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Should I Feel Guilty About Enjoying Earthly Pleasures?

Grappling Questions of Pleasure and Guilt

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Guilty Pleasure
Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

I received this email from Colin, a site reader with an interesting question:

Here is a brief summary of my position: I live in a middle class family, and although we are not at all extravagant in our spending, we have the normal items found in any such family. I attend a university college where I am training to become a teacher. Again, I would say that I live a reasonably non-excessive student life. I have, for the most part, always believed in God, and recently have tried to live a more Christian lifestyle. Due to this I have become interested in being more ethical with things I buy, e.g., fair trade food, or recycling.

Recently, however, I have been questioning my lifestyle and whether or not it is necessary. By this I mean that I am unsure if I should feel guilty that I have so much when there are people in the world who have so little. As I said, I feel that I do try and moderate things and I do try to never spend frivolously.

My question, therefore, is this: Is it right to enjoy the things I am lucky enough to have, be it objects, friends or even food? Or should I feel guilty and perhaps try to give most of these up?"

I read in your insightful article - 'Common Misconceptions of New Christians'. In it are these 2 points that relate to this question:

  • 'Misconception 9 - Christians should not enjoy any earthly pleasures.
    I believe God created all of the good, wholesome, enjoyable, and fun things we have on this earth as a blessing for us to enjoy. The key is not holding on to these earthly things too tightly. We should grasp and enjoy our blessings with our palms held open and tilted up.'

- I do believe this also.

  • 'Misconception 2 - Becoming a Christian means giving up all my fun and following a life of rules.
    A joyless existence of mere rule-following is not true Christianity and the abundant life God intends for you.'

- Again, this is a sentiment I very much agree with.

In closing, my feelings at this very moment are that I should try and help others as much as I can whilst continuing my current lifestyle. I would greatly appreciate any reflections you have about these feelings.

Thank you again,
Colin

Before I begin my response, let's establish a biblical background from James 1:17:

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (NIV)

So, should we feel guilty about enjoying earthly pleasures?

I believe God created the earth and everything in it for our pleasure. God wants us to enjoy all of the beauty and wonder that he made. The key, however, is always holding onto God's gifts with open hands and open hearts. We must be willing to let go whenever God decides to take away one of those gifts, whether it be a loved one, a new house or a steak dinner.

Job, the Old Testament man, enjoyed great wealth from the Lord. He was also considered by God to be a righteous man. When he lost everything he said in Job 1:21:

“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had,
and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”
(NLT)

Thoughts to Consider

Perhaps God is leading you to live with less for a purpose? Perhaps God knows you will find greater joy and enjoyment in a less complicated life, unencumbered with material things. On the other hand, perhaps God will use the blessings you've received as a witness of his goodness to your neighbors, friends and family.

If you daily and earnestly seek him, he will lead you by your conscience - that quiet inner voice. If you trust him with your hands held open, palms tilted up in praise for his gifts, always offering them back to God should he require them, I believe your heart will be led by his peace.

Might God call one person to a life of poverty and sacrifice for a purpose - one that brings glory to God - while calling another person to a life of financial abundance, also for the purpose of bringing glory to God? I believe the answer is yes. I also believe both lives will be equally blessed and filled with the joy of obedience and a sense of fulfillment from living within the will of God.

One last thought: Perhaps there is just a tiny bit of guilt in the enjoyment of pleasure felt by all Christians? Could this be to remind us of Christ's sacrifice and the grace and goodness of God. Perhaps guilt is not the right word. A better word might be gratefulness. Colin said this in a later email:

"On reflection, I think that maybe there will always be a small feeling of guilt, however this is beneficial, as it serves to remind us of the gifts you speak about."

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