Isn’t it interesting that in our culture we use phrases like “Devilishly delicious” and “Sinful selections” and “It’s so good, it’s sinful” to describe desserts? Now while one should not be overly puritanical or pareidolic about such things I think it worth reflecting on how our culture innately attaches pleasure with transgression even in the seeming innocence of food consumption. Even more, I think it worth reflecting on how such a surface-level assumption works its way out practically in how we see our Christianity through the everyday mundanities and pleasures of life. Even here many times we can be susceptible to ingesting the deceits of the devils.
HOW THE DEVILS DELIGHTFULLY TWIST OUR PLEASURES
As I have said many times the Adversary’s slithering subtilty is to be found not in the grand unabashed clanging sins of rebellion but in the steady trickles of nodding heads and folded hands (Proverbs 24:33). He works primarily in the good things of life. He and his minions come even amid the desserts (pleasures) of our lives. As Screwtape, the archdemon of temptation said to his underling Wormwood,
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it's better style. To get the man's soul and give him nothing in return-that is what really gladdens our Father's [Satan’s] heart.
From the sulfuric breath of Screwtape, C.S. Lewis enlightens us to Satan’s subtle methods of destroying our souls through the pleasures of life. There is richness here worth mining and chewing on.
We are ingrained to believe that the pleasures of life are antithetical to God’s intended order. We may not admit it but many of us, even the well to do polished up and churchy types, believe God does not want us to have fun, or better yet that we must pick between fun and God. But this is a damnable lie that the devils delight in. They and their Father of Lies want us to believe that God desires us to see life through prison bars; that He is a Cosmic Killjoy.
But we must remember a deep theological truth here: Satan is a pervert. He comes forth and distorts the gifts of God’s created order. He cannot manufacture anything; he can only retrofit and disassemble. He is a perfect example of unskilled labor. As Frodo said to Sam in The Lord of the Rings:
“The Shadow that bred [the orcs] can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. [It didn’t give] life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them...
The Shadow, twists, turns and overthrows everything he can get his hands on. He corrupts it and converts it into a curved-in husk of its true creative intention. Pleasure is just another example of this.
GOD MADE US TO EXPERIENCE, RECEIVE, AND ENJOY PLEASURE
Many times, we think (consciously or subconsciously) that when we become Christian’s pleasure takes a back seat to life. We concentrate overwhelmingly upon having to “give up” our life to “have God.” And so, we solemnly exempt ourselves from all forms of joy. With washed faces and horse-shoed mouths, we ascend to the heights of righteous separateness. Now while I do not want to be misunderstood as teaching antinomianism I do think we push our spirituality into areas of excessive boxed rigidity for the cause of caricatured holiness when such is contrary to the ethics of the Gospel.
Putting this another way, when we come to Christ, it is much less about losing than about gaining. It is much less about giving up than it is about giving in. It is not us exchanging pleasure for somberness, rather it is us exchanging lesser loves for the Greatest Love; it is us finding more pleasure in Him than in other things; it is us having our desires revitalized to their original Edenic purposes. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the great Puritan theologian and revivalist, said it this way,
True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures.
Notice he says “the things of God” become the “cream of all our pleasures” – this means there are other pleasures that are amiable and enjoyable, but God is the true flavor in all of them and above all of them.
We are made to experience joy and pleasure in life and for this to be ultimately displayed through God Himself. We are made to gain and develop knowledge, to draft inventions, to marry, to build families, to enjoy sex, to construct cities, to create music and art, to relish food and drink, to partake in fellowship and laughter, and so much more. These are all beautiful and good. These are the desserts of life. These are all intended by God. The author of Ecclesiastes said,
10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-13 (ESV)
God gifted the pleasures of life to His creatures that we might enjoy life, each other, and through this Himself ultimately.
But be mindful of the subtle capabilities of the sweets of life to be reassembled by your Adversary for your demise. Here the words of Lewis resound in our ears.
The Adversary takes these good gifts of pleasure and tantalizes our flesh with them until they become a pantheon of parading idols in our lives. We subtly move from making money to the money slowly beginning to remake us. We move from enjoying entertainment to being chained to excessive diversion. We move from enjoying sex to becoming feverishly erotic. We shift from enjoying food and drink to gluttonous insobriety. We move from the joys of laughter and fellowship to the obsession for perpetual amusement and festivity. In all these things the good pleasures, the sweet things of life, come undone through their unintended ends. Through all these examples wisdom, intimacy, reason, peace, joy, and true pleasure is lost and dried up on the altars of our obsession, excess, and passivity.
The desserts of life can, when consumed excessively and thoughtlessly, thicken our spiritual blood. They can, with excessive consumption and a little discipline, make us spiritually flabby and lethargic with bland pallets. We can get to a point that we want less and less of God because more and more of our time, energy, conversations, thoughts, and choices are taken up with an abundance of these little sweets – family events, ballgames, videogames, movies, books, exercising, cookouts...etc. Inevitably we feel as if, without saying or thinking it, that we must choose between these joys versus God. But this is a lie.
SEEING THE PLEASURES OF LIFE THROUGH THE ULTIMATE PLEASURE
We must remind ourselves that all the pleasures of life are good, joyous, and from God. God is the source of all good things for He is Goodness itself. His nature is the paradigm of what true goodness is and therefore the paradigm of true Pleasure. Our problem then is not that we have pleasures in life, it is that we need a renewed understanding of what these pleasures can do and cannot do and how they interrelate to the nature and person and purposes of God Himself. As Dallas Willard (1935-2013) said,
“We dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence upon it or living for it.”
Practically speaking this means we can and should seek laughter, joking, and hanging out with friends. We should and can enjoy cookouts and game-nights with relatives and colleagues. We should and can enjoy movies and video-games and board-games. We should and can enjoy drink and food and abundance of joking. We should and can enjoy sexual union and intimacy with our husbands and wives. All of these are beautiful, in their time and way. But we should also remember that each of them only mirrors something far more transcendent and beautiful: God Himself. In short, these pleasures are calling us to the real pleasure, the seed, that lies behind or within them. The laughs, the joys, the peace, the camaraderie, the union we feel and experience in these moments are the winds of the aroma of Eternity. Behind them is a call to the Ultimate comrade, lover, and peacemaker who wants us to want Him. He is calling, even through these sweet things. We do a disservice to Him and ourselves when we shut out that call and desire not to experience its truth. In turn, we rip the root system away from what all these pleasures are nurtured by.
When we begin choosing between “these pleasures” and “time with God” then we have created a war where none should be. These pleasures can only satiate certain human longings, achieve certain cravings, but the truest parts of who we are can only find rest in the Infinite One who calls us to find peace in Him. It is there, in that time with Him, the sweetness of all sweets overcomes us and we find ourselves. When we deny ourselves such a time, we miss the greatest pleasure of all.
I leave you with the words of Dane Ortlund (1978-present) to help summarize this post,
“The Christian life is not an ascetic life, but a life in which every received pleasure draws the mind up to supreme Pleasure, Christ himself, in his resplendent beauty…. Jesus Christ gives meaning to all priorities, not only heading the list [of our packed schedules] but coloring every one with new and exciting meaning. To become a Christian is to make all of life sacramental…. True joy derived not from God and job, family, sex, friends, food, rest, driving, buying a home, reading a book, drinking coffee—but from God in these things…. Every taste of beauty in this world, from the roar of the waterfalls to the chatter of birds to the richness of true friendship to the ecstasy of sexual experience, is a drop from the ocean of divine beauty. Every pleasure is an arrow pointing back to him.”
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 210
 The word “pervert” is literally from the Latin pervertere "overthrow, overturn," figuratively "to corrupt, subvert, abuse," literally "turn the wrong way, turn about," from per "away" (see per) + vertere "to turn, turn back, be turned; convert, transform, translate; be changed" https://www.etymonline.com/word/pervert.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King in The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004), pg. 914
 Antinomianism, (Greek anti, “against”; nomos, “law”), is a theological belief that says we are so freed by the grace of God that we no longer have to obey moral codes, laws, or rules. Essentially is the adage, “I can live like the devil and God accepts me” mentality or the “Greasy Grace” doctrine.
 We can also swing the pendulum to the side of moral relativism and “Everything-goes-ism.” But it is not the purpose of this post to deal with this. Another time!
 Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (WJE Online Vol. 2), Ed. Paul Ramsey http://edwards.yale.edu/
 Consider these Bible passages on all these subjects: Genesis 1:26-28; Exodus 35:35; Proverbs 5; Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Hebrews 13:4. Literally read all the Book of Ecclesiastes. Consider some of these specific passages: Ecclesiastes 2:24, 3:12-13, 9:9-10, and 11:9
 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1998), pg. 180
 Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on The Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), pg. 77-78
Michael H. Erskine is a high school Social Studies Teacher, has an M.A. in History & School Administration, serves as a Bible teacher in the local church, and is happily married to his beautiful wife Amanda.