I have just come back from holiday today. A proper holiday, we didn’t go camping or anything like that. We wanted to enjoy ourselves after all.
I only say that because God has brought people who really do like camping into my life. And I’m very glad for them, truly. But I like to pull their leg about it. It seems to me camping is for people who don’t really want to enjoy their holidays. It is for those who want to feel virtuous and like they’ve built character. Perhaps a better handle on union with Christ would help them put aside the groping for a virtuousness that is beyond personal grasp, rest in the Christ’s perfect virtue and then get away for a better holiday in which they just enjoy themselves without the need to worry about what virtue is being developed through it?
The reason I mention that is because I suspect that is why so many Christians are into camping. There is a sense in which, if it is slightly less good than it might otherwise be, then it is okay to perhaps enjoy it a little. We can only enjoy things to a point. If it involves lots of hard work – like putting up tents and that kind of thing – then it can be enjoyed as a job well done. If it is all pure enjoyment, where will that leave us? Relaxed, sure. Maybe enjoying ourselves a bit. But that is the road to licentiousness, and we don’t want that! Best to keep away and stick with miserably wrestling with ropes and canvas in the English rain while contenting ourselves that we’re in the great outdoors or something.
Seriously though, joking aside, if you genuinely do just love camping for the sheer joy of it – apart from my total inability to grasp how that could possibly be – have at it. I am not here to spoil your fun (though, thanks for the offer, but no I don’t want to come on your bushcraft weekend). Just enjoy it. Don’t justify it, or explain the virtues of it, just enjoy it. It is okay to just enjoy it for its own sake if you find it enjoyable.
If you hate camping, I hear ya! But you too can just enjoy whatever other kind of holiday you’re having. You don’t need to justify it to me. You don’t need to justify it at all. It is perfectly justifiable to just do something because you enjoy it. If my ministry is known for just one point I appreciate there may be a few contenders – like credobaptism is biblical, get your polity in order, middle-class Christian culture is not biblical and a few others – but if it ends up being this, I’ll be happy enough: Christian, it’s okay to just enjoy yourself.
Even dour Scottish hardline presbyterians cannot escape their own catechism: we were made to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We are often fine at least attempting to pursue the glorifying God element. We quite like self-flagellating over how we don’t do it perfectly like the dirty, rotten, wormy sinners we are. And that much is true, we don’t do it perfectly, but we pursue God’s glory imperfectly nevertheless. But enjoying God forever? We won’t enjoy him or his gifts even now. Certainly not without ruining them first so they’re not quite as enjoyable as they might be lest we enjoy them too much.
Dale Ralph Davis offers this graphic example in relation to something else, but it makes this point quite well too:
It reminds me of what missionary Don McClure once told about the Nuer people in the Sudan: ‘the Nuer believes that milk is a beverage for women and children, but he likes it so well that he cannot bear to see it all go to the women, so he makes a cocktail with a bite by adding cow urine, which makes it a man’s drink.’ That is, he can’t enjoy it unless he ruins it first.
Is there a better metaphor for the Christian approach to enjoying almost anything, including God’s good gifts? We simply cannot enjoy anything unless we ruin it first. Almost as if enjoyment of itself is somehow sin. Nothing in scripture would or should lead us to that conclusion. It is right to enjoy good things and it is right to enjoy God and take pleasure in him for his good gifts. After all, the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. All things are subject to King Jesus and will be shared with his people. All that is his will be ours. All things will be ours to enjoy with him forever.
Which means we better make a good fist out of enjoying ourselves now. In the end, it is okay to just enjoy stuff.