The Problem of Pleasure

Starts with a radical avoidance of pain

We tend to try and avoid suffering at all costs. Unwanted pregnancies, children diagnosed in utero with downs syndrome are often aborted to prevent potential suffering, the sick and elderly with a terminal illness can demand euthanasia – a perceived right to end suffering and thus, their lives. Those who are depressed also want to end suffering, sometimes through suicide. Some take their own lives to prevent loved ones from what they see as a burden of care. My dad did that. He was depressed and saw his life as more of a burden than of any use anymore. He committed suicide in 2006, thinking he was not only relieving himself of suffering, but also of me from having to care for him in his old age. He was 72. He didn’t realize that by taking his own life, he left me with a worse kind of suffering — the kind that time doesn’t heal. I now have to suffer the rest of my life with the unknown: could I have done more to prevent this? Is my dad now in hell, or did he miraculously get saved in those final breaths of life? I don’t know, and I won’t know for sure until I pass on to the next life. The day he pulled that trigger, “triggered” a new normal for me – one that I live with everyday. All of this because he tried to avoid suffering.

My father’s worldview was a naturalist. He didn’t believe in life after death, and when he perceived his life as no longer useful, he ended it. (This is also similar to utilitarianism.) His choice to commit suicide was a very self-centered decision. Depression can do that. I’m sure that he didn’t want to hurt me directly, although in some of his medical notes he did speak of how he thought committing suicide would be hard on me. He must have thought I would get over it with time. As the saying goes, “Time heals.” But does it? Suicide is one of those things that never really passes with time — you just learn to live with it. 

My father’s naturalistic worldview sees suffering as a thing to be prevented at any cost. Many today hold that same view: to prevent suffering is a primary objective. Seeking pleasure is life’s goal. We are tempted by pleasure in every area of our lives. Advertising makes billions on it. Yet what if the avoidance of suffering ends up of costing your soul? What if by trying to prevent pain, you loose a little of what it means to be human?

From life experiences and my studies, suffering happens to us all no matter what your personal worldview is. An atheist sees suffering as the reason that God doesn’t exist since they cannot reconcile how God allows suffering if He’s omnibenevolent. The agnostic tends to throw up his hands, shrugs and says “let’s eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” The Buddhist tries to contemplate pain and suffering away, as if they simply meditate enough, they will reach enlightenment and end suffering. The Hindu blames suffering on your past life as bad karma. Yet the Christian, when yielded to God in the midst of suffering, can become more Christ-like.

What does it mean to be more “Christ-like”? When Jesus came to Earth, He not only reconciled us to God by His sacrifice on the cross, but He showed us how to be more human, the way we were meant to be before the sinful nature. Some say to sin is human, but I think to sin is a corruption of humanity, just like evil is a corruption of goodness. We were good before the Fall. We only became “bad” after that dreadful day, plunging humanity into a history of learning what it means to sin. Yet God knew we’d make that choice — there wasn’t a plan B. It’s all part of God’s plan A. 

Notice in the opening chapters of Genesis it says everything was good. It doesn’t say “perfect.” Could it be that part of God’s plan is processing us to a perfected state by allowing free will while working His plans out for a final outcome of a perfected existence? It is plausible for all who freely choose to surrender to God’s plan.

To those who love God, He works all things out for our own good (Romans 8:28). For those who reject His plan, and many do because of suffering that is misunderstood, all things don’t produce good in their lives. Matter of fact, it can do the very opposite. Two paths are clearly drawn on the road of suffering — how you respond to it can either make you bitter or better. For those who get bitter, a constant, unforgiving anger can be the devil’s foothold in their souls. But to those who allow God to work within them, suffering can produce better things.

Consider Joni Eareckson Tada, a woman who has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident at at 17. For over 40 years, her ministry has been helping people all over the world struggling with disabilities. Another inspirational person who has used suffering for good is Nicholas Vujicic, who founded the “Life Without Limbs” ministry. He is one of the most sought-after public speakers in the world! There are so many stories of people using their suffering for the benefit of others. Is there something we can learn from suffering?

It is interesting how hardship can oftentimes pull people together, wake us up from our complacency and make better things happen.

The Problem of Pleasure

When Eve saw that the fruit was “good,” she ate of it. It was pleasure that she sought, so much that she didn’t think of the consequences. That’s just like sin. It can feel good at first, but then it fades. Thinking we must need more, we get more. But more doesn’t cut it eventually. And we continue on the hamster wheel of seeking more. This is the problem of pleasure. 

Western cultures live in societies that are inundated with the pleasure—too much of it gets boring. Even Playboy Magazine has returned to scantily dressed models instead of full nudes because our culture is saturated in sex. We are bored with pleasure, so how about a little pain? There is a depravity of our souls when a movie like “50 Shades of Gray” actually has a trilogy! The depths we can go for momentary desire are pretty far down. And it is so momentary. 

We are impatient. Waiting for any thing anymore is seen as a waste of precious time because we have become so naturalized. Many don’t believe in life after death, and so we live for today. Yet when we keep our eyes on eternity, it’s incredible what we can endure with God’s help. But when we keep our eyes on the moment, our desires for immediate gratification, we can miss the ways God can work miracles into our lives.

“There is no bigger problem for Christians living in Western society than a short-sighted, this-world focused Christianity,” Professor Clay Jones, author of Why God Allows Evil.

Let’s say God met our needs miraculously every single day. For example, what if we never went hungry, despite the fact that we’re wandering in the middle of a desert? Every day God performs a bonafide miracle and mysteriously food shows up; day in, day out, out of nowhere. It’s just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—how they show up in the middle of this wasteland is a wonder—but there they are, daily… miracles right before your eyes. The first few days, you’re in amazement, gratefully eating the sandwiches. But after awhile, you find yourself getting tired of PB & Js. You complain about it, and then, miraculously, pizza shows up! Woo hooo! Nirvana has arrived! Are you happy now? Sure, for awhile. But even too much pizza gets old. Despite the fact the every single day a bonafide miracle is happening right before your eyes, you lose your gratitude, and you don’t see it as a miracle any longer. You just see what you don’t have.

If this story sounds familiar to you, it’s because this happened to the Israelites. After they were freed from slavery in Egypt, and they began traveling though the wilderness, everyday God provided manna for them. It was food that miraculously showed up in the middle of the desert. They got bored and God provided quail. They tired of that, too, and were not grateful. A miracle happened every single day and all they did was complain.

Even if God performed a daily miracle today, like manna from heaven, human character shows such provision eventually goes unappreciated. Too much of a good thing gets boring. 

Suffering Matters

The thing about suffering is that it’s going to happen, no matter what you believe. Of all the views you could have about it, the Christian faith believes suffering is the result of sin, but it’s not in vain when fully submitted to God. All other views of suffering pale in comparison. With Christ, our Emmanuel, ‘God is with us’ in the midst of suffering. If we yield to Him through prayer, He can mold us into His son’s image, and Jesus knows the depths of suffering.

There may be some use for it. Maybe we won’t see that use this side of heaven, but God promises to reward those who suffer for His namesake, or those who suffered like Job did, by never cursing God for it. Instead, suffering can bring God glory. Suffer well. 


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