How Do We Explain Pleasure?

Joy 2 jumping 4

For centuries philosophers have debated “the problem of evil,” but an equally valid but rarely discussed question is “the problem of pleasure.” Where did that originate? Why is sex fun? Why do we find beauty, food, music, and humor enjoyable? How do we account for these delights?

English writer G. K. Chesterton felt Christianity gives the only plausible explanation. He saw pleasure as scattered remnants washed ashore from a shipwreck. We are the survivors of the sinking of a golden ship that went down before the beginning of the world. Here and there, relics of a glorious past are to be found— tokens of a time when pleasure flourished in lavish abundance. They are leftovers from Paradise.

These vestiges of beauty, joy, and sheer goodness on our scarred planet resonate deeply with our hearts. They are reminders that we were meant to live in a better world that once was. They are traces of the “enormous bliss” (as John Milton put it) of a garden named Eden.
– Jurgen Schulz

Evil’s greatest triumph may be its success in portraying religion as an enemy of pleasure when, in fact, religion accounts for its source: every good and enjoyable thing is the invention of a Creator who lavished gifts on the world.
– Philip Yancey

In a break with the mystical heritage of the church, Bonhoeffer maintained that Christianity involves not the negation of earthly desires but their celebration and sanctification. Sin is not the natural but the unnatural, not the human but the inhuman. Whereas in his earlier writings he portrayed the things on earth as temptations and snares leading us to forgetfulness of God, he now regarded them as welcome gifts from God, since they serve human preservation and happiness. He even claimed that God can be found in earthly bliss as well as in the church… sin is not only an affront to God but a putting down of humanity. Sin is in the last analysis inhumanity, and salvation is the realization of true humanity…
– Donald G. Bloesch

Pleasure is designed to raise our sense of God’s goodness, deepen our gratitude to him, and strengthen our hope of richer pleasures to come.
J. I. Packer‏

Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of our experience.
– C. S. Lewis

If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.
– Epictetus

When something good becomes a god, the pleasure it brings dies in the process.
– Kyle Idleman

The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.
– Bruce Marshall

If I am a son of God, nothing but God will satisfy my soul; no amount of comfort, no amount of ease, no amount of pleasure, will give me peace or rest. If I had the full cup of all the world’s joys held up to me, and could drain it to the dregs, I should still remain thirsty if I had not God.
– G. A. Studdert Kennedy

Too Easily Pleased

caribbean_1x1Indeed, 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.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.

– C. S. Lewis,
The Weight of Glory

Fantasies fail to satisfy hearts made for God

Disappointment-300x225Built into life is a strong vein of irony for which we should be grateful to our Creator. It helps us find our way through the fantasy that encompasses us to the reality of our existence. God has mercifully made the fantasies—the pursuit of power, of sensual satisfaction, of money, learning, of celebrity, of happiness—so preposterously unrewarding that we are forced to turn to him for help and for mercy. We seek wealth and find we’ve accumulated worthless pieces of paper. We seek security and find we’ve acquired the means to blow ourselves and our little earth to smithereens. We seek carnal indulgence only to find ourselves involved in the prevailing erotomania. Looking for freedom, we infallibly fall into the servitude of self-gratification or, collectively, of a Gulag Archipelago.

–Malcolm Muggeridge,
Seeing Through the Eye: Muggeridge on Faith

Who Invented Pleasure?

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 7.30.57 PM

For centuries philosophers have debated “the problem of evil,” but an equally valid but rarely discussed question is “the problem of pleasure.” Where did that originate? Why is sex fun? Why do we find beauty, food, music, and humor enjoyable? How do we account for these delights?

Chesterton felt Christianity gives the only plausible explanation. He saw pleasure as scattered remnants washed ashore from a shipwreck. We are the survivors of the sinking of a golden ship that went down at the beginnings of human history. Here and there, relics of a glorious past are to be found—tokens of a time when pleasure flourished in lavish abundance. They are leftovers from Paradise.

These vestiges of beauty, joy, and sheer goodness on our scarred planet resonate deeply with our hearts. They are reminders that we were meant to live in a better world that once was, in the “enormous bliss” (as John Milton put it) of a garden named Eden.

These delights stir longings to find more. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, they direct us to the Lavisher of these good gifts. They point us to the Author and Finisher of joy, who conferred upon us these pledges of His goodness and love.

-J. O. Schulz

Artist: Christian Riese Lassen

 

Why is sex fun?

P. Yancey 2Why is sex fun? Reproduction surely does not require pleasure: some animals simply split in half to reproduce, and even humans use methods of artificial insemination that involve no pleasure. Why is eating enjoyable? Plants and lower animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds. Why are there colors? Some people get along fine without the ability to detect color. Why complicate vision for the rest of us?

It struck me, after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never even seen a book on “the problem of pleasure.” Nor have I met a philosopher who goes around shaking his or her head in perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure. Yet it looms as a huge question: the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians. On the issue of pleasure, Christians can breathe easier. A good and loving God would naturally want his creatures to experience delight, joy, and personal fulfillment. Christians start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness? . . .

Where does pleasure come from? After searching alternatives, Chesterton settled on Christianity as the only reasonable explanation for its existence in the world. Moments of pleasure are the remnants washed ashore from a shipwreck, bits of Paradise extended through time. We must hold these relics lightly, and use them with gratitude and restraint, never seizing them as entitlements.

–Philip Yancey
Soul Survivor