Sin, pleasure, and really ugly shoes

08 Sep

I saw an ad on the Internet the other day that was promoting some website that sells shoes. There it was in the sidebar, in all its tacky marketing glory. A pair of platform heels was featured in the picture, with this caption beneath: “Sinfully Unique.”

I had to do a double-take to be sure I read it correctly.

Um. When did uniqueness become a sin? I’m pretty sure “Thou shalt be bland and indistinguishable from thy neighbor” is nowhere in the Ten Commandments. Leaving aside the fact that the shoes were hideous, which might persuade me to say that there was something fundamentally wrong with them, “sinfully unique” is a laughably confusing description. 

However, this not the only thing I’ve seen described as bad in order to make it sound good. I’m sure you’ve seen this kind of thing, too. Chocolate desserts are labeled “sinfully delicious”. A favorite snack might be called a “guilty pleasure”. And of course, there are the good old skateboarding tricks that are “wicked”. Somehow sin and wickedness has worked its way into our vocabulary to mean something that is really pleasurable and good.

It’s the same old lie we’ve been buying into since the Garden. We like the allure of the forbidden. But as Christians, we have to have one thing really clear in our minds. Sin is not cool. It never has been, and never will be. Even sins that give us short-term pleasure, if looked at objectively (especially from an eternal standpoint), look really, really dumb. Drunkennes and carousing? Sure, I’d love to wake up with a headache, an addiction, fewer brain cells, and a bad case of nausea. I’d love to not even be able to remember what a good time I had last night. Immorality? Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, risking disease and heartbreak for one night with some guy who isn’t committed to me in the least. Greed? Yes, let me spend my entire life pursuing something that could disappear as fast as the next economic slump, aquiring stress and bitterness in the process. Gossip? Sure, let me make more enemies than friends and lock my heart into suspicion, unforgiveness, and slander. After all, I deserve it. And just to think that at the end of it all lies a gigantic lake of fire. What fun.

In other, much less sarcastic words: Yuck. Nasty. Do not want.

But there is a flipside to this, too. Most believers will readily profess that sin is not cool. That’s sort of a no-brainer. Show up to any given youth group once and you will probably get to hear the sermon about it. The lesser known fact is that the other end of the statement is true, as well — not all cool things are sin. Or to say it more correctly, pleasure is not necessarily sinful.

Most believers have this idea that refusing worldly pleasure (which is biblical) means that it is most spiritual to never actually feel pleasure (which is mistaken). The more miserable and deprived we feel, the more holy we think we’re being. If we’re bored, neglected and lonely, that must mean we’re just on a higher plane than all our acquaintances. If we’re faced with a difficult decision, we tend to think that the option we like least is probably the option God wants us to choose. That may be true sometimes, but how did we get the idea that it’s the default? How did we decide that the Lord wants us to be unhappy most of the time?

Our God is the source of all pleasure. When the Psalmist said, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11), you can bet he wasn’t doing it with a properly pious grimace and a somber monotone. He had encountered something in meeting with the Lord that brought this declaration out of him. Getting near God made him happy. He found satisfaction and pleasure there. There’s a reason the mystics referred to intense spiritual communion as an “ecstatic experience”. People who really encounter God have met Someone who is unimaginably fascinating and beautiful — frightening perhaps, but glorious — Someone who has “ruined” them, not allowing them to be satisfied with anything less holy.

And no, spiritual pleasure is not some ethereal non-tangible abstraction. Pleasure is pleasure. It means it makes you feel good. If we drift through life not feeling anything and not desiring anything, that’s not holiness; it’s apathy. As believers, we should be pursuing pleasure more intensely than anyone else on the planet. John Piper calls it “Christian Hedonism”, which is a shocking term — perhaps shocking enough to jar us out of our religious stoicism and realize that we’re supposed to actually enjoy God. We should actually like Him. We are destined to find pleasure forevermore at His right hand. Pursuit of pleasure only becomes sin when we misappropriate it.

I still love C.S. Lewis’ famous quote:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Resisting the temporal pleasures of sin does not mean we live stoic, bored lives from here until eternity. Resisting the temporal pleasures of sin can only happen when we find a greater satisfaction in something else, something transcendant, something holy. We crave pleasure by design. It’s the way God made us, because ultimately, we will only be satisfied when we encounter what the psalmist did. We will only be satisfied in the presence of the God who is the Author and Source of all true pleasure and joy.

Take a good look at Revelation 4 and 5 and tell me that isn’t pretty amazingly cool. Tell me that it wouldn’t be awesome to stand on the sea of glass as enormous winged creatures cry holy and innumerable angels erupt in praise. If it’s enough to keep the seraphim and the elders enraptured 24/7, singing the same song because there’s nothing higher or better to sing, I imagine it’s going to keep my attention pretty riveted as well. I just need to keep the gaze of my heart in the right place.

So to go back to where we started, when we get this concept straight in our own hearts, “sinfully unique” looks extra silly. “Sinful pleasure” will not just look silly, but we will recognize it for the oxymoron that it is. Sin no longer looks like a luxury, but rather like settling for a mud pie when we have been given access to something far better. Sin is actually not all that pleasurable, and the truest, highest pleasure we can achieve is actually the thing will keep us from sin.


Posted by on September 8, 2008 in Intimacy with God, Knowledge of God


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14 responses to “Sin, pleasure, and really ugly shoes

  1. christa

    September 8, 2008 at 5:35 am

    You don’t know me, but thanks for that post. That was something I needed to hear this morning, great explanation and writing! Keep it up!

  2. Amanda Beattie

    September 8, 2008 at 6:09 am

    Christa, thank you for leaving a comment. I’m glad it was helpful. 🙂

  3. Barry Wallace

    September 8, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Great post. I love both C.S. Lewis and this particular quote. It gets right to the heart of a serious and counterproductive misunderstanding. I like the way John Piper develops Lewis’s idea in his book “Desiring God.”

    Incidentally, I noticed the link to IHOP-KC. I have some good friends there.

  4. danseuse

    September 8, 2008 at 9:25 am

    You don’t know me either 🙂 (though you were briefly my tutor in an online FSM class–and veyr good at it, by the way), but I am thankful for your posts and insights. I generally find your take on these issues very refreshing and, in a selfish way, am glad I have “evidence” I am not just some “prude” in Texas. These views are not popular in this culture but I believe with all my heart they are so right, and the heart of God.

  5. Kacie

    September 8, 2008 at 10:32 am

    wow. well, you DO know me, and i am challenged, stirred, and sobered by your message here. it is not a good thing that my vocabulary (and life!) has often been in agreement with darkness and “lesser pleasures”. i’m privileged to know and serve and love a God who is the author of pleasure; you’d think i would more readily accept HIS offers than those of a crusty broken world, but it seems my mindset toward pleasurable sources is (and has apparently always been) prone to the lesser. i have played in my mud pits, said “yes” to quick pleasures, and wasted my energies on things which do not endure or truly satisfy, and all of this much to my shame.

    now, as i age and learn more securely what is right and what is wrong, what is good for me and what is not, and what is worth my time and what never should have been, i also learn that my brokenness is part of a greater process of perfection masterfully handled by the same pleasure-creating God whom i know, serve, and love. this puts an interesting perspective on my mistake-making, not by any means okay-ing my sins committed (or promoting future ones), understood, but providing a kind of strange pleasure through obedience in the aftermath–make the mistake, realize the fault, repent and experience forgiveness, try real hard not to make said-mistake again, if only for the pleasure of the Lord–a far higher pleasure than any earthly kind.

    it is good to be reminded of these things. “sin is not cool”. yeah. really good to be reminded of these things. even if simple to the eye and brain, they’re still fairly complex to a deceitful heart… thanks for writing and being so bold with your words. you’re a treasure and a blessing, amanda beattie.

  6. Dorean Beattie

    September 8, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Good post… It reminds me of people I’ve heard saying they’d rather go to hell than heaven because all of the “fun” people will be in hell with them. What blindness…

  7. brianbeattie

    September 8, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Good word. Preach it loud!
    (You may know me)

  8. Joel

    September 8, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    There are passages in Scripture that not only invite but command us to partake of pleasure–even (gasp) “earthly” pleasure. So sad that we’ve decided those are the passages God didn’t really mean. And, indeed, the attitude with which we approach God’s Word and the tone we ascribe to it can be so insidious. There’s so much that we read so somberly, whereas I think God means it more joyfully. I think we re-interpret Jesus, especially, as a brooding, judgmental killjoy when from the same texts we might better understand that the Son of God has an actual sense of humor.

    I love the language y’all use at the pancake palace, about not being distracted by lesser pleasures.

    As you say, we were designed for desire and joy. Though this applies chiefly to the presence of the LORD, it goes well beyond. Marriage is one that comes to mind. And the people of the LORD were always eating and dancing and such–quite often because God told them to. Scandalous. Good thing most Christians don’t actually read the Bible or they’d be offended by it.

    I’m fully convinced (it’s pretty obvious, actually) that the Law–that document we’ve decided was meant to rob us of all of our fun–was actually God’s trying to show us how to maximize our pleasure while we walk this planet. Yahweh the Hedonist. Yes, seriously.

  9. Amanda Beattie

    September 9, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    @ Barry: That quote is one of my favorites. And I actually work at IHOP-KC, so it’s awesome to hear you have friends here.

    @ Dan: Prudishness is severely underrated. 😀 Yes, we want to avoid getting mired in a religious spirit, but pursuing holiness in the grace of God is always a good thing.

    @ Kacie: So good to hear from you, Mrs. D. 🙂 We all do our fair share of playing in mudpits. But I love that God is so kind with us, even in the aftermath; it truly is His kindness that leads us to repentance. He created us to be motivated by pleasure, even in seeking and finding mercy from Him. Keep on keepin’ on, lady.

    @ Mom: Yeah. Eternal torment, smoke rising forever = not fun.

    @ Dad: I will preach as loud as typing on a blog allows… 😀

    @ Joel: Too true. The Bible never forbids “earthly” (as in, physical, tangible) pleasures, inasmuch as they don’t take the place of our primary one, and as you said, it often encourages them. It does address “wordly” (as in, of this world, spirit of the age) pleasures as what they are — briefly fun but ultimately soul-killing. I like what you said about the Law.

  10. Barry Wallace

    September 10, 2008 at 6:29 am

    I really appreciate your blog, Amanda. I’ve bookmarked it.

    I thought you might work at IHOP. My friends there are both on staff — Mark and Annie Schumacher. They moved there from Sikeston, where I live. I don’t have much contact with them any more, but I love them dearly. Tell them I said “hi” when you see them.

    Incidentally, I received quite a bit of attention in response to a C.S. Lewis quote in a post over on my blog. I’m not sure how well I handled it, though. You can take a peek at it here, if you’re interested.

    Keep up the good work.

  11. Kate

    September 11, 2008 at 6:50 am

    i really like the stuff you write 🙂 and i’ve said it before but it provides some good reading.

  12. Renee

    September 26, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Hey Amanda-I serendipitously came across your article. Well said! It seems Satan hasn’t chamged the original accusation that God is out to ruin the proverbial party. In truth, God is the one throwing the party.

  13. Su

    November 6, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Thank you very much for your post – I actually ran across your blog because I googled “intamacy with God” looking for good devotional reading.
    I almost didn’t click on it, but I felt like the Lord was pushing me to take a look at this one. It really blessed me because it confirmed what I felt like the Lord was showing me about Himself and His relationship toward us, but I didn’t know what to make of! Latley He has been so close to me, that at times I am just smiling so much that I wonder if people are going to wonder what is up, and I’m not sure how to explain! – I’ve never been so happy.


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