Saturday, June 29, 2013

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Is is possible to have too much of a good thing?

Steve DeWitt, in Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (pp 36-37), writes:
How does the infinity of God relate to our cravings? Our longings seem insatiable to us. We have even made the situation into a self-evident law, the law of diminishing returns. This law says that the more we do something or own something, the less and less we enjoy it. Might it be that our insatiable longings also relate to an infinite God? Might the unending nature of our desires point to the unending nature of his infinity? Who but an infinite Person can gratify seemingly infinite longings?
Take chocolate for instance. I love dark chocolate. But I can only consume it in relatively small quantities for it to be truly enjoyable. If I go over that line, my body protests and I experience the guilt of gluttony and the "gross" feeling of over-indulgence.

Dark chocolate might not be your thing, but you have probably experienced that dynamic of diminishing returns. Have you ever wished that didn't happen? Have you ever wished you could eat all the chocolate you want and not experience the guilt or the gross? Have you ever wished the waverunner was as cool on the 10th run as the 1st? Have you ever wished that song didn't "get old?" Etc., etc., etc.

What if there is wisdom in wiring the world this way? What if God wants to open our eyes when we want too much of a good thing?

Rather than wishing that line away, give thanks to God for that line. One, that line is gracious. We would all go nuts in overindulgence without it -- like the laboratory rat that stimulates itself to death. Two, that line actually preserves the real pleasure of a good in moderation. Three, that line is a signpost. A signpost, let's say, with inscriptions like these (compliments of Augustine).

On the front:

The sum of all our goods, and our perfect good, is God. We must not fall short of this, nor seek anything beyond it; the first is dangerous, the other impossible.
On the back:
You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until till they find their rest in you.
The more we seek a good to be godlike in its power to satisfy, the more the veil is pulled back on its inability. The more we seek created goods to be godlike in greatness, the more their smallness is exposed. This goes for money and sex, food and alcohol, decorating and dessert. It even goes for friendship and children.

What a loving way to wire the universe! The God who alone is great enough and satisfying enough to fill our deepest cravings is the one who made consequences to kick in when we look elsewhere for what only he can give. 

Jeremiah Burroughs said it so well in his The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:
My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them. That is not the reason. But the reason is because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself. Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment, it is because they have but a little in the world, and if they had more then they would be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind. No, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach.
How cruel it would be if there were never any immediate consequences for trading down ultimate satisfaction in God for cheap, imitation satisfaction in created things! We'd just go on happily making mudpies in the slums. It's really good that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. But we are not so quick to believe it.

One of the reasons we're slow to on the uptake is because we usually can't have all we want when we want it. And therefore the lie holds. Rather than believing the object of our desire isn't suitable, we think the problem is the amount or frequency. We think the reason we're not satisfied is because we haven't gotten enough (a little more money, a little more sex, a little more respect, a little better job, a little better body, a little bigger house, etc., etc., etc.). As a result, the lie remains unmasked in our experience. We refuse to learn by anything but the trial and error of personal experience. C.S. Lewis wrote of why this illusion can hold for awhile in his essay, "First and Second Things":

The woman who makes a dog the center of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels... It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman – glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens? Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of a small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made… You can’t get second things by putting them first. You can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, What things are first? is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone.
God made it a world where too much of a good thing will plague you, so that you will learn that He is the only Good you can never get too much of.  

If God is your Good, there's never too much of a good thing.

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