In Judith Grisel’s book Never Enough, she wrote about pursuing a PhD in neuroscience so that she could understand the relationship between the human brain and addictive behaviors. And here’s what she found: We don’t become addicts because our brains are broken, but because they are working properly. We are designed to always want more.
Think about that. Your brain will get used to the most intense pleasures only to crave more. See what I’m saying?
The fundamental issue isn’t whether pleasure is good or bad; it’s that there is something deep inside of you that pleasure can never fill. From lines of cocaine to the finish lines of marathons, it can all end up being the same pursuit. The destination is always out of reach.
You know this is true. Don’t you feel a deep longing for something more? When you’re soaring on the highest pleasures—don’t you wish they’d never end?
But what if there’s more to it than that? What if our unending desire isn’t misplaced, but actually points to a deeper reality about who we really are, about who you really are? What if it’s saying, You are made for eternity?
Hold up, though. Maybe you think pleasure and God are like oil and water. You’ve been told to feel guilty about those longings and desires. You’ve been told God wants you to draw a line in the sand between the good and bad kinds of pleasure. Fam, I think you need to come to Jesus.
When you do, here’s what you’ll find: Jesus’ first miracle takes place at a wedding. Look it up; it’s in the Gospel of John. He turns the equivalent of hot dog water into Napa Valley’s finest. And what’s the last thing Jesus does with His disciples before He lays down His life? He doesn’t feed them a prison meal of bread and water. Nah. He has a Passover Feast with his friends. Lots of wine there. And what does He say is waiting for us when this life is done? Another feast! One that won’t end! So, you can think what you want about pleasure and God not mixing; just don’t say it comes from the Bible.
God gave you your eternal appetite. You have been made to experience pleasure in all its fullness. But like so many things, you can turn that gift into a curse if you put it to the wrong purpose. Pleasure isn’t supposed to make you grasp ever more tightly to your passing life. It is meant to loosen your grip on life and point you to God, to make you long for the eternal pleasures of heaven, which will one day make their way to earth (Revelation 21). And even though pleasure can help alleviate life’s pain, that’s not its true purpose. The purpose of pleasure is to be a pathway to God, the Giver of that pleasure.
So, where do you go now? Don’t cast your eyes down in despair. Set your sights higher.
My friend Nancy taught me this. She’s an old lady who used to go to our church. One day she asked me to go for a walk. I hate the outside, but I love Nancy, so I obliged. As we were walking and I was talking, she interrupted me with the firmness and politeness that only older ladies can. John, she said, look at those trees.
I didn’t see what she saw. I mean, I saw trees—but what’s the big deal?
She kept going. Isn’t God so good that He gave us those colors to look at?
We were looking in the same place, but I didn’t see half of what she saw. There was pleasure there that I couldn’t enjoy because my eyes weren’t as prepared to appreciate it. Nancy traced every pleasure to its Giver. Her enjoyment of the colors led her to the enjoyment of God. Her eternal palate got a taste of eternal pleasure, and she was satisfied. If pleasure becomes your end, there’s never enough. But if you see it as a pathway, you’ll find there’s more of it than you could possibly enjoy in a thousand lifetimes.
Try this one on for size. Next time you sit down for a meal, forgo the prayer at the beginning of the meal and save it for the end. Why? So you can say “thank You” for the food you have enjoyed. It’ll remind you, as it reminds us, that pleasure is a gift. God didn’t have to make this food taste so good. He didn’t have to give us the senses to appreciate it. But the gift needs to lead us to the Giver. And that’s the purpose of pleasure.
Give me eyes to see what folks like Nancy see so well. Expand my palate so I can better appreciate all You’ve given me to enjoy. But don’t let me get so fixated on these pleasures that I lose sight of You. Make them transparent. Help me look through them to gain a clearer vision of You—the One who turns hot dog water to wine, the Giver of pleasures that will never end.
Cover image by Clay Banks.
Adapted from We Go On: Finding Purpose in All of Life’s Sorrows and Joys by John Onwuchekwa. Copyright ©2022 by John Onwuchekwa. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com