On Pleasure and Delight

“Why Lord, why do I delight in sin?” As this thought crossed my mind, I realized that it wasn’t true. Sin does not delight me. It can’t. It pleases me. It titillates me. It massages my heart and caresses it, but it always leaves me empty and wanting more. The grandiose promises of pleasure are never fulfilled, but I believe them every time they are whispered in my ear. This cannot be called delight, for delight is something much deeper and more abiding. Delights linger in your mouth long after the meal has been eaten. True delight puts down deep roots in one’s soul and refuses to leave. No, I do not delight in sin. To say so would be to misunderstand the nature of pleasures and delights.

Delight is the promise of the joy of God’s own being. Delight therefore orients us beyond ourselves and anchors us in the one for whom we were made. In this we see the humility of delight; it admits its own insufficiency and seeks its end outside of itself. When the creature is delighted, this delight is the spontaneous vibration of our finite nature being in communion with the One in whom, through whom, and to whom all things are. Because delight refuses to arrogate to itself more than is natural, its anchor rests in the Eternal One and thus is made unshakeable.

Pleasure can be understood as the promise of delight without God. It therefore can only be oriented inward, for it must claim absolute sufficiency for itself. It casts off the will of its Creator and Lover and instead asserts its own path. However, having unmoored itself and lifted anchor from God who provides true peace and stability, the soul which seeks pleasure finds itself sailing in treacherous waters and assailed by crashing waves. Being in imminent danger of becoming completely swamped, pleasure must begin to snatch each moment from the jaws of death, being able only to seek the next moment to prolong itself. Therefore, we see that pleasure can never have as its final destination true delight, but only its own propagation. The telos of pleasure can only be itself. It exists as an unending cycle which admits of no satisfaction. Though pleasure exists only for its own propagation, its engine is nonetheless driven by the continual pursuit of true delight. The creature’s heart is insatiable for this true delight, and so pleasure propagates itself by dangling this carrot in front of the rebellious creature’s eyes. As this prize shimmers in the light, the creature is seduced into chasing the ever-receding horizon of delight.

I see this as one of the deep tragedies of modern life. Though the worship of pleasure has marked human beings from the moment of our Fall, never has human society so radically shaped its own form of life and practice around continually tantalizing ourselves with pleasure. Our lives are designed in order to constantly be enticing us with the newest thing or fomenting in us new needs and cravings. In fact, we have been so conditioned to crave pleasure that I believe our ‘craving capacity’ has expanded. Much like how through exercise one’s lung capacity may be expanded, so too as we are continually confronted with more objects and pleasures which we may desire our desires will continue to expand like a balloon and thereby become stretched and bloated. When I am inundated by ads on the television, then all day I’m bombarded with images of celebrities, and then I’m assaulted with myriads of internet ads as I scroll through my Facebook feed before I go to bed, infinite varieties of pleasures are being offered to me and I find myself drowning in desires I didn’t even know I had. Sure, capitalism harnesses the fallen nature of humans who seek their own advantage above all else, but doesn’t such a system create an environment which is hostile to virtue? Why are our lives constructed in such a way that flourishing can only exist on the back of arousing in others insatiable desires in order to profit off them? How is it possible to pursue virtue when the form of one’s life is determined and shaped by individuals whose livelihoods are dependent on one’s continuing to desire pleasures which cannot satisfy? The more you desire, the more they gain. The less satisfied you are, the more they profit. We have trapped ourselves in a system which rewards dissatisfaction. We prize the art of creating desires and then craftily leaving them unfulfilled. We have collectively agreed that the best life to live is one where we as a community string ourselves along ever chasing after the nearest pleasure.

This leaves me grieved and I don’t have answers. In the Scriptures I see Jesus bringing healing, lasting joy, and abundant life. But we have chosen for ourselves a simulacrum of this true delight and this is why we find ourselves empty, always longing for more. Our hearts have grown distended and painful through their ravenous desiring. Instead of experiencing last healing we are like people who continually scrape off our scabs once they’ve begun to congeal so we simply bleeding anew and become cankerous. The gods of this world are those who can design the most effective ad campaigns and implant insatiable desires in our hearts. If we were ever truly satisfied, the money would stop flowing, so we must be left in a continual state of craving. We have forgotten how to enjoy something because we have been conditioned only to consume. When we consume, we gobble the thing up and it disappears, leaving only an empty hole where it once was. But Jesus describes Himself as Living Water. This Living Water continually replenishes itself and overflows, never leaving us lacking but in fact welling up to an overabundance. God, have mercy on us. Give us the true and last delight which only comes from your hand and can only be found in your perfect Son.

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