Pleasure and holiness are not things we normally think about in the same category. Pleasure is about doing whatever you want. Holiness is about abstaining and restraining. Pleasure is about freedom from rules. Holiness is about burdensome adherence to the rules. Pleasure and holiness by definition, must be at odds.
However, I would suggest that these are mistaken understandings of pleasure and holiness that stem from a fundamentally and tragically warped view of God which has pervaded our society and even sometimes, the Church itself. It is the view that God is boring and He wants us to be boring too, that He delights in giving us rules just to keep us from enjoying all the things this world has to offer. To choose a life of holiness is to forego the life of pleasure. The truth I have come to realize and delight in is that this is fundamentally false. In fact, what Scripture teaches us about God is the exact opposite.
Consider the status of man before the Fall. Adam and Eve were brought to life and it was abundant life. They found themselves in a verdant garden, full of all kinds of delicious fruit to taste and beautiful plants and creatures to behold. Above all, they were given each other, companions to love and enjoy for life. And God had equipped them with all the sensory organs they needed to experience all the wonderful things the garden and each other had to offer.
The garden was literally laden with opportunities for pleasure. God called it good and He wanted Adam and Eve to experience just how good it really was and therefore, just how good He really was. Yes, there were rules.Well, really just one rule. Their pleasure was not without its boundaries. There was one tree, just one tree out of many from which they could not eat. What is interesting is that it is after they break this one rule, after they break with holiness, that their desire for pleasure becomes frustrated. Like Adam and Eve, we sin not because the pleasure we seek is itself is wrong, but because, having forsaken holiness, we seek it in perverse ways that God did not intend.
This shows us that God’s character and attitude towards man is not one of stinginess. God’s delight is not to withhold arbitrarily, but to give bountifully. It is also tells us that, contrary to popular belief, pleasure without bounds is not very pleasant in the end. This in turn shows that our desire for pleasure needs boundaries in orderly to be properly satisfied. Is it not logical that the One who created all the good things in this world would know the best way to experience them? In making this earth, God had a design and His design was perfect and benevolent.
Consider the role of a Father and child.The child has things he naturally and foolishly wants to do. The child has a God-given desire to experience things. Yet, he lacks the knowledge and wisdom to know how the best way to do so. Is it wrong or mean-spirited of the Father to set boundaries and laws for the child? Of course not. A Father does not give his child rules arbitrarily or to withhold good things from him. Rather, he gives the child rules to protect him from harm and to show him the best and most enjoyable way to live.
In the same way, God’s rules (holiness) for the ways in which to live and enjoy His creation (pleasure) are designed for our good. The wondrous truth is that God takes great pleasure in our pleasure. However, our pleasure is most fulfilled when lived within the parameters He has set for us. His holy laws are given to us in love. So we see that contrary to common thought, God is not against our pleasure. His call to holiness is to not a call to dullness. It is a call to life abundant.
It seems then that pleasure and holiness are not mutually exclusive as we might think, but are meant to be united. For when we experience pleasure through creation, we reflect the character of God who Himself has called it good and desires that we should too. And when we limit our pleasure within the bounds of holiness, we find that our pleasure is not lessened, but rather increased. We find that there is holiness in pleasure and pleasure in holiness.
This knowledge produces in me a renewed awe at the goodness of my God, a God who is overwhelmingly for our pleasure, is also good and wise, delighting to give us good things and to show us the best way to use them.
It also causes me to reflect that ultimately, all the pleasures God has given us here on this earth are meant to point us to Him. They are an overflow of His good character and a mere shadowing of the pleasures we find in Him. He has made known to me the path of life and in His presence, I am filled with joy (Psalm 16:11).
So as I eat, drink, and seek to live a holy and abundant life to the glory of God on this earth, I lift my eyes to Him, thanking Him for all the good things He loves to give and that one day, I will be with Him forever. I resolve to live a life of holiness knowing and rejoicing that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:60) and that this path of holiness is a path to pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).