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.