The Problem of Pleasure

In my blog and previous book I’ve written about the problems of pain and suffering. They are major stumbling blocks to belief and have caused many earnest souls to question their faith or shed Christianity altogether. (Bart Ehrman comes to mind.)

In his book, Soul Survivor, Philip Yancey approaches the dilemma from the opposite direction:

It struck me, after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain that I have never even seen a book on “the problem of pleasure.” Nor have I met a philosopher who goes around shaking his or her head in perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure. Yet it looms as a large question: the philosophical question, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians.

On the issue of pleasure, Christians can breathe easier. A good and loving God would want his creatures to experience delight, joy and personal fulfillment. Christians start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?

Citing G. K. Chesterton, Yancey claims that Christianity is the only reasonable explanation for pleasure. “Moments of pleasure are the remnants washed ashore from a shipwreck, bits of paradise extended through time.” In other words, God made us to enjoy life but sin messed things up.

Harmonic Resonance

Just as there’s something in us that recoils from suffering, there’s also something that resonates with pleasure. I don’t mean the excesses of hedonism but the small sips of life’s ambrosia: a child’s laugh, beautiful music, the touch of warm skin, variegated sunsets, a good night’s sleep, ocean waves, a well-turned phrase, fresh fruits (and the 10,000 taste buds to enjoy them).

Pain plays a vital role in the survival of the species, but what is the evolutionary purpose of pleasure? Procreation, yes; but why romantic love and superfluous orgasms? Preservation, yes; but why would a selfish gene waste resources on a conscious self?

The most basic question of all was succinctly put by the philosopher Martin Heidegger: “Why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing?” Reason has no answer. Accept it or not, revelation has a simple one—because God willed it. This can never be scientifically proven, but as Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggests: “Asking science to explain life and vital matters is equivalent to asking a grammarian to explain poetry.”

Perhaps pleasure is to life what poetry is to prose and implies an artist who creates for the sheer joy of sharing.

“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful
and has no one to thank.” –G. K. Chesterton

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2 thoughts on “The Problem of Pleasure

  1. Resonating with the thoughts of the beauty of pleasure and God’s gift of it. I have been keeping my eyes on the ground lately (with the trials of life) and missing some of these pleasures that are poured upon me. As always, one of life’s pleasures is reading your well-turned phrases!

  2. Thanks Mike for your sharing these thoughts. One day we will know the greatest pleasure!

    I hope this finds you healing and hopeful.

    James K

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