Joy and Pleasure: A Series of Contrasts

In True Sexual Morality, Daniel Heimbach, a SEBTS professor of ethics, engages a predominate view of sexuality that he labels “Playboy Sexual Morality” (see pp. 267-81). In his chapter, Dr Heimbach makes a helpful distinction between pleasure and joy.

Now, as a devoted Christian Hedonist, I’ve learned to avoid making a radical distinction between joy, happiness, delight, and pleasure.  The reason? Scripture commands us to rejoice in the Lord (Phil 4:4), delight ourselves in the Lord (Ps 37:4), and pursue pleasure in the presence of God (Ps 16:9-11). It uses a plethora of words to call men to make God their greatest treasure, pleasure, and delight.

Therefore, at first, I was tempted to dismiss Heimbach’s disjunction.  Yet, in juxtaposition to the Playboy sexuality of Hugh Heffner and his disciples, Heimbach’s list distinguishes the joy (and pleasure) God calls us to find in him from the fleeting sensations of sexual arousal.  Though Heimbach does not use the term Christian Hedonism, his list rightly distinguishes Christian Hedonism which finds its greatest pleasure in God, from self-centered hedonism which makes a god of sexual pleasure.

While his distinctions run a couple pages, here are the leading differences. If they sound interesting, I’d encourage you to pick up his book: True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis (Crossway, 2004), 274-75.

1. Pleasure is temporary, joy is eternal . . .

2. Pleasure has physical and mental limits, joy has no limits . . .

3. Pleasure cannot tolerate pain, joy endures regardless of sensation . . .

4. Pleasure is something we produce for ourselves, joy is from God . . .

5. Pleasure is shallow, joy is profound . . .

6. Pleasure is impersonal, joy is personal . . .

7. Pleasure is about taking and getting, joy is about giving and serving . . .

8. Pleasure can be either good or bad, joy is always good and never bad . . .

Heimbach’s list explains why the joys and pleasures of knowing God are infinitely better than the pleasures of the flesh. Not surprisingly, God’s call to pursue sexual intimacy in marriage is not a call to reduce our pleasure. Just the reverse. As the most beautiful and desirable Being in the universe, God commands us to walk in holiness so that we would not miss out on him.

Sex is a gift that points us to the Giver. Tragically, the world has become obsessed with the gift and blind to the One who created us to be sexual beings.

A life lived for pleasure will never satisfy, unless that pleasure is purified into a holy joy in the Lord. When that happens God becomes the fountain that fills our hearts with radiant delight and eternal pleasures. Sexual pleasure is protected from becoming a deadly idol. And intimacy between a man and his wife becomes one more way in which Christians can give thanks to God—our Creator and Joy-Giving Savior.

Consider the differences between joy and pleasure, and ask yourself, “What are you pursuing?”

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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