Our ideas matter, especially our ideas of God.
Let’s break it down logically for a moment. If I assume that those hot and fresh-off-the-conveyor-belt doughnuts from Krispy Kreme have ingredients that will allow me to live a healthy lifestyle and feel great, I’m going to have an issue. This is especially true for the Krispy Kreme cheeseburger, affectionately known as “baseball’s best burger.”
If I relegate seat belts as a waste of time, I’m going to put my life and the lives of my family at unnecessary risk. At a minimum, I’m inviting an easily avoidable ticket.
If I assume that country music is actually good music, I’m going to experience a lot of depression and confusion. (This is a running joke with many of my Arizona friends. It’s tough growing up in Arizona when you don’t happen to be a fan of country music.)
If I assume that cows are holy and could be a person reincarnated (as Hindus believe), I will drive around a cow instead of moving it from the middle of the street. As an entire community, we will stop traffic for a cow until it moves. I’ve seen this happen in Nepal firsthand.
The list goes on and on. Ideas shape actions.
Cultures create constitutions based on values and beliefs. These shape the governments, which enforce the principles established. This is evident in the laws of that culture that ensure people live according to the agreed ideas. A revolution is a moment in history when the people decide they need new ideas to live by.
In the biblical book of Jonah, God called Jonah to go and preach to the city of Nineveh. Nineveh was a great city of antiquity and was then the dominant city of the region. God had a heart for the Ninevites and Jonah didn’t. In fact, Jonah cared so little about them he tried everything possible to avoid bringing them healing and forgiveness through God. God eventually persuaded Jonah to obey Him (ever heard that story of the big fish?), and Jonah told the Ninevites to turn from their wicked ways. And then the remarkable happened. The entire city altered its course. They turned from the wicked things they were doing and embraced what God wanted them to do. Jonah was one of the most successful prophets of all time.
But the story doesn’t end there. That’s why I love reading the Bible. There is so much humanity represented authentically. Jonah then turned on God because God forgave the city of Nineveh. Instead of Jonah changing his heart about the Ninevites, as they did with God, Jonah vented his frustration to God and told him he was so angry he wanted to die. Not exactly your model prophet of God. We learn an incredible insight about God from the last verse of the book of Jonah. In verse 11 of chapter 4, in response to all of Jonah’s whining, God asked him, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left?”
God pointed out the depravity of the Ninevites to Jonah. He used an incredible phrase — “people who cannot tell their right hand from their left” — to sum up an entire culture of belief leading to brokenness. It wasn’t just one person’s belief, because beliefs aren’t private. There were a hundred and twenty thousand people who held the same values. God told Jonah that He needed him to help them change their ideas. And we see that when they changed their shared ideas, they changed their city’s history.
In the 1800s, a German poet named Heinrich Heine said, “Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder.” The things we think about lead to the things we do. That’s why our beliefs, as theoretical as we might think they are, translate quickly into actions. It’s ironic that he made these statements in Germany, roughly one hundred years before Hitler would usher in radical ideas with radical results. Heine is perhaps best known for his quote, found in a few of the major Holocaust museums, about how when people burn books they will eventually burn people. It comes as no surprise that his own books were among those that Hitler burned.
Ideas have consequences.
It is tempting to argue, at some point in this journey, “What does it matter what I think about something like pleasure?” The answer, readily clear with perspective, is everything. You pursue pleasure according to what you believe about pleasure.
If you decide you can experience pleasure on your own terms and in your own ways, you will also experience many consequences that decrease each pleasure. Welcome to normal. But if you decide there is a right way and a wrong way to experience pleasure, you will spend time trying to get the most out of pleasure without the unnecessary consequences.
But this argument falls far short of political correctness. Shouldn’t we allow everyone to draw their own conclusions about pleasure? What does it matter if they live according to ideas far different from mine?
If ideas have consequences, both good and bad, then none of us are immune from the ideas of others. Even Austin Cline, a leading voice for atheism today and a person whom we might expect to push on the notion of proper belief, argued the same point.
Beliefs are important because behavior is important and your behavior depends on your beliefs. Everything you do can be traced back to beliefs you hold about the world . . . All this means that beliefs are not an entirely private matter.
Our best chance is to start with the right beliefs about God and His creation of pleasure. These would be healthy beliefs that lead to maximum pleasure. Any unhealthy belief that deviates from God’s design decreases the pleasure we’d experience. The further we move away from the design, the more brokenness we’ll experience in our pursuit of pleasure. But the reverse is also true. The closer we align ourselves to the design, the more complete our pleasure will be.
If we can conclude that God is indeed good, and that God created pleasure, then it stands to reason that pleasure is inherently good, or at least can be enjoyed in a good way. We are searching for a good part of creation from a good God.
—Adapted from Redeeming Pleasure, pages 225-228.