In January 2018 French shoppers at a popular grocery store chain were engaged in conflict over a popular food item. Okay, I may be understating what actually happened; they got into fistfights over it! No, I’m not making this up. It actually happened, not over fruit or vegetables, but over a dessert item! Kim Willsher, writing in The Guardian, described the scene like this:
France has seen nothing like it: supermarket aisles of brawling customers throwing punches, pulling hair and shoving the elderly out of the way. A decision by the Intermarché store chain to offer a hefty discount on jars of Nutella – France’s favourite chocolate spread – caused near riots in shops around the country. Police were reportedly called as fights broke out among swarming customers grabbing 950g jars of Nutella reduced from €4.50 to €1.41, a 70% discount. In one store, a member of staff was punched in the eye while trying to separate warring customers. In another, shoppers cleared shelves in 15 minutes. “They are like animals. One woman had her hair pulled. An elderly lady took a box on her head. Another had a bloody hand,” one customer said.
What would cause normally sane-thinking and acting shoppers to become wild-eyed, rabid and violent—over a dessert item?! Simply put: it’s something they enjoy—and this world’s, well, worldview is the mantra: “if you enjoy it, do as much as you can, however and whenever you can! No matter how it affects others!” The Apostle John, writing about it, puts it like this,
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NLT).
Is Pleasure Bad?
Does God not want us to enjoy things? I mean, after all, He was the one who created our taste buds, and the rest of our senses? No, God clearly doesn’t want us to be stoic, cold, unfeeling robots, going through life with no enjoyment, but God also doesn’t want us to live our lives making enjoyment and pleasure our god!
So how do we find the balance between worshipping God first and only but also enjoying the things He has created to bring pleasure and enjoyment into our lives? Well, you’ll be surprised to find out that the Apostle Paul dealt with this issue long ago…and in his own life; I guess when it comes to human nature, some things never change.
In Philippians 3 the Apostle Paul focused on what his (and our) wrong foci had been; on externals of himself, his achievements, his experiences, etc., and contrasts it with what became his right focus, Christ and an ever-deepening relationship with Him. Paul understood that as humans, it’s easy for us to focus our lives on enjoying things and to make life simply all about that. Paul understood that humans are prone to worship and make a god of their enjoyable experiences:
For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. (Philippians 3:18, 19 NLT).
Have you ever met someone like this, who lives for their next experience, trip, food, vacation, expensive toy, relationship, etc.? Again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with these things in themselves, but it’s easy for people to begin worshipping them. This principle is illustrated by the recent emergence of niche TV channels and magazines about such things as fishing, food, or vacations.
The problem with managing our appetites is that we can never totally feel full. No matter how much you eat in several hours, you are hungry again. So how do we get our appetites under control in order to make sure that we don’t live to _______________ (fill in the blank)? That’s where a deeper understanding of what it really takes to survive comes in very handy.
Jesus, in Matthew 6:19-34 turns humanity’s entire understanding of what we should be living for on its head. He summarizes this rebuke to a world full of selfish, petty pleasure-seekers like this:
So don’t worry about these things, saying, “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6: 31-33 NLT).
Pleasure You Can’t Measure!
Solomon is clear: God wants us to enjoy our lives, our relationships and the things we have. I know that a lot of Christians have a difficult time with this idea of taking pleasure and enjoyment out of life, however it is clear that Solomon wants us as Christians—not to treat the seeking of pleasure as our highest goal, but—to enjoy life within the context and as a consequence of an ever-deepening relationship with God. He writes:
There is another serious tragedy I have seen under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity. God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things. They die, and someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth! This is meaningless—a sickening tragedy. (Ecclesiastes 6:1, 2 NLT).
Anhedonia is defined as “a psychological condition characterized by inability to experience pleasure in acts which normally produce it.” Solomon calls the inability to enjoy something “evil.” He goes further and blames God for this when in actuality, this is not God’s fault; in fact, it is just another manifestation of our evil, selfish and sinful free will rearing its ugly head! Solomon is speaking from his first-hand knowledge of the horrific consequences of living life simply for pleasure.
This inability to enjoy the things that God has given to us is the logical and direct consequence of people who live their lives solely for thrills and chills; in today’s terms, we would call them “adrenaline addicts/junkies.” Unfortunately, anhedonia is a real problem that is seen more and more frequently in the developed world and is the reason for such an explosion of movie/TV channels, video games, theme and amusement parks, and other entertainment. Also, I’m sure you’ve noticed that many types of entertainment appear to be getting louder, faster, more violent, more outrageous, more sexual…generally just more! That’s because when people are in search of pleasure as their main focus—they never have enough and need it in ever-increasing amounts to satisfy them.
This isn’t a new problem, and as we can see, Solomon dealt with it; can you hear his anger, frustration, and cynicism? In fact, there are entire schools of philosophy and life-practices related to the pursuit of pleasure.
Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the primary or most important intrinsic good. In very simple terms, a hedonist strives to maximize . . . pleasure.
Pastor and author John Piper, writes in his Christian classic, Desiring God, that “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” This appears to be in line with what Solomon, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus are advocating: that in order to be fulfilled, happy and healthy, we can do no better than to enjoy God and simply be content with those things He has provided to us.
In his eye-opening book Thrilled to Death!, Dr. Archibald Hart, agrees with Solomon’s prescription. Hart writes that ultimately adrenaline over-use in our bodies causes depression and that the best way to combat this is to be content with what we have, cultivate being thankful to God, and just take time to unplug from everything and simply be appreciative apart from things.
Solomon starkly observes that our days “pass through, like a shadow.” I don’t know about you, but I want to live my short shadowy days fully enjoying God first and foremost and then, all the things that He has given me. I hope you do as well.
And, by the way, God gave you taste buds too so don’t forget to occasionally enjoy something sweet, and then thank God for making it and making you too.
 Kim Willshire, “‘They are like animals’: French shoppers brawl over cut-price Nutella,” The Gaurdian, January 26, 2018; accessed October 21, 2018.
 Exodus 20: 3-5.
 Ecclesiastes 6:1, 2.
 John Piper, Desiring God (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 1981), p. 18.
 Ecclesiastes 6:12 NIV.