One day, back when I was still a newcomer at the monastery, Brother Kadeusus was showing me around the building. I had just climbed up and taken a look around the bell tower. Having shown me all around, Kadeusus wanted to learn something in return, so he asked me "Why don't baptists celebrate lent?" I replied "We have no reason to. The catholic church invented lent. Since baptists are not protestant, we were never connected to the traditions of the catholic church. It's an alien concept to us. We haven't taken it up because frankly, denying oneself some pleasure really doesn't make one more godly or honor the Lord. It just makes one look unhappy until the season's over.
Now in real life, I was at the methodist church and it was the methodist minister who asked the question, and that was not the answer I gave. But I wish I had.
Personally, I find it very strange that a great many people seem to equate pleasure with sin, and/or believe that depriving themselves of pleasure will make them more godly. I, for one, can find no basis for either of these assumptions in scripture.
Now let me start off by saying that I am not telling you that every pleasure is good. Sin can be very pleasurable. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be tempting. There's a terrific line I like to quote from Futurama. The scene, featuring Bender and the Robot Devil, goes something like this...
Devil: Ah, Bender! This IS a surprise! ...for you. ...finding me in the refrigerator.
Bender: True, but at least I don't have the hiccups anymore. Whatup?
Devil: Oh, well it so happens I'm in the mood to make a deal with you.
Bender: Forget it, you can't tempt me!
Devil: Really? There's nothing you want?
Bender: Hmm. I forgot you could tempt me with things I want.
Bender ends up trading the bottom plate on his torso for an air horn. When he learns the true evil of the devil's plans, he exclaims "Bite my shiny metal... OH NO!"
And that's the trick. What we as foolish mortals tend to do is exchange long-term pleasure for instant gratification. In the aforementioned case, Bender traded away the pleasure of his favorite rejoinder for the ability to be much more annoying... until he ran out of aerosol. This is something we do constantly. All too often, people do something stupid like jumping in bed with a prostitute in exchange for a long and happy future with a faithful wife. Or the momentary thrill of shoplifting in exchange for months, perhaps even years of freedom. Or in a worst case scenario, a person may completely reject God because sin is more fun, damning their own soul to hell. Because we are so young and bound by such a finite time and experience, we tend not to think ahead and realize the pleasures that we are giving up.
And that's really what God designed us for. We are created in God's image. Not physically, but spiritually. And you know what? God likes pleasure.
Revelation 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
God created the universe for the sake of His own pleasure. He didn't have to make anything. He was perfectly fine by Himself. He did it to take pleasure in it. Even the Leviathan (known to modern science as the liopleuridon), most awful of all predators ever, was created to play. (Psalm 104:26) God made this most feared sea dragon so that He could watch it frolic. God enjoys pleasure. Why should we, whose spirits are patterned after His own, be any different?
God took great care to make life pleasant for us. Most of the pain comes from stupid things that we do. But just look at how God made us. He made our world colorful. He didn't have to do that. He could have filled our retinas with rods only. Instead, he enables us to see everything between ultraviolet and infera-red, including just a little bit of each of those. He made us to fuel ourselves by eating, and eating can be very pleasant indeed. Drinking, likewise, can be pleasant. Nothing beats a tall, cold glass of water when you're thirsty. Many people find the elimination of waste pleasant. (I don't, but many do.) Procreation is VERY pleasant. And God did not have to make procreation pleasant. Most of us desire to have children, and if sex were painful and stinky, I think many of us would still be willing to do it. But He did. In the normal operation of our day-to-day lives, there really isn't anything we need to do that's very unpleasant.
Three times in Ecclesiastes, Solomon says, as in 2:24 "There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God." Of course, he also makes a distinction between enjoying pleasant things and a lifestyle of hedonism, which he refers to, like many things, as vanity.
But what about those things that are not necessary? Things that do not glorify God, but do not defame Him either. Is it a sin to listen to an orchestra play "Pachelbel's Canon"? The canon is not a psalm, hymn or spiritual song. Is it therefore sinful? It all depends on how you listen to it. If your attitude is "I'm tired of God and I don't want to hear anything that refers to Him. I just want to please myself and so I'm going to blow my family's rent and grocery money on concert tickets." If that's your attitude, then yes, it is sinful. ANYTHING becomes sinful when done with that attitude. It's also stupid. This is one of those cases where long term benefit goes out the window in favor of short term pleasure. But then what if you have the opposite attitude? What if you say "God, you gave me a wonderful gift when you put ears on me. I'm going to make the most of them!" and you give thanks to God for your ability to enjoy the wonders of the world around you. Done with this attitude, most anything can be sanctified.
Paul says in 1 Corintians 6:12 "Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"--but I will not be mastered by anything.
What... everything? You mean wearing long hair is permissible? Yes it is. Dancing? Yep. Going to the movies? Sure. Letting women wear pants? Playing a board game with dice? Even Pokemon? It says right there in the bible that we're free to do anything. What we need to keep in mind is the two caveats Paul gives here. Is it beneficial? Will it hurt you or someone else to do it? Will it hurt your relationship with God? If so, that that's to be avoided. Will it master you? For example, there's nothing sinful about giving money away, but when you sit at a slot machine all day feeding it your entire paycheck, gambling has mastered you. It is not beneficial to give up your free will to a vice. And you know what? It's even okay to gamble. GASP! The pastor said it's okay to gamble?! Yes, it is! It is okay as long as you do so responsibly. Don't gamble away your paycheck, don't take advantage of anyone and don't let it master you. It's even okay to drink. The bible is clear on that. What it tells us not to do is get drunk. Just like it's okay for me to eat chocolate. I'm diabetic, and I could be hurt if I have too much sugar, but if I don't let the desire master me and I don't pig out until I'm comatose, it is all right for me to satisfy a craving for chocolate with one candy bar.
The rest of this sermon goes on to talk about a very sensitive subject which some of you may find a bit distasteful, so I will stop speaking now.
For those of you reading this in the archives, you're being warned: The following has significant sexual content which may be disturbing to some of weak faith.
Recently, I was having a discussion with someone (who shall remain nameless) about whether masturbation is sinful. Their claim was that it was impossible to masturbate without thinking sinful thoughts. This is my response.
That is not true. For some, it is purely mechanical. One of my greatest friends and spiritual mentors, for instance, needs not think about anything.
Me, I do require the mental aspect. I have a strong libido which needs daily attention.I'd be lying if I said i never had sinful thoughts, but lately, that has become a non-issue. I don't think any sinful thoughts because I choose not to. I do think about sex, but of a pure nature, with my virtual wife.
God designed us so that sex is a legitimate need. And yes, I do mean NEED. denying oneself sexual release dulls the senses, makes thinking difficult, interferes with sleep and can even cause cancer. We have to be "flushed out" every so often. We have three ways to do that. You can get married. That's not an option for everyone. Many of us would like to have wives but there simply aren't any women available to us. Besides, it's just plain dangerous. 50% of all marriages in the US end in divorce. 70% are initiated by the wife. In most cases, the wife takes the husband to the cleaners. My uncle is in prison right now because his wife gave false testimony and claimed that he raped her daughter just because she wanted to get rid of him. His relatives were able to get his motorcycle and his tools, and those only by court order. Everything else of his is gone. So for many, marriage is not an option.
But even in a good marriage, what are you going to do when your wife isn't there?
Option number two: wet dreams. For me, this is unacceptable for a number of reasons. Besides the fact that I hate changing my sheets, while you're waiting for a wet dream, that sexual pressure is going to be building. It's going to be creating temptation. You're going to be pressured to do things you wouldn't normally think of. While those hormones are reaching carcinogenic levels (that's not a joke, they can cause cancer!), your inhibitions are going to go down, and you'll be more tempted than ever to satisfy those cravings in illegitimate ways. Reason number three: Your id doesn't know right from wrong. It only knows that it needs. When you allow your body to wet dream, it's going to dream whatever satisfies it. I have never deliberately waited for a wet dream, but they have come, and when they have, I have found myself dreaming of sex with (This part has been deleted). There have been worse dreams than that which I won't even talk about. I do not want these dreams and I will not willingly give my mind over to them. They disgust me.
That leaves option 3: Masturbation. If you're not going crazy with it, it's not going to hurt you. You won't get hairy palms. You won't go blind. it will preserve your health, reduce temptation and allow you to remain in control. It's not premarital sex because you're already "one flesh" with yourself.
Now if you truly cannot masturbate without thinking sinful thoughts, then there is a problem. These thoughts have mastered you, and that is not right. You need to get your thoughts into captivity or they will continue no matter what you do. For that, I recommend you speak with a professional counselor, and specifically talk about your inability to control your thoughts.
If it's a matter of believing that any thought connected with masturbation is sinful, then I'd say you're worrying unnecessarily. A single person CAN have thoughts that are both sexual and pure. You just have to be a little bit more selective.
Bear in mind that I'm not saying you have to masturbate. I will support whatever decision you make. If you decide not to masturbate, I will help you in any way I can to stay strong and meet that goal.
The ability to masturbate is a gift from God. Like many other things, humans have labelled it evil simply because it is pleasant. God gave it to us for pleasure, for health and for sanity's sake. Let no one say that this gift of God is evil. God makes nothing evil. Only we mortals make them that way.
I apologize if this sermon has offended anyone, but it was very, very long overdue.
Today's reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 23-31
23 "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive.
24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience,
26 for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it."
27 If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.
28 But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake--
29 the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?
30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.