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The Problem of Pleasure

Christmas has officially ended. I know this because after 3 months of pushing feast-foods, chocolate, and cookies on me, Walmart is now not so subtly hinting that I need to go on a diet. Time to pay the piper. This irritates me every year for different reasons. I tend to be rebellious, which makes it hard for me to diet in January and easy for me to mutter my way through the grocery aisles. But buried in this yearly dance is a truth. Pleasure has a price.

I have not made any formal resolutions this year but I have instituted a new habit. While I am making my breakfast of eggs, against everything that is in me that would rather eat toast, I listen to a podcast by Ravi Zacharias. The last 4 mornings I have listened and re-listened to Ravi’s sessions on The Problem of Pleasure.

Ravi says that all pleasure must be bought at the price of pain. This does not mean that pleasure in itself is evil, only that it must be paid for. Virtuous pleasure is paid for ahead of time. Work hard, sweat through an uphill battle, and you get to enjoy a little leisure, maybe a movie or murder mystery. When we indulge in pleasure before we have earned it, we are moving toward meaninglessness.

“Meaninglessness does not come from too much pain but rather from too much pleasure.” This is timely. It occurred to me this year while buying Christmas presents. I can get almost any book on Earth, any movie or any song without effort these days. There isn’t much sense in buying my children a special CD or movie any more. Our abundance has suddenly become so great that our pleasures have become harsh taskmasters. My to-be-read book pile is so overloaded with great suggestions it threatens to kill me in my sleep. My TV actually has a station I can tune into that broadcasts full-screen HD Monet paintings while playing classical music. 25 years ago I would have killed for copies of Monet’s works for our family. Now I can look at any painting, any time via the Internet. I am worn ragged by an abundance of pleasure, much of it genuinely good, but I am unable to find real joy in it because for much of the pleasure I have failed to pay the price. It is meaningless.

Ravi continues says that, “The closer you get to pure pleasures the closer you get to the heart of God and the closer you get to impure pleasures the further you get from the heart of God.”

In a way, Classical education is all about pure pleasure. We pursue virtue through truth, beauty, and goodness. Simple, beautiful, paid-for, pleasures draw us nearer to virtue and nearer to God. We pay the price when we study hard. We work to obtain knowledge and understanding and in turn we enjoy the pleasurable fruit of wisdom.

Ravi ends with this, “True pleasure produces an intimacy that unites both body and soul.”

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