Pained by Our Pleasures (Or: What Our Joys Reveal)

Joy isn’t quite as simple an emotion as we might first think. In fact, there’s what we could call “perverse joy,” a delight when someone else gets hurt. But then there’s also joy that is delight when something good happens to a loved one. And, of course, there’s joy as Scripture speaks about it. On this topic I appreciate Robert Roberts’ discussion in his very helpful book, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues:

…We not only take joy in the healthy birth of our child, but sometimes our hearts leap with a quick twinge of pleasure at the sight of a gory highway accident. We may enjoy hearing the latest dirt about our next-door neighbors. We relish the troubles of people we don’t like. We are vulnerable to a kind of joy that the Germans call ‘Schadenfreude,’ which is taking pleasure in somebody else’s misfortune. We experience this kind of joy when someone we envy suffers a setback….

But most of us are not so corrupt as to endorse these foul joys when we think about them. We may enjoy them in an unreflective moment, but we know, intuitively, that they are shameful and show shameful things about our character, and we don’t want to live shamefully. We know that a person’s joys reveal his heart by showing what he cares about. And so our souls are divided. We enjoy our wicked joys, but the more we reflect about them in a moral and spiritual mood, the more pain they cause us. We are pained by our pleasures. If the pleasure is bad, then the pain we feel about it is good – if our reason for feeling pain is that the pleasure is wicked. …And if the pain is good, we must pursue it.

Among us human beings, pain is unpopular to the same extent that pleasure is popular. We naturally avoid it. So we do not automatically welcome the kind of reflection I have just described. It takes seriousness of spiritual purpose and courage to engage in the kind of reflection about our joys that could lead, ever so gradually, to their transformation. But that is a goal of the Christian life: to become the kind of person who takes joy in what is genuinely good, and is pained by what is genuinely bad. And for this process to move forward, pain is required.

These paragraphs are super helpful to me; these are excellent points that I’ve read over a few times! I especially got stuck thinking about this sentence: “We know that a person’s joys reveal his heart by showing what he cares about.” Think about that, and take time today to reflect on your joy and what gives you joy. If there’s any perversity to it, bring it to God in repentance, and ask him to help you grow in godly joy, even if there’s pain involved!

The above quote is found in Spiritual Emotions, p. 118-119.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015