Permissible Christianity vs. Pleasure Maximizing Christianity
To choose between a good and bad thing is easy. Our moral dilemma’s come when we either perceive that we must choose the lesser evil of two bad things, or the better between two good things. According to the holy and sacred scripture (and all of its moral context), we are to do all we do for the Glory of God. Since we cannot always judge best, we might safely assume that whatever helps us to better obey the commandments of God will just as much help us in glorifying God. Therefore, if we have a choice between two goods which are equally permissible, we must not choose by whim or presumptuous interpretations of providence, but we must sincerely seek to discern which of the two possible options is most likely to lead us into more obedience.
Specifically helpful is considering obedience to the first commandment, which encompasses all the others (that is, to love the LORD with all of our heart). Often, our dilemma between two goods can be relieved if only we thought this question through in every part of our life.
For example, not all secular music promotes sin (though most of it does—if not explicitly, subtlety). Thus, listening to secular music which does not promote sin is “permissible.” But this would be a poor reason to make it part of your musical diet. Many things are permissible which are not necessarily helpful with respect to our purpose of cultivating more love for God. What kind of music most effectively stirs my heart for the things of God? What friends of mine most consistently lead my thoughts toward God and help me to better love Him? What habits in my life are truly helping me to achieve a greater level of love for God?
When we become convinced that one option is more likely to lead us into a deeper love for Christ than another option, would we not be obligated to choose it? If so, this is the end of our moral dilemma. When choosing between two goods, however, we are not omniscient. We cannot foresee every factor which will help or hurt our cause. However, we must be honest and earnest in our seeking to discern what options are most likely (to the best of our limited knowledge) to help us love God more—for this will be the end of our uncertainty and the beginning of a life of confidence in our courses of action. We must avoid at all costs being superstitious, lazy, impressionistic, and carnal in our choices. We must avoid at all costs a minimalistic Christianity which merely asks “Is this permissible?” We must rather seek those things which most effectively stir our affections for God, help us to grow in our walk with Christ, and most glorify God.
Glorifying God is the ultimate pleasure. We were created for this very purpose, to glorify the worth and holiness of God. When we do not live consistently for this purpose, our joy falters. Asking whether or not something is “permissible” is so often the wrong question (though unavoidable at times). It’s a quick way to quench the Spirit and all of our passion for the things of God. Minimilistic Christianity in effect asks this question, “How can I have the least amount of pleasure in Christ?” What a miserable way to look at the Christian life. Instead, we should ask, “How can I maximize my pleasure in God?” This question is synonymous with “How can I maximize my love for God and obedience to His commandments?” or “How can I most Glorify God?” To ask these questions from a sincere heart is the first step to a more radical pleasure producing paradigm for the Christian life.