Enjoyment: A Gift… Not an Accident!
Many people enjoy playful puppies, beautiful vistas, mouth-watering foods, and stirring pieces of music. Although we may be tempted to take these delights for granted, the Christian worldview teaches that they are gifts from God. This truth is so foundational that James, the brother of Jesus, encourages believers to remember God’s absolute goodness during difficult circumstances (James 1:17)! And God’s gifts sure are good gifts, aren’t they? Can you imagine life without them? What a dreary place it would be! God’s innumerable gifts bring much happiness and contentment to our lives.
Why would God provide so much awesome stuff for us to enjoy? It’s almost as if God likes us or something!
Of course, this is precisely the truth. The delights we experience point to the existence of God and the tangibility of a relationship with him. After all, for something to be recognized as a gift, it must come from a gift-giver.
I believe one of the easiest ways to develop a more satisfying and trusting relationship with God is to learn to see God as the source of everything we enjoy in our lives. Even when people find enjoyment in the wrong use of God’s gifts (for example, as is often seen in our culture’s practice of sex), it is undeniable that the gift itself is still good.
Your Capacity to Enjoy Anything Comes from God
Have you ever considered why you find anything to be enjoyable? For that matter, why do humans possess the capacity for enjoyment in the first place? I am going to argue that our capacity for enjoyment is best explained by God. First though, let’s look at an answer to this question that doesn’t require God.
One popular answer is that enjoyment is merely a biological reward system. This view correctly recognizes that there is a correlative link between our happiness and the chemicals in our brains, such as Dopamine. Our bodies have been programmed to feel good when they engage in activities that are beneficial for life, such as exercising, eating, socializing, and reproducing. This motivates us to continue doing these necessary behaviors. Therefore, our capacity for enjoyment is generally seen as beneficial for the flourishing of our lives, even though some destructive activities such as drug use can hijack our reward system and cause problems.
However, while enjoyment may be beneficial for our lives, it is certainly not necessary.
For example, let’s consider eating. Even if we received no pleasure from eating, our bodies would still need food to live, so we would still eat. The enjoyment is a bonus beyond its utilitarian function.
Another great example is sex. As best as we can tell, much of the animal kingdom does not engage in sexual activity for enjoyment so much as they do so out of instinct. Therefore, the human desire for sex could have been an instinct and nothing more. However, many people find sex so enjoyable that it is pursued for reasons beyond mere reproduction. Again, this is a bonus beyond its utilitarian function.
The observation that enjoyment is more of a bonus than a necessity casts doubt on the belief that enjoyment can be reduced to merely a biological reward system. This is part of the truth, but not the whole truth.
When we think about everything in life that we find to be pleasurable, it becomes increasingly difficult to link all pleasure to biology. Art, music, and humor are all examples of pleasures in life that we undeniably experience but struggle to explain. Beauty, when understood as something beyond mere sexual attraction, would also fall in this category.
For example, perhaps you have had your breath taken away by a radiant sunset over the ocean. That is one of my favorite scenes in the whole world! However, can you explain what exactly makes this experience enjoyable in purely objective terms? Can you demonstrate why it triggers the release of Dopamine in your brain? Can it be reduced to somehow motivating a behavior that is beneficial for life?
I doubt you can explain something like a sunset with these limitations. Instead, you will be tempted to use abstract ideas such as beauty, art, and transcendence to talk about your enjoyment of a sunset. Or perhaps the sunset itself is of little interest to you, but it recalls memories of people and joyful events you have experienced in the past. However you look at it, something greater than biological reward is driving your enjoyment.
So, if we can’t fully explain our sense of enjoyment from purely biological means, it is reasonable to conclude that something outside of biology is at work. I believe that God is the best explanation. God made everything that is good and pleasing (Genesis 2:9). God even takes credit for the joy that comes from sex and marital relationships, with an entire book of the Bible dedicated to exploring these themes (Song of Solomon).
When we Understand That Enjoyment Comes from God, We Learn to Enjoy God Himself
As we become convinced that God is the ultimate author of our enjoyment, it should increase our appreciation for him. This truth also destroys one of the most insidious lies that is plaguing our country: the notion that God is somehow the great killer of fun. This Hell-originating lie is so revolting and sinister that Christians need to crush it every time they encounter it. And when Christians find themselves tempted by it, they need to repent immediately or risk falling prey to the tremendous damage that this lie can inflict in their lives.
On a more positive note, when we properly understand God’s goodness as seen through his gifts to us, it further increases our enjoyment! That is because the only thing better than something enjoyable is when the enjoyment comes from a loving gift.
So, what’s better than eating a delicious meal? It’s the recognition that God created taste buds and has personally provided you with the food you are now enjoying.
What’s better than a relationship with a close friend? It’s the recognition that God created the person you are treasuring and gave you the capacity to enjoy an intimate relationship.
Therefore, as we get in the habit of thanking God for everything we enjoy, we naturally begin to enjoy God himself. Now, to be clear, we don’t ONLY enjoy God because of his gifts. God helps us to move beyond such superficial love by allowing us to experience painful life circumstances (the Bible calls these “trials”). Nevertheless, enjoying God through his gifts to us is a powerful way of deepening our relationship with him, and it will remain one of the chief ways that we will enjoy God for all eternity! It reminds us that God is intimately connected to the things and people in our lives that we care about most. Ultimately, we will someday enjoy God’s gifts more because they highlight God’s goodness and love for us than because of the gifts themselves!
If you’ve never connected the dots between what you love and God’s love for you, then perhaps today is the day to begin a relationship with him!
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).
“I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (Psalm 16:2).
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:1-6).