“Why Is This World Filled With Happiness and Pleasure?”
Every morning I grab a cup of coffee, read my Bible, and check the news headlines. This has been my normal routine for quite a while now and I expect it will remain so. The news reports alone would be a negative way to begin the day, which is one of the reasons I spend some time in the Bible to focus my hope in Christ. However, some may interject, “How can you read the Bible and the news? If God is so good and powerful, why is the world so messed up? Don’t you see the problem?” To which I respond by taking a sip of my nice hot cup of coffee.
This is not intended to be a glib response to a serious question. Rather, it is to highlight an oft-neglected aspect of this conversation: namely, we live in a world not simply of pain but also of pleasure. That is to say, while we may spend time reflecting on what some have deemed, “the problem of evil”, we have not spent enough time reflecting on “the problem of pleasure”.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” This familiar sentiment is thrown around so flippantly it would seem to be an assumed truth. However, I would like to challenge one the fundamental premises of the question; that is, the insinuation that people are “good”. You see, it makes us feel better to assume that all people are inherently good. However, we don’t live like that. Don’t believe me? Question: Do you lock your doors at night? Why would do that if people are inherently good? The only reason we take any form of security precaution is because we recognize that people are not basically good but are primed for evil.
That is not to say that people are as bad as they could be. Or that all people will commit criminal acts. Yet it points to the fact that evil is what comes natural to us, while doing good must be taught. The Bible teaches that people are not inherently good, but have a sin nature even from birth (Psalm 51:5). It is because of our inherent sin nature that we all need to be born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3).
I restate my challenge, then, that people are not inherently good. The Bible clearly tells us that no human being is “good” apart from the grace of God. One time a man asked Jesus, “‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone’” (Luke 18:18-19). Now Jesus is not stating that he himself is not good (as God in the flesh, he most certainly is); instead, Jesus is challenging this man’s assumption about the goodness of people. Because of mankind’s willful fall into sin (Genesis 3), we are naturally evil until we receive God’s grace through the saving work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5).
With this foundational understanding about the nature of mankind, we should consider the “problem of evil” in a new light. Therefore let’s restate the question, “Why does so much good happen to bad people?” Why do we live in a world where we experience happiness and pleasures? Sure, it’s easy for us to focus on the negative aspects of life as a way to try to deny the existence of God, but have you truly wrestled with the goodness of life?
For instance, why do we take such pleasure in food? If we live in a solely naturalistic, materialistic world, then food does not need to give us pleasure. Food only needs to provide the body with the necessary nutrients for health and energy. Plants and some lower animals do just fine without taste buds. Yet people continue to explore new and exciting ways to season and flavor food. We even have celebrity chiefs who have made it their life’s mission to educate people on how to get the most out of food.
What about sex? I’m not trying to be coarse, but why is sex a pleasurable act? It most certainly does not have to be! Many life forms reproduce without any form of pleasure. Why don’t people reproduce through mitosis, simply splitting in half to create two creatures from the one? Or some sort of asexual reproduction where females can simply give birth to offspring without the aid of a male? Sounds crazy, huh? Well this has been observed in both hammerhead and blacktip sharks. So why not people? Why do we enjoy the reproductive act?
You see, we live in a world with so much to love and enjoy. The Bible tell us that all the good we experience in this world is a gift from God (James 1:17). God’s good gifts include food, drink, and even sex (Psalm 104:14-15; Proverbs 5:18-19). These “good gifts” are not only for God’s people but are given liberally to all people (Matthew 5:45). This is often referred to as God’s common grace. However, common grace has a purpose: namely, to show people the goodness of God and our foolishness for not giving him all the glory and praise he is due. You see, we do have a problem with pleasure; we don’t thank God for it!
I recently read a great illustration from Philip Yancy. He writes, “A person’s search for meaning resembles a sailor who awakens from a deep sleep and discovers treasure strewn about, relics from a civilization he can barely remember. One by one he picks of the relics — gold coins, a compass, fine clothing — and tries to discern their meaning. Fallen humanity is in such a state. Good things on earth — the natural world, beauty, love, joy — still bear traces of their original purpose, but amnesia (sin) mars the image of God in us.” Yancy hits the nail right on the head. The problem is not the pleasure we experience in the world, the problem is that we think we somehow have created it ourselves and deserve it.
I will continue to enjoy my coffee each morning, and when I read news headlines that make me weep, the coffee will remind me that God is still blessing us all with life and goodness. Therefore there is still hope for the world, hope found only in the God who created a world full of good pleasure. So when questions come up about the evil in the world, don’t forget to ask, “Why is this world filled with such happiness and pleasure?” The answer, “Because God is good.”