Our culture is saturated with forms of pleasure. In our postindustrial world, our survival needs are met. We no longer have to toil the soil to grow food to live on. We can go to the local market and buy our food for the next few weeks within in an hour. (For my wife and I, this means going to Wal-Mart, Aldi, Kroger, Albertson, occasionally the Dollar store…so it doesn’t always take just an hour.) This frees up our time for pleasure. We have time to sit in front of the T.V. watching our shows or playing Xbox, or going to the movie theaters to watch the latest Liam Neeson action movie, or going to Sonic to get some yummy cheese sticks and a Rt. 44 vanilla coke, or we sit in a dark room staring at our computer or phone screen searching for the next sexual fix we can find. Pleasure is at our finger tips (literally speaking in most cases).
If you didn’t catch it, then I just listed a few of the biggest gods of pleasure: entertainment, food, and sex. Their temples and shrines are our living rooms and couches, our tables and restaurants, and our screens. There are others, but these are probably the largest in our society. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but when we replace the Lord God with these things, then they are bad and are our idols. Kyle Idleman says, “But these days if it isn’t fun, if it isn’t pleasurable, we don’t want to do it. We have more leisure time and more money to spend on it.” (74, gods at War). We hunger and thirst for pleasure anywhere we can find it.
And so we walk into the temple of pleasure. And there we see the gods of food, sex, and entertainment….And when we begin to worship pleasure, the end result is always pain. (75, gods at War, Idleman)
1. the god of Food
The movie Over the Hedge is about animals trying to steal food from humans. RJ, the raccoon, persuades the forest animals to do so by explaining humans’ relationship with food. He uses the clichéd phrase, “We eat to live. They live to eat.” He describes them as “bottomless pits of food.” A montage of people stuffing food into their faces, food being delivered, and billboards of food breaks out. He nails our relationship with food pretty head on. We also see that the human race has become so fat and lazy that they ride around on floating chairs and feed themselves with machines in the movie Wall-E.
Food can be an idol to many of us. I know I enjoy eating and treating myself to delicious foods. I used to have a nightly ritual before bed of eating double-stuffed Oreos with milk. We even call a lot of food “comfort food.” These foods are foods we eat to comfort ourselves. The problem is that food cannot comfort us, only God can. When we go to food to find the satisfaction that only God can give us, it has become an idol to us. Obesity is an epidemic in our nation. It’s not just an issue or problem for a few people. It’s a full blown epidemic for us. But you don’t have to be overweight to realize that food is your god. (I know there are other factors that attribute to weight gain. Please don’t shoot me over those.) I remember being a teenage boy that could eat 5 cheeseburgers from McDonald’s without gaining a thing. Now I gain weight looking at cheeseburgers. Some people have amazing metabolisms, so they can go to their god of food without us seeing the effects in weight gain.
This can work the other way. Clean eating is a huge thing in our society today. People are extremely careful of what they put into their bodies. Or they put the “right stuff” into their bodies to keep them healthy and looking good. We’ve seen those stickers and have known those, what I like to call, “food snobs.” (I’m only picking and teasing.) Now, eating healthy and taking care of your body are wonderful things. We should all be better about it. I’m picking on those super annoying ones that look down at other people for eating Whataburger. (Are you hungry yet? I know I am.) The problem that happens is that we can idolize healthy foods and being fit. This in turn can lead to us worshiping our own image.
In John 6, Jesus feeds 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. (The 5,000 only counts the men. To include the women and children, the number is probably closer to 15,000.) The people are grateful and amazed. Jesus sneaks off across the sea during the night to continue his ministry. The people followed looking for their next meal ticket. Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). Know how they responded? They grumbled and left. They weren’t looking to the Lord for satisfaction. They were looking to food for satisfaction. Will you look to the Lord for satisfaction instead of food?
2. the god of Entertainment
Imagine people arrive hours early for church. Back up alarms are set to make sure no one over sleeps and misses out on Sunday morning services. The church services are talked about all week. There is even a T.V. show, “ChurchCenter,” that analyzes the previous church service and makes predictions on the next one. Traffic is crazy because everybody is trying to get to the local church, and people are parked all the way down the road. Some people will even camp out the previous days to make sure they can get a good seat. It doesn’t matter whether the weather is nice or not; rain, snow, or shine they are going to be there. When the service starts, people begin clapping and cheering, and they never once sit down because of the excitement. Everyone is pumped and hoping that the sermon goes into overtime so they can enjoy it longer. (113-114, gods at War)
Sound familiar? Yep, this is how we react to sports games. This is how we worship the god of entertainment, especially the one of sports. I know I’ll show up at least 20 minutes early to a movie theater to make sure I can get good parking, tickets, maybe some snacks, and a good seat to watch the film. Many people will spends thousands of dollars and hours on video games. Indian homes have all of their chairs in their living room facing an idol (117, gods at War). Go to your living room. What do all of your chairs, sofas, or recliners face? I know mine face my 60 inch flat screen plasma. It’s obvious that we worship the god of entertainment in some way.
Solomon, David’s son and king of Israel, writes in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). It’s a depressing way to start out a book. Solomon was pursuing pleasure and entertainment to satisfy him. His conclusion was that it was all a waste of time. None of it could satisfy him. “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this also was vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1). He was the king of a nation and had all of the money and power at his disposal to find satisfaction and he could find none “under the sun.” This was his way to say that nothing on this earth could truly bring pleasure and satisfaction to man. He prescribes us to, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Only God can truly satisfy us and bring us pleasure. Entertainment is fine until it replaces God. Turn off the T.V., game system, or computer if you have to, and return your focus and attention to God.
3. the god of Sex
2 Samuel 13 tells us a story of passion and the god of sex destroying lives. Amnon, David’s son, was attracted to and fell in love with his half sister Tamar. He became so obsessed with her that he made himself ill. His friend tells him there’s no reason to be ill over his affection for his sister. He tells him to pretend to be sick in bed and request Tamar to come cook for him. (*wink, wink* if you know what I’m saying.) He follows his friends “advice.” When Tamar comes to cook for him, he makes his intentions known and grabs hold of her. She tries to fight him off and tries to persuade him not to do this by appealing to her and his honor. He refuses and rapes her. He gave into his obsession and passion violating her, her honor, and his honor. But afterwards he “hates her more than he ever loved her.” (2 Sam 13:15). He was not satisfied like he thought he would be. Absolom, Tamar’s other brother, finds out and kills him for what he did to his sister. Amnon followed the god of sex just to be disappointed and lead to his destruction.
The god of pleasure, especially the god of sex can never truly bring us satisfaction. It lies to us and causes us to bring about destruction. “I would never rape my sister, or anyone! How can the god of sex ruin my life? How am I worshiping the god of sex?” Well, do you spend countless hours watching sexual material on your computer, T.V., or phone? Do you have countless one night stands or anything? Are you cheating on your spouse? These are great examples of someone worshiping the god of sex. They destroy your life by contracting diseases and alienating you from other people.
Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman [or man] with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her [or him] in his [or her] heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28). When we look at someone sexually, we have succumbed to the god of sex. “Man Crush Mondays,” “Too Hott Tuesdays,” and “Woman Crush Wednesdays,” have become a popular fad where people, usually teenagers, post photos of said crush. Most of the time, this is harmless. They’ll post a simple picture of their crush, friend, boyfriend or girlfriend. Other times, though, they post half naked pictures of said crush with comments of, “mmmmm so sexy!” or “What I wouldn’t do get him/her!”. These are kind of extreme, but it’s true and more common than I would like to think. I watch countless teenagers lust over people from their schools, movie stars, or pop stars. This is easier to do than we wish. We let our minds wander after the Victoria Secret commercial aired, or after watching Channing Tatum take his shirt off in whatever recent movie he’s done. We have to guard our hearts and minds in these situations. Paul tells us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We can either become slaves to our passions just as Amnon was, or we can be contained into freedom in Christ.
Just as food and entertainment can be good, so can sex. In fact, they’re all gifts from God. God gave us the gift of sex to “join as one” in marriage (Genesis 2:24). It brings pleasure and intimacy, but a good gift can be turned into something bad. A gift can be turned into an idol. Idleman says:
Think this through with me. When we worship sex as a god, we find that it leads to the exact opposite of its divine design as a gift.
As a gift it brings connection; as a god it causes loneliness
As a gift it brings pleasure; as a god it leads to emptiness.
As a gift it brings satisfaction; but as a god it demands slavery.
As a gift it brings intimacy; as a god, separation.
As a gift it brings unity; as a god it often causes divorce.
It’s a beautiful gift and a tyrant of a god.
When pleasure becomes your god, you experience anything but. The god of pleasure is the master of bait and switch, luring us in with images and promises that become the chains and shackles of our mental imprisonment. (105, gods at War)
We worship at the temple of pleasure in different ways. The god there cannot fulfill our desires the way that God can and has intended for us. To look to the gods of food, entertainment, and sex will only leave us disappointed, empty, and wanting more. God fulfills our desires, he fills up our emptiness, and he leaves us satisfied.
The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing [God]. (C.S. Lewis, 136-137, Mere Christianity)
Idleman, Kyle. Gods at War: Defeating the Idols That Battle for Your Heart. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2013. $15