Carpe diem: enjoying life is part of God’s purpose for you.
At the end of the creation of the universe, God looked at the finished product and the author of Genesis commented, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” The birds and animals, the plants, the people, everything that exists anywhere: all good.
The fact that grace abounds where sin abounds, Paul argued, did not mean that we should therefore sin as much as possible in order to maximize the grace that God would grant us. Likewise, although God is near us when we suffer, that doesn’t mean we should maximize our suffering in order to get God closer to us. The point is that in our darkest moments, when we would be tempted to imagine God is not there, we are reassured that indeed he is present. Only a loon would imagine that suffering is a desired goal.
The history of religion is riddled with people who think that way though. They withdraw from “the world” meaning they go and live in a cloistered setting, embrace poverty, wear ugly clothes that don’t fit well and are uncomfortable. Traipsing about barefoot in snow is a welcome opportunity. Sleeping as little as possible, and then only on cold hard ground without a blanket, while eating as little as possible and then only bland and “simple” fare is seen as the path to truth spirituality, the best way to approach nearness or even oneness with God.
As Penn and Teller might say in the eponymous Showtime series, “Bullshit.”
God created us to be like we are: to sweat, to get tired, to make love, to touch and feel, to laugh and cry. We rejoice in what we feel, what we taste, what we see, what we touch. The world around us is full of pleasures, of satisfactions, of enjoyment, and it is there for the purpose of being enjoyed.
There is no virtue in denying our senses, in pretending that we don’t feel, or in seeking discomfort instead of pleasure. We are not closer to God, we are not more spiritual, if we refrain from anything that might be fun. Why is the sun warm, the air filled with the smell of sweet flowers, the grass green, the water wet? Why is there pizza, and bread and fruit? Do we cringe from pain? Why does the noxious, the painful, the ugly and the uncomfortable make us flinch away? Why are we attracted to the pleasant, the sweet, the warm, the loving, the happy? Jesus was human like that. He loved life; he felt life. He experienced the full range of emotions. And you know what? We human beings were created in God’s image; we’re just like him, the lot of us. So feeling, being alive—these were not new experiences to Jesus; God knew those feelings; God has those feelings. Feelings, emotions—they’re not an evil thing. They simply are, like the blue in the sky, or the wet in water.
It is funny that we choose to believe the lie that the serpent gave Adam and Eve. What lie is that? “He doesn’t want you to have this fruit, because he knows that when you take it you’ll be just like him. So obviously God is holding out. He’s keeping something good from you! He doesn’t have your best interests in mind. Instead, he wants you to be unhappy. In fact, he never wants you to be joyful and peaceful ever again.”
How much of Christianity is built on this same squirrelly attitude? After all, how often do we read with approval, or view with approval, people who gave up everything so they could do God’s work or be closer to God? They sold everything they owned, they lived in a cave, their clothes were burlap and the slept on cold hard dirt. On account of that, we know they were especially holy and close to God, because the way to get close to God is to abandon anything that might be fun. If you’re smiling and eating and drinking, then you can’t possibly be close to God. It’s only in fasting and self-denial and misery and poverty that God can be found.
Yeah, right. And so Jesus himself was criticized by the Pharisees and other religious sorts because his disciples didn’t fast, and because he frequented parties where he ate good food and drank good drink (Matthew 9:14 and 11:19).
Why is it so hard to understand that God’s love is not dependent on how often we deny ourselves ice cream?