Wednesday, July 16, 2008

on self-control, a theology of balance, and the enjoyment of chocolate cake in heaven

I've always been suspicious of theological positions based on "balance," as if you can take two extremes and find the truth mid-way between them. It's never seemed to me particularly Biblical.

The theology of pleasure has two extremes: asceticism, the self-denying rejection of pleasure, and hedonism, the self-indulgent pursuit of pleasure. Neither are suitable for the Christian. But this doesn't mean the correct approach to pleasure is mid-way between them.

So I nodded enthusiastically when I read this comment by Richard Longenecker on Galatians 5:18 in the Word Biblical Commentary on Galatians:

The Christian gospel has to do with a third way of life that is distinct from both nomism and libertinism - not one that takes a middle course between the two, as many try to do in working out a Christian lifestyle on their own, but that is a "highway above them both" (Burton, Galatians, 302). The antidote to license in the Christian life is not laws, but openness to the Spirit and being guided by the Spirit. For being "in Christ" means neither nomism nor libertinism, but a new quality of life based in and directed by the Spirit.
Not legalism or libertinism, but a "highway above them both". Beautifully put!

Our love for God is supposed to be one-eyed and passionate, not measured and balanced. At every moment we throw ourselves body and soul into his service, and the loving service of others. At every moment our choices - what we eat, who we sleep with, how we entertain ouselves - should be guided by his Spirit through his Word.

We enjoy the things of this world with enthusiastic thanksgiving to the Giver. And we deny ourselves the things of this world because our joy in God makes earthly pleasures pale in comparison. Moderation is a useful tool to control our bodily desires, and to help us sit lightly to this world's pleasures. But in some ways moderation is a necessary evil for people on this side of heaven.

In heaven we won't be asking ourselves "Should I eat this piece of chocolate cake?". We'll be too busy swimming in the endless sea of joy in God's presence. And if we enjoy chocolate cake, as perhaps we will, it will be with enthusiastic enjoyment, and with hearts full of thanksgiving for the grace and generosity of God.

I explored these issues more fully in my earlier posts on what self-control means in the Bible here, here and here.
image is by thea0211 at stock.xchng


David McKay said...

Hi Jean
Gordon brought me here, which beats Guy Sebastian's angels, I think.

I think the correct position often is between two others, but the supposed middle line is rather jagged and is often quite close to, but not the same as, one of the extremes.

Jean said...

Yes, it can look that way. I think the point I was making is that this is not why we choose a position - because it's a "balanced" one - but because it's biblical. And the bible is more for all-out love and obedience in every moment than for "moderation". Even "self-control" in the bible is about not giving one's body up to sin, rather than about the stoic version of self-denial.