|Chocolate Vanilla Creme pop-tarts. Image source.|
Is there anything better than seeing someone smile? Seeing someone genuinely enjoying life? Pleasure is wonderful. Pleasure is so important. Everyone deserves to experience pleasure.
We can think, we can feel, we can experience emotions. We can love. We can love and be loved. Isn't that amazing?
Every time I'm in the US, I fill up my suitcase with pop-tarts and bring them back to China. Then in the evenings after dinner, I say, "I deserve a pop-tart" and I go eat one and it's fantastic. And I do deserve that. I deserve pleasure and good things simply because I am a human being.
It's not about anything we've done. It's about who we are. Created in God's image, with the ability to feel and love and experience happiness. And because we can experience those things, and because they are so good, we deserve them.
I'm using the word "deserve" in sort of a strange way here. I'm not talking about something that's earned. I'm not talking about something that one person owes to another.
What I mean is, it's such a wonderful thing for human beings to experience happiness. So incredibly wonderful that, somehow, I feel this is what we are meant for. Simply because we can experience pleasure, it is right and fitting that we do.
Of course, for practical reasons, there are limitations on this. For example, if I decide I'm going to go get Starbucks because I deserve to have nice things, I still have to pay for it. I deserve nice things, but that doesn't mean anyone should just give them to me for free. No, that would be ridiculous. I have to work and earn money, and the Starbucks employees deserve to be paid for their work.
For practical reasons, we can't always have pleasure. For practical reasons, we suffer and experience pain. For practical reasons, we have to work hard. But in the midst of this reality, human happiness is the greatest good. Human happiness is the goal. We aim to create a world where everyone can have good things and be happy, because that's what we deserve.
All right, wait one second. It's great to see someone happy- unless that someone has hurt you and you believe they deserve to be punished for it. So, there's a conversation to be had about what justice looks like. In my view, there are 3 aspects: punishing the perpetrator, giving the victim whatever help they need, and preventing it from happening again in the future. Preventing someone from experiencing happiness only falls into the first of those aspects. Yes, people should pay for their sins- but that's not the totality of what justice is, and that payment is finite. It doesn't mean they deserve to never be happy again. (A sentiment which seems to me to be more motivated by revenge than justice.) If, for example, a murderer goes to jail for the rest of their life, I think that's good enough. I hope they can at least have some sort of simple pleasures in jail. I don't know, maybe I shouldn't say that because I've never been a victim/ been close to a victim of some sort of awful crime like that. But personally, I don't believe there's anything you can do to erase the fact that, as a human being created in God's image, you deserve happiness. (Again, if you happen to be a violent criminal, your freedom needs to be severely limited for practical reasons. Like the fact that victims also deserve to live happy lives free from fear. But yeah, you still deserve some happiness.)
But that's a very unique case. For most people, there's nothing they've done that raises legitimate questions over whether it's right for them to ever experience happiness again.
So the point is, people deserve to experience pleasure. That's why sometimes I stop by a convenience store on my way home and buy a yogurt for my boyfriend. He loves yogurt, and I want him to be happy. His happiness matters. His happiness is a beautiful and wonderful thing in and of itself.
My happiness matters too. And I'm saying all this because I come from a Christian culture which taught me my happiness doesn't matter. I was taught to view pleasure with suspicion. I was taught that sacrificing and suffering for the sake of God was way better and more godly than experiencing happiness. And pleasurable things like pop-tarts and yogurt may even be seen as temptations, and we are selfish if we indulge in them.
Furthermore, I believed that "justice" meant we should never be happy again. Because humans are sinners, the most fitting and right thing is that we suffer in hell forever. We don't deserve happiness, not even one second of happiness. Not even one smile, not even one pop-tart. Anytime something good happens to you, thank God for giving you what you don't deserve.
In this ideology, the complex and wonderful depths of our emotions and desires and capacity for love were never meant to be explored and enjoyed. No, because God made us sinners, we deserve nothing but trauma and agony. Because of God's grace- which, obviously, we don't deserve- people are able to experience happiness during our earthly lives. But when you die, the game is up. When you die, you finally get what you deserve. Unless you've managed to cover yourself with Christ and hide how obviously worthless and unworthy you are.
No. That's a lie from (ironically) the pit of hell. Because people are amazing. How could anyone look at a child laughing and think "this is wrong, she should suffer instead"? How could anyone look at a person resting on the couch after a day of hard work and think "no, it's not right for him to rest, he should feel pain instead"? How could anyone look at the sum of all the world's celebrations and festivals and parties and think "God's justice says this none of this is supposed to exist"?
But that's what it means every time a pastor says "God doesn't owe us anything."
No. People are amazing, and we deserve happiness. And yes, we are created in the image of God and we deserve God's love. I deserve God's love. You deserve God's love.
We deserve pleasure. We deserve to have good things. Go ahead and buy something nice for yourself, because you are wonderful and you should have nice things. Like I said, for practical reasons we can't always buy nice things. But every now and then, when there's space in the budget for it, go ahead. You deserve it.
People are so astoundingly amazing. Fearfully and wonderfully made and all that. So we deserve to be happy. We deserve to be loved. And we deserve God's love.
PS please enjoy this song: "Diamonds" by Rihanna