I ate seven bowls of Cocoa Krispies one evening at summer camp. If you had asked me why, I would have said, I wanted to. I didn’t know it then, but I was depicting how God made us to live according to the “four-chapter” gospel.
I was a growing lad the summer I worked at a church camp. I was on kitchen staff, so I had the keys to the kingdom (i.e. kitchen). One night, when no one was around, I ate seven bowls of Cocoa Krispies. I didn’t know it then, but I was depicting the “four-chapter” gospel.
When we say “four-chapter,” we’re referring to the ancient gospel encapsulated in four great themes: creation, fall, redemption, and the final restoration. In the “four-chapter” gospel, we start in creation, with being made in God’s image, or his nature. The Psalmist describes an aspect of his nature: “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever pleases him” (Ps. 115:3).1 God does whatever makes him happy.
This is where the “four-chapter” gospel begins. In “chapter one” (i.e. creation), we learn we’re made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28). Thus, our nature is like God’s. We do whatever makes us happy. Everyday. Given human limitations (finances, freedom, physical abilities), we do what we please.
C. S. Lewis concurred. “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.”3 Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) agreed. “All men seek happiness without exception. They all aim at this goal however different the means they use to attain it. They will never make the smallest move but with this as its goal.”4 We do what we please because God does as he pleases. Those who deny this aspect of human nature deny their humanity.
And some Christians do deny this. They hold to a “two-chapter” gospel – the fall and redemption. It starts in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve fall. These Christians tend to be suspicious of suggesting we do as we please, for they imagine this only leads to bad behavior. Our impulses are bad, so if we derive pleasure from something, it must be bad.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) said this. He wrote that if we do something for pleasure or enjoyment, the action becomes impure. Ayn Rand interpreted Kant to mean “an action is moral only if one has no desire to perform it, but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort, neither material nor spiritual.”2 Kant sounds pious, but this is dead wrong. Kant denies the essence of our being.
The “four-chapter” gospel doesn’t. We are designed to do as we please, but in our fallen state, desires can be debased. But human nature still follows the same maxim: we do as we please, or what gives us pleasure. Moses understood this, recognizing the pleasures we get from sin are evanescent, passing. That’s why he forsook the “passing pleasures of sin.”5 The “four-chapter” gospel isn’t naive. It recognizes there are sinful pleasures. But that doesn’t make pursuing pleasure, or happiness, bad. In fact, it raises the bar.
We see this in “chapter three” of the gospel, redemption. Redemption does not mean repudiating human nature. We’re going to do what we take pleasure in. Rather, God raises the bar. We see this in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Augustine understood this to mean “love God and do what you want to do.” This is why Augustine wrote that the central task of Jesus’ disciples is to properly order our loves. If we love the things God loves in the order that he loves them, we can do whatever we want to do.
Here’s another way to say it. God is love. He is what he loves. We are made in his image. We are what we love. If we love the things God loves in the order that he loves them, God says we can do whatever we want to do (c.f. John 21).
In eternity, we will. This is “chapter four” of the gospel, when we love everything in the order in which God loves everything, so we do whatever we please. But God doesn’t want us to wait to do that in eternity. He wants us to live this way now.
This is why C. S. Lewis wrote that heaven is an acquired taste. Rather than be suspicious of people doing whatever they please, wise Christians know these happy folks are bearing the image of God who does whatever he pleases. We obviously don’t do it perfectly, but striving to properly order our loves is one way we get “fitted” for eternity, as Dallas Willard wrote, “God will let everyone into heaven who, in his considered opinion, can stand it.”6 Heaven is for those who enjoy what God enjoys.
No doubt that eating seven bowls of Cocoa Krispies at summer camp… for the sheer pleasure of it… was probably too much of a good thing. But at least I was manifesting the central feature of human nature as God designed us. That’s better than denying our fundamental humanity
1 Same point is made in Psalm 135:6: “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does.”
2 Ayn Rand, For the Intellectual (Signet, 1961), 32.
3 From a letter to Sheldon Vanauken in Vanauken’s book, A Severe Mercy (Harper and Row, 1977), 189.
4 Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensées, trans. by W. F. Trotter (E. P. Dutton, 1958), 113. (thought #425)
5 “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25).
6 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, (HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), 302.