The Pleasure Principle

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While completing a wildly practical Bachelor of Arts degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland I took a few psychology courses as electives. This obviously qualifies me to speak to the masses concerning the psychoanalytic phenomenon known as the pleasure principle.

Of course, several years have passed since my university days so I do confess to having refreshed my memory by visiting dictionary.com. The pleasure principle is there defined as “the idea that psychological processes and actions are governed by the gratification of needs. It is seen as the governing process of the id, whereas the reality principle is the governing process of the ego: see also hedonism.”

Observe the phrase: “see also hedonism,” referring of course to the teaching that pleasure or happiness represents the highest good for humanity. Therefore, we should pursue pleasure at all costs. We should live for it. Spend our money on it. Sacrifice our children on its altars.

The trouble with pleasure is that it’s just so pleasing. It feels good. It’s opposite would seem to be pain or torment or general unpleasantness. Who wants that? Sin is tempting because it promises us this fairly immediate, though temporary, reward of pleasure. Sin initially gratifies something within us. Something dark and sinister perhaps, but nevertheless it seems to satisfy that certain something.

Hebrews 11:25 tells us that Moses choose to suffer mistreatment with God’s people rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. So let’s say two roads were before him. He had to choose which one to travel. One promised pleasure. The other was marked with suffering. Why on God’s green earth would he chose the later road?

Let me offer two good reasons? Firstly, he knew the pleasures of sin were fleeting. They would quickly vanish into thin air, like money often does from my bank accounts. Devastating consequences would follow Moses choice to sin, as they inevitably do.

Secondly, Moses knew that the suffering was fleeting too. Just as the pleasure wouldn’t last, neither would the suffering. Right choices always get rewarded, even if the immediate result is suffering. Bad choices will always get punished, even if the immediate result is pleasure. Moses understood this. Hebrews 11:26 tells us that Moses, “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” Did you catch that? Moses knew his initial suffering wasn’t the full story. Eventually, he would be rewarded for his choice to serve God. It’s too bad more people didn’t grasp this truth today.

Now when I say this about reward and suffering I’m not really factoring in God’s grace and mercy. God can and often does turn this entire process upside down by forgiving people and giving them what they don’t deserve (grace) and withholding from them what they do deserve (mercy). We don’t deserve heaven but we get it, that’s grace. We deserve hell but we don’t get it, that’s mercy. We all need the grace and mercy of God, which is why I pray for it every day. You might want to consider doing the same.

Life consists of a myriad of choices. We make choices about the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the education we obtain, the person we marry. But the most right choice we can ever make is the choice to believe in Jesus Christ. Not just to believe some things about Him but to believe everything the bible says about Him, from Genesis to Revelation.

According to Jesus Himself the simple choice to believe in Him carries the greatest reward of all. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47) Can it really be that simple? Believe in Jesus and have everlasting life? Well, try it and see what happens. Read a little bit about Him every day. Find out everything you can about Him. Talk to Him. Listen to Him. Trust Him. I think you’ll find that the rewards of seeking Him are truly out of this world.

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My Sanctified Addiction

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We’re only a couple of weeks into it but the new year is not off to a great start.
It could be worse of course, but it could also be better. The problem with the new year is that it follows Christmas. We’re pressured to make resolutions right after a time of uninhibited gluttony and drunkenness. Which begs the question. Why must the season of excess be immediately followed by a time of gut-wrenching restraint?

I had almost gotten my coke addiction under wraps. But then Christmas came along bringing its annual barrage of stress. I can’t drink beer anymore. Wine is out of the picture. Liquor and I never did mix well, no pun intended. Some would say that I could drink beer or liquor if I wanted too because we’re not under law but under grace. My current attitude to alcohol is best summed up in a quote by William Shakespeare: “Oh thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou has no name to be known by, let us call thee devil.”

The truth is, I have no desire to drink the stuff. I never did like the taste of it. The taste of coke or pepsi is another matter entirely. I actually read somewhere that this drink was originally concocted by a doctor. Such a discovery gave me hope that perhaps the drink is not as unhealthy as we are sometimes led to believe. I could wish it were the healthiest drink on earth. It would be better for my conscience and also my stomach. But alas I fear that some of the scientific studies are correct.

Can I then judge smokers? What is the sin with tobacco smoking? A. It’s unhealthy. B. It’s addicting. The trouble I’m having is that those two criteria can probably be applied to my favourite carbonated soda. Ouch. A case could be made as to the difference in degrees. Yes, coke is unhealthy but probably not nearly as unhealthy as smoking. Yes, people get addicted to coke but don’t they also get addicted to food in general. I absolutely refuse to give up food. I simply will not do it. I know people who have and it didn’t end well for them. I can’t believe it’s possible to be addicted to salads. Must I restrict my diet to food that is green and leafy and tasteless? As Job said, “Can flavourless food be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” (Job 6:6) Thanks Job. Now I’m craving bacon.

My problem is that I carry two labels that constantly tempt me toward perfectionism. Firstly, I am a Christian. Secondly, I am a pastor. Should I not then have victory, even over the slightest of temptations? Shouldn’t I be praying instead of watching the hockey game while sipping on a cold glass of coke and munching on a bag of chips? Should a man who preaches God’s Word every Sunday indulge in a second bowl of ice cream or spend his hard earned money on a chocolate bar? The money for the chocolate bar could have been given to the poor. It almost sounds like something Judas would say doesn’t it? Many people in the  world don’t have the bare necessities much less a chocolate chip cookie and a pound of bacon.

Perhaps I am dodging the issue. The real problem is sugar. I love it. I can scarcely get enough of it. I consider it my sanctified addiction. I’m not yet to the point where I stash sugary treats away in hidden corners of the house. There’s really no need for that. My wife likes it too, which is a great relief. She can appreciate the thrill of a sugar rush. I probably won’t start carrying around a bottle of coke in a brown paper bag stuffed inside my jacket. I trust it won’t come to that.

I’m not sure it matters much in terms of my Christian witness. John the Baptist fasted frequently and barely ate enough to keep a bird alive and people thought he was demon possessed. Jesus ate and drank freely and they called Him a glutton and a winebibber. Therein lies one of the many paradoxes of being a Christian. It matters greatly what you say and do and yet it doesn’t matter at all. What really matters is what Jesus said and did.

A couple of paragraphs ago I said that the real problem was sugar. I now relent. Sugar is not the problem. The real problem is sin. Hence, I give myself permission to quit focussing on minor issues. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution? If I was addicted to frequent outbursts of wrath that frightened my wife and freaked out my kid then I’d have something to worry about. But an affinity for sweets? Nah. I’m not sure it’s even worth the mental energy required to overcome it.

But I could be wrong. It doesn’t happen often but I must allow for the possibility. Of course, the only One who was never wrong was Jesus. Which brings me to the long awaited summary. Sin is the problem and Jesus is the answer. There’s the gospel in a chocolate covered nutshell. In the new year I intend to focus more on spreading it, like raspberry jam on a slice of toast. Will I follow through? I hope so. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I feel a craving coming on. I have only two choices. Deny it or satisfy it? Hmmm.

Lessons from a Hot Tub

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Despite our chronic financial challenges my little family and I (me, wife and boy) occasionally treat ourselves to a night in a hotel.
This we recently did. The hotel in question had a warm pool, a hot sauna, and hot tub that was just a few degrees shy of boiling. Myself and the boy started out in the pool. It was like swimming in an overgrown bathtub, which is exactly how I like it. So pleasant was the experience that we decided to try out the hot tub. That’s where things starting going downhill in terms of the pleasantness.

I felt like a lobster being lowered into a boiling pot. After my body got over the initial shock it was actually quite relaxing. The water was so hot that the boy decided to merely dangle up to his knees, while I sat there fully immersed. After the boy commented on the redness of my skin I felt it was an appropriate time to exit the tub.

But then company showed up and since they were complete strangers we had a lot of catching up to do. The two elderly ladies of the group of three were quite impressed by the outgoing personality of our boy. He did most of the talking while I sat there boiling to death, so they likely deduced that he got his personality from his mother. And they would be right. A short time later the boy engaged in another conversation with a young lady on the elevator. Meanwhile, I stood there speechless unable to muster as much as a simple hello. Then again I was still reeling from my extended stay in the boiling pot.

In any case, our long foray into the hot tub led yours truly to develop feelings of sickness. I self-diagnosed myself with dehydration and wrote myself a prescription for two advil and eight to ten glasses of water.

But the hot tub experience got me thinking about the general experiences of life. Firstly, I entered the hot tub of my own free will. Nobody forced me into it. Also, I choose to stay in the hot tub longer than I should have. And I couldn’t help but wonder. Do we sometimes stay longer in situations than we should just because it’s comfortable? I could have exited that hot tub any time I wanted but I choose to stay in it. It was my choice. And I suffered for it.

Who could I blame? The eight-year old? The company of complete strangers? Ultimately no (tempting though it was). I could only blame myself. Of course, the consequences weren’t overly terrible – exhaustion and a headache. Both were remedied fairly easily (see prescription above). However, consequences for life’s bigger choices are not always so easily remedied.

The problem is that we don’t always feel the full extent of staying in certain situation until we’re out of them. I didn’t have a headache while soaking in the boiling pot of water. The headache came afterward. In fact, I felt pretty good while in the tub, which explains my reluctance to get out. The sickly feelings came once the ordeal was finally over. And that’s often how it is in the steamy situations of life.

It’s only after we leave a situation (or relationship) that we begin to see the damage that it has done to us. Perhaps I should not have entered the hot tub in the first place. What was wrong with the pool? Nothing. It was the perfect temperature. Not too hot. Not too cold. But alas the hot tub kept whispering my name. “Surely, you’re not going to leave the pool and fitness area of this fine hotel until you’ve dipped your weary frame in my swirling, soothing waters.”

Perhaps I should have applied Proverbs 23:31-32 to the allure of the tub.
“Do not look on the wine (water) when it is red (clear), When it sparkles in the cup (tub), When it swirls around smoothly.
(32) At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper.”

The scaling water bit my hydration level. It stung my head causing an ache. Not the most exegetically sound interpretation of the above verses but it works for me.