suppose it is! But eventually we make the discovery that seeking the welfare of other people actually makes US feel better about ourselves in addition to helping “them” out – that’s a sort of very surprising by-product of doing what God says: seek first to love God with all we’ve got & at the same time expressing our love towards other people. That’s what Jesus said was the greatest commandment *1

All of the above can sound rather self-centred: our seeking after our own welfare & what is BEST for me.
I submit C. S. Lewis’s observation in his book “The Weight of Glory”:

“The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of Christian faith. Indeed if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires 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.
[Bold emphasis added – MY]

I agree with C. S. Lewis. I think I am far too easily pleased with the shallow things the world, the flesh & the Devil have to offer. And we should note that even these things are actually stolen from God, who created them in the first place. The world, the flesh & the Devil offer us NOTHING which was not originally create by God. All the world, the flesh & the Devil have done is exaggerate, twist & pervert the good gifts given us by God into harmful, toxic, abusive versions of the originally good things. For example sex was created by God & its proper place is within an exclusive, loving marriage between a man & a woman. The world, the flesh & the Devil have taken sex & twisted it making it lewd, degrading, perverse in any form that is NOT within an exclusive, loving marriage between a man & a woman. Our society is oversexed to an extreme now.
Another example: wine (alcohol) is the same; God created fermentation & alcohol, for our benefit. Moderation is key to proper enjoyment of it. But the world, the flesh & the Devil constantly tell us that we “need” (want, really!) more, more, MORE.
Technology is good, invented by us (creativity comes from God) but the world, the flesh & the Devil pervert it & corrupt it, so that we become enslaved to our own entertainment, via this technology (TV, mobile phones, iPad’s, etc)
Everything is permissible. Everything that has been created by God is good. Everything in moderation is good, but we don’t “do” moderation very well any more!

As C. S. Lewis points out “We are far too easily pleased.” This is quoted in John Piper’s book “Desiring God”, wherein he finds that to be true & that we may eventually discover that truly & diligently seeking our OWN good (if we are brave enough to actually do that!) will eventually lead us to God. That is inevitably so since we were made to commune with Him, & OUR greatest & highest level of pleasure & fulfilment actually comes from no other person than God Himself.

Before we come to that conclusion for ourselves we will inevitably go through bouts of selfish ambition & vain pleasure-seeking. Our real problem is if we stop there & DO NOT seek for greater & higher & more satisfying things for ourselves. Such periods of pleasure-seeking are merely staging points for our assault on the mount Everest of our own pleasure! And if (it is not automatic) we determine to pursue that assent, then we will discover that our own pleasure-seeking leads to God, & all the activities that bless Him & our neighbour as well.John 06 - Jesus walks on water PB 176x166px col

It’s an upside-down kingdom (of God) alright… & that often goes for us Christians as well!

Dare we dare ourselves to actually seek our own pleasure?

Bible References

Matthew 22:36-40
36 “Teacher, which kind of commandment is great and important (the principal kind) in the Law? [Some commandments are light—which are heavy?]”
37 And He [Jesus] replied to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (intellect).
38 This is the great (most important, principal) and first commandment.
39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as [you do] yourself.
40 These two commandments sum up and upon them depend all the Law and the Prophets.”


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