Pleasure and Purpose
18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3:18-21 NIV
“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” Viktor Frankl
Dear Church Family,
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. His school of thought, called logotherapy, taught that the primary motivation that drives humans is the quest for meaning. Oh, and Frankl was a Jew who had survived a Nazi concentration camp. That probably gave him some insight into how a loss of meaning could affect someone’s mental well-being.
Now, I’m no psychiatrist, and I’m not advocating this or that approach to therapy, but I do know a bit about what the Bible teaches on pleasure and meaning. Frankl, by the way, did not say that there is anything inherently wrong with “pleasure,” nor is there any contradiction between finding meaning in life and experiencing pleasures per se. What he said was that some try to substitute one for the other—pleasure for purpose—and that this is an unhealthy act.
I use the word “purpose” as a rough synonym for “meaning” because I cannot see how one can believe their lives have meaning unless they have purpose. Paul’s phrase in Philippians 3:18, “the cross of Christ,” speaks of a purpose. Jesus voluntarily offered himself on the cross—a very “unpleasurable” experience—precisely because it served a purpose in the salvation of the world. That sacrifice is an example Christians are called to follow (Luke 14:25-27; Philippians 2:5-11).
It should not be surprising, then, to find that those people whose “god is their belly” would be enemies of the cross. People whose driving motivation is a life of pleasure are unlikely to follow Christ’s command to take up their cross and follow him. Rather, their minds are on the sensations offered by the here-and-now. The result, all too often, is that they “glory” in things that should be considered shameful.
Paul reminds the Philippians that the pleasures we look forward to are not the base and sensual pleasures of this age. No, I’m not qualified to speak in detail about what eternal life in the glorious kingdom of God will include, but I know one thing it will include—an experience of the presence of God that is unhindered by temptation, selfishness, and suffering. I look forward to enjoying God’s presence in the hereafter, and that shapes my purpose in the here-and-now—to bring glory to him so others will enjoy his eternal presence too.