No More Pain, Only Pleasure
If morality is essentially the pursuit of pleasure, and the "right" thing is that which maximizes pleasure, then the Bible is a trusted ally in this pursuit. One of the great truths of the gospel is that God is good, so good in fact that we do not need to look anywhere else for satisfaction. Our quest for maximum pleasure ends in God, for whose glory we have been created. The converted soul comes to see that "as a deer pants for flowing streams," so our souls can be satisfied and find pleasure ultimately in God alone (Psa 42:1).
The Christian has come to this wonderful place where he has tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psa 34:8). We can taste and see this goodness in ten thousand ways. But even for the most mature Christian, such delight in God waxes and wanes. "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?" (Psa 42:5). These are the kinds of questions that come from the honest heart. If God is good, why the pain? Why the turmoil?
The psalmist answers his own question this way: "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God" (Psa 42:5-6). It is not an apologetic, answering the question about the problem of evil; it is an assurance, grounded in the only one can really give us hope. We have legitimate questions about why we suffer, why we are in despair. But another question we all might be asking is this: why does the pleasure never last?
Nir Eyal, author of the book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, says that everything is pain. He argues that the reason we do everything is to avoid pain. Even those things we enjoy doing, the things we do that bring us pleasure, are really about avoiding pain. Pleasure, says Eyal, is what we remember about positive experiences. But the pleasure eventually wears off, and in comes the craving and the desire for that pleasure. It is these uncomfortable feelings—the pain—that cause us to pursue that pleasure again. We get hungry, so we eat. Eating for most of us is pleasurable, but we can’t keep on eating. We stop, and within a few hours, we feel the pains of hunger once again.
We are so used to this cycle that we probably aren't even aware of how much pain drives us to pursue pleasure. We are in an endless search for satisfaction, like the woman of Samaria who came to Jacob's well day by day to draw water. One day, when she met Jesus there, he offered her a very different kind of water. Jesus said,
Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (Jn 4:13-14).
Jesus did not offer to this woman a more bountiful supply of water, so that when she became thirsty she would not have to go back to the well but could drink again from her supply. Rather, he offered her a drink of water that he said would satisfy her thirst forever. She would never be thirsty again, he promised. Drinking from this water would be like having a spring of water welling up within the soul so that the pain of thirst is never experienced again.
Of course, this water is the satisfaction of Christ himself. Once the soul has been fully satisfied in God, there is only eternal pleasure. Endless delight. Not a single moment of craving and yearning. No loss of pleasure, not even for a second. When the soul is fully satisfied in God, there will be no more pain (Rev 21:4).
As Christians, we seek this satisfaction from God, not because only God can satisfy us or bring us pleasure. We find satisfaction, we experience pleasure, in all kinds of things that God has created and made for us to enjoy. But none of these things are meant to satisfy our cravings forever, and we are reminded with every fading memory of pleasure that we must find satisfaction somewhere else. We must seek satisfaction in God because only God can satisfy us unceasingly and forever.