4 minute read
By: Shane James O’Neill
A Land of Pleasure
Did you know Eden means pleasure, even ecstasy? Some versions have more literally translated a verse like Genesis 2:8 as “The Lord planted a paradise of pleasure” instead of “a garden in Eden.”
The story goes that God created man and woman to be in perfect relationship together, and they were to use their intimacy in co-ruling to expand Eden to all of creation. The purpose of humanity was to reflect God’s image of goodness, truth, and beauty to the smallest insect and the greatest galaxy. The environment created for humans in order to best reflect God was a garden of paradise, called Pleasure.
A Religion of NO?
Dr. Joseph R. Dongell points out that Christianity is often seen as a religion that says “no,” a religion founded upon sexual prohibitions. Yet, from the beginning, God designed humans to explore creation in a context of pleasure.
There was one “no,” humans weren’t permitted to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It’s significant to point out, the land was filled with a multiplicity of other trees. For that one “no,” God gave us a thousand “yeses.”
And yet, we had to go for that one no.
People are quick to connect in-the-moment gratification with pleasure. But no does not diminish pleasure, often the best kinds of pleasures cannot be experienced unless we say no to lesser pleasures.
For instance, an athlete striving to win will say no to a wide variety of foods; the law student will say no to social invitations in order to focus on their bar exam; the good parent will say no to a great many things that a child may want, things that the child wants desperately but if given would actually endanger the child.
Many of our “noes” are necessary as protective care for ourselves and others. Dongell says, “we all set boundaries against temporary and partial pleasures in order to attain greater pleasure. If we intend to achieve the highest satisfaction in any area of our life, we must learn to say “no” clearly, firmly, and often.” Understanding the value of no in our lives does not require any overt religious or moral beliefs, just an honest understanding of pleasure and love.
This is especially true with sexuality. Sexual exploitation is not the same as stubbing a toe. Why? Because our identity as sexual beings runs deep and when that identity is violated it can impact all of the other relationships around us and require years upon years of healing.
If sex offers such great pleasure, then just like anything good and beautiful, shouldn’t the yes of sex be protected with thoughtful and protective noes??
#MeToo and the Apostle Paul
The implicit (and too often explicit) sexual pressure of our current culture, which so many feel victimized by, can be clearly seen in something like the #MeToo movement. Often, people were not outright abused, but the sexual promiscuity in our social circles compelled people to give themselves sexually when they really did not want to. So many people gave themselves physically, and all the while they felt exploited for it.
This connection between identity and sexuality is what the apostle Paul is bringing up in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. The point being, the body cannot be used however a person wants to use it. We are fragile and we’ve left the land of ecstasy to pursue our own design of pleasure, we want to be the gods of our own gratification. We’re exploiting ourselves, our own identities, because we refuse to hear the word “no.”
We burn in a desert of shame, using sand to hide us from the light and to cover our scars, all the while a land yielding safety and affection invites us to tend its garden and live from its faithful abundance.
God of Pleasure
You want pleasure? Of course you do, God made you to dwell within His gardens. The exile we experience by being away from such a place is that we live with a broken pleasure-compass, we try and use pleasure to get back to Eden. But you already know what it’s like to be the god of your own pleasures, and the drought you bring upon the garden of your soul. You know the pain; you’ve seen it in others’ lives, and you’ve felt it within yourself. It’s an empty land, bereft of actual joy.
All of this runs down to two questions: Can you trust Him with your pleasure? Can you stop saying yes to your sense of pleasure and start saying yes to His cross-shaped affection for you? If you look at His faithfulness, it will create in you a heart of faithfulness. Turn in your compass to one oriented by the God who loves you and gave Himself for you — the God who designed an Eden of Pleasure for you in the very beginning.
In Jesus, we are consummated with all the pleasures of Eden, as every promise of God finds its yes and amen in Christ (1 Cor. 1:20).
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
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Shane James O’Neill is the Editorial Director for Proven Men Ministries. He is currently working on a graduate degree in apologetics at Liberty University’s Rawling School of Divinity.