Sometimes there's this image of God floating around that portrays Him as some kind of cosmic killjoy. Joy and laughter get labeled as irreverent and thrown out as shallow and immature at best, or sinful at worst. After all, He's God, right? He rules the universe. We are nothing compared to Him. Maybe, just maybe, if we balance our lives right, pray the right thing, do the right thing, and generally act all quiet and holy, He won't get mad at us. Right? Maybe if we're careful, we'll avoid getting stepped on by God's peevishness. Right?
Hmm...maybe not so much.
Here's the thing: While this idea of a cosmic killjoy god is true for a lot of religions, it is not the God of Christianity. In fact, while many religions make holiness and pleasure to be mutually exclusive, Jesus "came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Not only did God present a way to new life through Jesus, but Jesus also showed us how to live that life.
Jesus says in Luke 7:34, "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" Instead of coming onto the scene all quiet and reverent-like, Jesus rocked the boat of propriety by being too joyful and too celebratory in the eyes of those who didn't like Him.
Just look at Jesus' first miracle: He turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana to keep the party going (John 2)! Additionally, children adored and ran to Jesus, a sure sign He wasn't a stick in the mud (Mark 10:13-16). He wasn't just passively alive, doing what He was "supposed to do" until the time came to die on the cross. He placed Himself in the thick of life and spread joy wherever He was.
God shows His endorsement of pleasure throughout the Bible. Zephaniah 3:17 says that God will rejoice over us with shouts of joy, while Deuteronomy 30:9 says He takes pleasure in the obedience of His children. In the Old Testament God instigated festivals and celebrations for the Jews as a means of remembering God's faithfulness—these were to be loud parties of rejoicing!
God shows His love of pleasure in His designs for this world. God created taste buds so we could sample an innumerable variety of flavors and enjoy their individual uniquenesses. God created our ears so we can hear music and the beautiful singing of birds in the trees. God made created sex with intricate bodily designs and sensations so a husband and wife can enjoy the most intimate expression of their love for each other. Instead of blocking our access to His creation, God gave us direct ways of experiencing and enjoying it.
As Christians, it can be a bit too easy to limit God's definition of joy to reading the Bible, praying, meditating, and serving the less fortunate. While these are all good things—and we should definitely take pleasure in them!—God's vision for joy is so much broader.
God has created each person with a different set of skills, desires, and relationships. These are gifts to be enjoyed and used for God's glory! The musician has been granted the gift of their ability to play an instrument to take joy in and play for their Creator. The artist has been granted the gift of their medium to praise and honor the Ultimate Artist. The scientist has been granted their intelligence and determined passion of a given subject to uncover more about God's creation.
Of course, it is also important to remember that we haven't been placed on this world simply to be entertained. Life is not all about taking in pleasures. A love of pleasure's pleasingness can reflect a misplaced focus on the gift instead of on the Giver. We were made to delight, but that delight is to be in the Lord (Psalm 37:4).
It's also critical to watch out for where we place our joy and from where we receive our pleasure. While God has created many, many things good, the world has taken a lot of those things and twisted them into perverse and sinful affections. While sex between a husband and wife is good and pure, sex outside of marriage is condemned as immoral and against God's plan. Likewise, while wine is not condemned in the Bible, drunkenness is not condoned by God (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:12-17).
Some people might consider God a "cosmic killjoy" for the things He says "no" to. But God is our loving Heavenly Father, and like a parent who tells his child that he can't jump off the roof into a cage of rabid hamsters, God knows what will and will not benefit us in the long run—even if the idea seems fun or innocent at the time.
The pleasures of sin are brief (Hebrews 11:25), but the scars they leave behind can take a very long time to heal—if they heal at all.
Our God isn't out to pull the plug on joy, instead He created joy. He created our ability to enjoy this world and the good things in it. In fact, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and, when properly aligned with a desire to glorify God, joy and our desire for pleasure is pure and good.
Even though there will inevitably be times we need to turn away from a quick flash of pleasure, the benefits we will gain from obeying God are eternal (Psalm 16:11).
While this idea of a cosmic killjoy god is true for a lot of religions, it is not the God of Christianity. While many religions make holiness and pleasure to be mutually exclusive, Jesus "came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Not only did God present a way to new life through Jesus, but Jesus also showed us how to live that life. Even though God may say "no" to an occasional (or sinful) pleasure, His plan is never to pull the plug on joy, instead He created joy for us. He created our ability to enjoy this world and the good things in it (Galatians 5:22).
September is an avid film nerd from growing up on weekend trips to Universal Studios Hollywood. She is passionate about the intersections of Christian spirituality, faith, and storytelling in popular culture. Outside of 412teens and digging up obscure horror flicks from the 2000s, she works as a freelance developmental editor and acquisitions consultant while comforting her clingy feline floof, Faust, from the anxiety of existence.