“A person will be held to account by God for every permitted pleasure he failed to enjoy.”
I’ve often heard this quote or some version of it over the years.
Truly, the thought is delightful!
It always strikes me like God is giving me permission to enjoy the unending pleasures of the world He’s made. It’s almost like I see God as Willy Wonka (in the Gene Wilder version) excitedly introducing the wonders and joys of his fabulous factory to the wonder struck children and parents touring his factory. Ah! The amazing sights, smells, and tastes of his magnificent candy, all to enjoy just because Mr. Wonka is so thrilled about what he’s made!
(excerpt) MR. WONKA: “Wait a minute. Must show you this. Lickable wallpaper for nursery walls. Lick an orange, tastes like an orange. Lick a pineapple, it tastes like a pineapple. Try it!”
MIKE TEEVEE: “Mm! I got a plum!”
CHARLIE: “Grandpa, this banana's fantastic! It tastes so real!”
MR. WONKA: (with growing excitement) “Try some more! The strawberries taste like strawberries! The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!!” (Source)
I need this quote to often remind me that the Lord created a magnificent world for His glory and invited His highest and most beloved creation, us, to not only steward it but to enjoy it.
Too often, Christians I know sound like they’re hoping to squeak through one more miserable day until Jesus cracks the sky and takes them home.
Well, if that’s the way they want to live, that’s their choice. But it’s not mine.
Our lives, given to us by God (and I’m not even talking about your eternal life if you’re on His team), are much more than just sloggin’ through time and space like some Eyore on Zanax.
Seriously, go back and read the above quote again.
Now say it out loud to yourself.
Marinate in the idea for as long as you want. I’ll wait.
This quote is not in the Bible. It apparently comes from a very old Jewish writing called the Talmud (c. A.D. 200). The quote is attributed to an early rabbi and the original is a bit different. It goes like this. “Rabbi Chizkiah's declared, ‘A person will have to answer for everything that his eye beheld and he did not consume’" (Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12).
At first glance, this seems to be a license to indulge, perhaps in a measure that would be sinful. It seems to suggest we satisfy every desire that erupts within us whether that desire or the way we gratify it is allowed by God or not.
Taken in context with scripture and other rabbinic writings, not so. Here’s a Jewish perspective on Rabbi Chizkiah’s quote.
“Many Jewish sources describe the physical world as essentially good; the human body as a servant of the spirit, and therefore not corrupt; the human being as possessing dignity as one made in the image of God; and physical pleasures as God-given and therefore to be enjoyed with gratitude toward the divine giver. One who refuses to partake of the material world was even described as a sinner. At the same time, other sources recommend and even require Jews to avoid intemperate and extravagant behavior, which is seen as leading to bad character traits and sometimes to outright sin… Overall, Judaism recommends moderation rather than total abstinence, a balance perhaps best represented by Maimonides' ‘golden middle way’ between sensual luxury and tortured self-deprivation.” (Source)
There you go. Moderation.
But don’t miss the part that says, “physical pleasures as God-given and therefore to be enjoyed with gratitude toward the divine giver.” Why would this need to be said? Because Greek philosophy weaseled its way into early Christian theology as well as challenging Jewish thinking. Greek philosophy declared the material world was evil and the spiritual world was good. This line of thinking in Christianity led to hyper-ascetic monks and frustrated celibate Christians who believed their sacrifice of physical pleasures was a great thing in God’s eyes, rendering them more holy unto God, and making them more fit to serve Him.
Frankly, I like the Jewish take better.
God created the world and us and then pronounced everything, “Very good.” Yes, that includes our human desires and every allowable pleasure within His Big Wide Wonderful World!
But doesn’t scripture disparage current life in favor of the afterlife? Well, yes, in parts. But that usually came from writers who had become disillusioned with life and yearned for something better. King Solomon for example. Check out this Gloomy Gus at the end of his life.
“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). This sets the tone.
“Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind” (1:17). Wisdom? Meh.
“I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless” (2:1). Pleasure? Meh.
“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (2:11). Great achievements? Meh.
Solomon’s dispirited conclusion? “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (2:17). Wow! What a Debbie-downer! Yeah, this was written by a jaded old man toward the end of his life.
I can’t be too hard on Solomon, though. As I get older, I kind of understand. I’m tempted daily to get negative and even despair after soaking in a bath of internet news and social media kvetching (Yiddish for complaining). But I don’t want to be like that! I don’t want to be the depressed, dispirited old geezer with a glum face just waiting for the call to shuffle off this mortal coil. I want to be positive.
There is no doubt we live in a fallen world and not everything is nice and pleasurable. The afterlife is just as God would have it. The Good News is this world will eventually match the perfection and wonder of heaven.
But for now, even though life may get tough, we have the brilliance and goodness of God encompassing us. Didn’t David write, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1)?
So even if we’re in a funk, look up and around you! There is more than enough glory to behold and allowable pleasures to enjoy simply because God’s creation continues.
This links back to my previous writing, “Simple Pleasures … Living Appreciatively.” Check it out for more encouragement.
And even in his old age self-reflection funk, Solomon did manage to embrace the positive to moderate his outlook.
“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil” (Ecclesiastes 2:24) (Okay, that’s a start, Sol ol’ buddy!)
And then this little light breaks forth, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live” (3:12). Even better. Be happy and do good. That’s positive.
And this, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9).
Well, that last one had a good start, but kind of dropped away at the end, but you get the idea.
And finally, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all” (Ecclesiastes 11:8). Now we’re talking. Enjoy all your years as long as you live. How? Again, look around you. Look for God’s glory in the world. Enjoy all the allowable pleasures you can because they’re a gift from God and evidence of His goodness.
One caveat, though. Even if a pleasure is allowable, too much of a good thing can be bad, right?
So here’s my life principle – Enjoy all allowable pleasures, in moderation, with praise to God!
And be sure you savor the snozzberries when you find them.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts