A Biblical Theology of Pleasure

by Timothy Shorey
July 14, 2021

(This article was published by The Gospel Coalition on July 13, 2021)

God could have made all nutritious food taste like sawdust and given us an irresistible urge to eat it anyway. And while some allegedly nutritious food does taste like sawdust, the truth is most of it tastes good, at least to some people. While nutritious mud-burgers and healthy sawdust salads—devoured by an irresistible survival instinct—could have been our daily fare, they are not. This says something wonderful about the One who made us.

God invented taste buds, and 10 million different flavors to go with them. The incredible pleasure of taste bears witness both that God is and that he is good (Acts 14:17).

The incredible pleasure of taste bears witness both that God is and that he is good.

Creation is good because the Creator is (Gen. 1:29–31). While sin certainly has wreaked gloomy havoc upon the earth, there is more to the story. There is still an everyday explosion of kindness for those who have eyes and ears to sense it.

Pleasure Amid Suffering

Yes, God allows sorrows; but he does not delight in them (Lam. 3:31–33). In the mysteries of the fall and of God’s providence that rules and overrules, sorrows are meant for our good and needed for our growth. But he never lets there be only sorrow. Joy blends with grief. New mercies baptize each new day, even in the middle of a lamenting jeremiad (Lam. 3:22–24). By God’s grace it is never so dark that there is no light.

Nearly 40 years into ministry, I’m often weary. Yet while I’m often tired, my theology of pleasure, rooted as it is in the kindness of our heavenly Father, has replenished me daily for all these many years.

A faithful life requires a robust theology of pleasure to accompany a realistic theology of suffering and sacrifice. Those who serve well and suffer much need to know God created pleasure and wants them to enjoy it. Ajith Fernando, no stranger to sorrow, makes this stunning claim: “God has made us with the capacity for ecstasy, and he expects us to use it.”

Those who serve well and suffer much need to know God created pleasure and wants them to enjoy it.

I too am well-acquainted with sorrows and have learned that when I don’t “use” my capacity for ecstatic delight, I grow susceptible to the soul fatigue that sorrows can produce.

We need to remember: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). We must never forget: “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:1–5). We should firmly believe that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17), and “did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

We should join the psalmist’s praise: “You [LORD] cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Ps. 104:14–15).

A biblically rooted life embraces this truth: God blesses us to make us glad. Christianity affirms the goodness of God’s world, and encourages us to enjoy it (see also Eccles. 2:24–25; 3:1–13; 9:7–10aProv. 17:22Heb. 13:4).

Duty to Enjoy Life

C. S. Lewis is spot on when he says it is a “Christian duty” for a person “to be as happy as he can.” I wonder if Lewis was echoing Charles Simeon: “[T]here are but two lessons for Christians to learn: the one is to enjoy God, in everything; the other is to enjoy everything, in God.”

To be sure, a biblical theology of pleasure gives no license to enjoy pleasures outside the boundaries of God’s law, or to indulge excessive or harmful pleasures. It doesn’t permit us to flaunt pleasures in ways that tempt others to sin, or to hoard pleasures while neglecting the needy, or to love life’s gifts more than the Giver.

But with warnings duly noted, we nevertheless can honor our Creator by being as happy as we can in his everyday gifts.

A biblically rooted life embraces this truth: God blesses us to make us glad.

It is our happy duty to realize that when we drink cold water we are drinking from the wellspring of God’s heart; to see that when a baby smiles or a toddler toddles we are witnessing both joy-giving cuteness and the wonder of life.

I should feel the smile of heaven when I bite an apple, hug a friend, share my table, take a hot shower, smell a rose, see the stars, walk with my wife, write an article, cheer my team, listen to music, sleep like a baby, savor some sushi, and lick the frosting bowl clean.

Giver of Good Gifts

It is good that we pause over each gift and think, My heavenly Father made this and gave this to me. How kind and good he is! It is this kind of pleasure God commends. We are to enjoy everything in him.

Long ago, I put it like this. I am resolved to believe that pleasure is good, and to enjoy all the pleasure I can in this life; as God provides, within God’s boundaries, with gratitude for his bounty, with generosity toward those who have less, in celebration of my Father’s goodness, all the while loving the Giver more than the gift.

We need a doctrine of pleasure to endure in a broken world—to see the goodness of God through the fog of our tears. In a world where there is plenty for us to cry about, there is also plenty for us to enjoy. We need only realize that for the sake of body and spirit, God not only commends that enjoyment; he virtually commands it.


Submit a Comment