“If it looks good, feels good, tastes good, or smells good, STAY AWAY FROM IT! It’s probably sinful and from the devil.” ~ something Jesus never said
You may never have heard it said exactly that way before, but if you grew up in church, you’re probably familiar with that type of thinking. It’s the thinking that says you can either a) love God and hate everything in the world, or b) enjoy the world in sinful defiance of God… but you can’t do both!
“If it feels good, it’s sinful. If it makes you happy, it’s not God’s will for your life. God wants you to have self-control and not to fulfill your desires with earthly things. If you love Jesus, then He should be enough to fulfill you and anything more is idolatrous and sinful.”
In his book, PURE PLEASURE, he addresses this idea and shows that God and pleasure are not as opposed to one another as we have been led to think. In fact, he makes the argument that learning to enjoy pleasure might just be the missing link that’s inhibiting your ability to grow spiritually.
How can that be? He opens the book with a story to illustrate his point.
Gary is out on a run on a sweltering hot, 95-degree day in the humidity-filled streets of Houston. Apparently he underestimated the heat and went out without a water bottle. It was just him and the hot streets of Houston. But how thirsty could he get during a short run?
Fifteen minutes later, he had his answer.
It was so hot that he said it felt like “chewing hot sand for ten minutes, spitting it out, and then letting someone blow the air of a hair dryer directly down your throat.” He describes his condition by saying “when a discarded, half-consumed bottle of Diet Coke lying in a ditch started to look inviting, I knew I was in trouble.”
What happened next is not for the faint of heart (or stomach). Finding himself in such dire straits of thirst, he sees a woman standing in her driveway with a rubber garden hose. He asks if it would be possible for him to get a quick drink from the hose. She obliges and Gary proceeded to drink “the most plastic-tasting, mineral-encrusted water you can imagine.”
That water had been boiling inside that rubber hose for days and was filled with more bacteria than a backwoods outhouse, but he still drank it. And not only did he drink it, HE YEARNED FOR IT! And if he was in the same situation again, he’d probably do the same thing.
What caused Gary – an intelligent man who knew the dangers of drinking nasty hose water on a 95 degree day – desire that water so greatly? How could he yearn for something so unfulfilling and so unsatisfying and so potentially harmful to him?
Simple. HE WAS THIRSTY! And when you’re thirsty, you’ll do just about anything for a drink – no matter what it may be.
“A thirsty man crawls in the desert toward water. When he discovers it’s only a mirage, what does he do? He drinks the sand.” Ancient Proverb
That’s the world we live in today. We are so thirsty that we’ll drink just about anything to try to quench that thirst. He writes:
“My physical condition mirrored what many people face – spiritually, relationally, and emotionally. And spiritually thirsty people will put a lot of poison in their mouths, just to stop the thirst.”
Another night out at the bar won’t solve our problems… but we’re just so lonely that we do it anyway.
Another hour online won’t bring us any closer to success… but we’re just so frustrated that we need something to distract us.
Another slice of cake won’t make us feel any better… but we’re just so discouraged that we need a break.
What’s the problem here? Is it that we lack self-control? Is that we’re not spiritual enough? Or we’re not praying enough? Or could it be that we’re so pleasure-starved that we’ll do just about anything to feel good?
I’ve always believed that the strongest defense is a good offense. Don’t try to avoid the bad; try to pursue the good. Look at marriage. Instead of trying to “not-cheat” on my wife, I want to build so much excitement and intimacy and pleasure in my marriage that cheating would be a step down, not a step up.
But if my marriage lacks excitement… and we’re low on intimacy… and I’m not experiencing pleasure with my wife, that’s when I’m most susceptible to fall into sin by seeking pleasure in the wrong way. That’s when I’m most susceptible to drinking sand because I’m thirsty.
So according to Gary Thomas (and I fully agree), we must learn to enjoy God-honoring and God-glorifying forms of pleasure in this world. Of course, that pleasure is not the primary purpose of our existence here (Gary makes that abundantly clear); but without it, we leave ourselves vulnerable to all kinds of deception and trickery.
We leave ourselves vulnerable to drinking sand because we’re just so thirsty.
“We cannot grow spiritually if we ignore our humanness, just as we cannot become fully human if we ignore spirituality.” Jean Vanier