In chapter 8 of The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul discusses his childhood struggle with the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is man’s chief end?” The catechism answers, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Although the young R. C. found this easy to memorize, he found it difficult to understand.
“I couldn’t quite put the two parts of the answer together. I was unable to see how enjoyment fit with glorifying God. I realized that to glorify God involved some kind of obedience to His holy law. That did not sound like much fun. Already I knew the conflict between my own enjoyment and obeying the laws of God.”
God a Barrier To Joy
Looking back on that time when he saw God as a barrier to joy, Dr. Sproul came to realize his struggle was rooted in a failure to realize the difference between happiness and pleasure, a struggle that he admits (don’t we all!) continues into his adult life.
“There are still childish things that cling to my adult life. I still struggle with the difference between happiness and pleasure. I know the difference in my head, but it has not yet reached my bloodstream.”
So what’s the difference between happiness and pleasure? Dr. Sproul says, that no sin ever made him happy. Quite the reverse; sin brought much unhappiness into his life. However, he admits, his sins have brought him great pleasure. “Sin can be pleasurable, but it never brings happiness,” he explains. Which raises two questions.
First, why do we sin? If we know the difference between happiness and pleasure, how can we continue to choose pleasure instead of happiness? Answer – utter stupidity.
“It seems utterly stupid for a person to do something that he knows will rob him of his happiness. Yet we do it. The mystery of sin is not only that it is wicked and destructive but also that it is so downright stupid.”
Second, can happiness and pleasure ever be found together? From a first reading, it might appear that Dr. Sproul is saying that all pleasure is sinful.
Not at all. He’s careful to say that not all pleasures are sins: “There is much pleasure to be found in righteousness.”
God created us in such a way that righteousness, happiness, and pleasure all perfectly align. If one was absent, all were. If one was present, all were. In their unfallen state, Adam and Eve found it easy to align them all. There were no impediments, no obstructions, and no hindrances to happy and pleasurable holiness.
But all that was lost when Adam and Eve decided to pursue happiness and pleasure apart from holiness. The devil drove a wedge between holiness, happiness, and pleasure, and has been doing the same ever since: “Disobey Him and get delight. Hate him and get happiness. Rebel for revelry. Jilt Him for joy. Boot Him for bliss.”
But, regardless of the lies, happiness and pleasure are still perfectly aligned with holiness. In that sense nothing has changed since paradise. What has changed, as the young R. C. discovered, is that it’s much harder to see that, to believe that, to pursue that, and to achieve that.
May our holy God give us the faith and fuel to pursue holiness with all our might, to love God with all our heart, and so discover joy’s juices flowing through our veins again.