PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Be Pedestaled in Triumph”-Robert Browning. By: Ron Woodrum
Paschal, in his masterpiece Penses, tried to explain why the world in his day, like ours, seems lost in their insatiable pursuit of pleasure at any cost. He said, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness proclaim but that there was once in man true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, thou none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words (can only be filled) by God Himself”. In other words, Pascal was saying that man, created in the image of God, can only be fulfilled when, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!”. Part of the wages of sin is to “fall short of the glory of God” but have this insatiable desire to know, love and experience Him. If we do not come back to Him, and experience Him fully, through the salvation provided in His Son Jesus Christ, we will spend our lives seeking Him in an infinite insatiable experience, only to be left empty, disappointed, disillusioned, frustrated. Even living lives of reckless abandon to all kinds of so-called pleasures and vices are affirmations that we are hungering for a God we were made to know, love and experience to His satisfying fullness. That is why Augustine said, “We are restless until we find our rest in you oh God!”. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Abolition of Man, made this very amazing point when he said, “Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility…but aren’t there bad, unlawful pleasures? (you ask). Certainly, there are. But in calling them ‘bad pleasures’ I take it we are using a kind of shorthand. We mean ‘pleasures snatched by unlawful acts’. It is the stealing of the apples that is bad, not the sweetness of the apples. The sweetness is still a beam from glory.” Lewis was saying enjoying pleasure and ecstasy, even in immoral ways, are in themselves an act of seeking to enjoy and experience God. We may experience the pleasure through immoral and illicit means, but it is not the sweetness that is bad, but the means. It still reflects the original desire of God to give us His “every good and perfect gift”. But the reason we fail to retain the enjoyment of these illicit experiences is because we were never intended to enjoy them outside of Him. They come, through proper means, from His Hand, with His blessing, and cause us then to react to the pleasure by enjoying Him. That is what Lewis went on to say-“The sweetness is still a beam from glory…I have tried since …to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks, but I meant something different…Gratitude exclaims very properly, ‘How god of God to give me this’. Adoration says, ‘what must be the quality of that Being (God) whose far-off and momentary blessings to me are like this! One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun…’ “
Therefore, the only real answer to overcoming addictions and destructive lifestyles is to see them for what they are. They are insatiable pursuits of trying to enjoy the pleasures God intends for us to find only in Him, and His Son Jesus. To try to experience those sweet pleasures from His hand, in illicit ways, will eventually prove to be “pleasure in sin for a season”-and lead to unhappiness. You and I cannot fill the infinite abyss with finite pleasures, even if they come from the hand of God, if they are experienced apart from putting Him first in our lives. That is why Emerson said, “Most men, (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation!” So, it is the enemy’s goal to lead us to seek to fulfill our God-given drives and desires independent of God. That is where most men and women in the world today are living. We have believed the lie-“you only go around once so you have to grab all the gusto you can”. But when we realize that we can overcome these destructive lifestyles, with the strength of God, we are freed to experience Him, and in doing so can experience pleasures just as sweet, but in a way that is a gift from Him, and is therefore fulfilling and satisfying. That is why Jesus said, in John 10:10 “I am come that you might have life…and have it more abundantly”. That is why Augustine said, “God permits temptation to sin, to transform it into greater good.” C.S. Lewis also hit the nail on the head, when he said, “Bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of evil impulse until we try to fight it!” It is a lie of the devil that God says no to us, because He wants to deprive us of pleasure and joy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Truth is pleasure and joy cannot be found, even in God’s gifts if they are sought to be enjoyed apart from Him. The Gifts are inseparably linked to the Giver! You can experience them without Him. He created us for them. But you can’t enjoy them without Him. That is the message of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon tried and did everything. No limits! No restraints! His conclusion? Live your life for pleasure, apart from putting God first, and you will be “chasing the wind” and concluding “vanity of vanities all is vanity!”.
Robert Browning has written a great poem about Temptation- He wrote:
Why comes temptation, but for man to meet
And master and make, crouch beneath his feet,
And so be pedestaled in triumph.
God wants us to resist the temptation to seek out all the pleasures this world offers if we are not walking intimately with Him. He wants us to come back to Him. Embrace Him. Love Him. We will find that at His right hand are “pleasures evermore” (Psalm 16:11). He says, “Take delight in Me and I will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). That is why the Jesus people, of the seventies, found Jesus even more satisfying than a life of illicit sex and drugs. He proved to be the one who satisfied most, when all those things, pursued without Jesus, were only destructive dead-end streets! That why they talked about getting the genuine high with Jesus. He never lets you down. A genuine and intimate relationship with God, through salvation in His son Jesus is the only answer to the destructive call and pull of this world. This is illustrated for us in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus was trying to get home to his family and was having a hard time doing it. Along the way he encountered the enchanting and dangerous Circe who, it was said, turned men into pigs. When Odysseus successfully avoided her attractions, she confided in him that a sterner test lay ahead-the Sirenes, lusty, luscious maidens whose island lay along the straits and whose songs lured travelers away from hearth and home. Circe advised Odysseus to have his men plug their ears with wax, and tie himself to the mast. Odysseus did have his men do just that! But he had an additional idea-his friend Orpheus, who was also an accomplished musician, was asked to sit on the deck and make a sweet melody that would turn Odysseus’ ears and heart away from the lure of the Sirens, as they passed by. In that way he stayed the course and passed the test. The best way to avoid being disappointed by the lure of the lesser is to fill our hearts with the lure of the greater-God, in His Son Jesus Christ. He will not only give us the pleasures we sought outside of Him, he will give us greater pleasures, that will satisfy our hearts. That is why Scripture implores us to “taste and see that the Lord is Good!” (Ps. 34:8).