Our lives are filled with symbols. They’re printed on billboards and designed into logos, sewn onto clothing and emblazoned on monitors. Even without words, these symbols communicate their messages loud and clear. The smiling box on your doorstep promises instant gratification from Amazon. A crowned mermaid on a cup of coffee sings the seductive call of a Starbucks siren. Two golden arches towering over the interstate guarantee a full belly at the next exit.
Most symbols in the advertising world are meant to bring pleasure to our lives; they remind us of what we’re missing, what we should be longing for, what we cannot live without. And because they’re so good at what they do, we comply. We purchase. We imbibe. We fill our bellies with the things of this world.
And you know what? That’s not always bad. Finding pleasure in life isn’t always a sin.
*Gasp* What did she just say?
I know, … I know, … I probably have some explaining to do. Hold on, this will only take a minute.
If you’re like me, you’ve cautioned your children against instant gratification. You’ve told them that happiness isn’t the primary goal in life and that plenty of hardships await them in the future. And like any good parent, you want your children to be ready for those difficult times. You want them to cling to Christ no matter how terrible those trials might be, confident that He will see them through.
And you were right to teach them those truths. You were right to prepare them for the hardships they will face. You were right to point them to Christ.
But I have to wonder if sometimes we faithful adults don’t miss the forest for the trees. I have to wonder if sometimes we are so focused on the promise of eternal joys that we forget to notice the present joys God has prepared for us. Joys like the sunshine on a winter day. Like the boisterous burp of a baby in the pew on a Sunday morning. Like your child teaching you how to work your own smartphone. Like soap that doesn’t chap hands.
We Christians don’t often talk about finding pleasures in this world, but maybe we should.
The Bible certainly reminds us that God, our heavenly Father, is a great gift-giver. He desires to shower us with presents; He not only provides for all of our needs, He gives gifts in abundance. In fact, it’s pretty clear that God created a world full of pleasure for His children. Psalm 104 beautifully depicts God’s gift-giving in His creation—it’s as if He’s wrapped up the whole world as a present for His people, a present that provides both provision and abundance. The psalmist writes, “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (104:14-15).
Not only does God gladden the hearts of His people through food and wine, but He also provides for us in other ways. We confess in Luther’s Small Catechism that God provides “clothing, home and family, work and play, and all that I need from day to day” (p. 117). He works through our vocations to bless us with friends, family, and even material goods. It’s clear that our heavenly Father takes pleasure in us, and He takes pleasure in providing for His children.
Now it’s true, that even as we rejoice in the things of this world, we should steer clear of the carnal delights. We should run from the temporary pleasures sin brings and cling to what is good. Paul is serious when he writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). God certainly wants us to steer clear of evil.
But the freedom we have in the Gospel gives us many opportunities to find pleasure in this life. That Marvel movie you went to see with your teenage son? That was a blessing. That video game he plays in his free time? It’s a gift too. The purse you ordered on Amazon? Merry Christmas. The coffee you crave? Happy Tuesday. And if McDonalds brings you bliss, well … go for it. When we have eyes of faith, eyes that recognize these delights are gifts from God, then we realize that what we’re missing, what we should be longing for, what we cannot live without, isn’t Amazon or Starbucks or McDonalds. It’s Him. And when we have Him, every other gift makes sense. Every other gift falls into its proper place. “Every good gift and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17a).