Gandhi, a few hours before he was killed, gave his grandson a note which is now famously called, “the seven sins.” In that list of seven, one is called; pleasure without conscience.
Gandhi’s note to his grandson does not demonise pleasure. Instead, he assumes that there are two ways to experience pleasure; one with a conscience and the other devoid of conscience.
Do you struggle with pleasure? Here are some suggestions to help begin that journey.
How do we decide when pleasure is good or bad?: Three Pleasure Tests
1. Does it distract us?
One, if pleasure distracts us from our sacred responsibility to family, then it is not worth pursuing. When we crave something at the expense of losing our family, then that pleasure is without conscience.
The reason is that our actions go beyond us and involve other humans who were entrusted in our care to nurture, protect, and prod towards the light of Christ.
Some uncontrolled pleasures have destroyed families, individuals, and children. Any pleasure that has the potential to cause this must be a pleasure without conscience.
2. Does it limit us?
Two, if some pleasure affects our output or prevents us from working to our full potential, then that pleasure is a stumbling block. Aren’t we all familiar with cases of people either losing their jobs or being embarrassed publicly, because of some untamed pleasure?
In some instances, this has even resulted in shutting down an entire enterprise and consequently, people losing jobs. Any pleasure that has the potential to cause this must be a pleasure without conscience.
3. Does it distance us from our cherished beliefs?
Three, for Christians, our conscience is nourished by three things, the Bible, the teachings of the Church Fathers, and long-held traditions of the Church. When we depart from these, we distance ourselves from the source that sensitises our conscience.
Ultimately, Christians are held up by God’s word and the community of saints. We follow Jesus like disciples who follow a guru. We are drawn to his light and are sustained by it. And so, we willingly allow his light to burn up bits that come in the way of following him.
I’m stuck, is there a way out?: Three Promises
In the wilderness, Jesus is tempted to stray away from his mission. For us, similarly, some pleasures can distract us from our responsibility to family, work, and Jesus and the Church.
However, we can, like Jesus, realise that pleasure, like bread, can indeed nourish us. And yet, when it distracts us from our responsibilities, it can have harmful consequences.
During those moments, we must remember three things,
1. God’s Word nourishes us
One, God’s word can nourish us. Jesus reminds us that during those moments when pleasure seems to distract us, we must be nourished by God’s word (Luke 4:3-4). Because, Jesus is the word, we are nourished by his teachings, his death, and the power of his resurrection.
2. God forgives
Two, that God is love. And he invites us to be nourished by his forgiveness. And this forgiveness must prod us to press on, build character, and then when we look back, we will see how far we’ve come (Philippians 3: 13-14).
3. God puts us back on track
Three, remember that God knows that we are weak and prone to wander. So, it is a good idea to surround ourselves with people who can help us stay on track. And that is why he has given us the Holy Spirit and the Church. The Holy Spirit works in us, and the people of God work around us.
As Christians, perhaps some of us have had an uncomfortable journey with pleasure. And this may have been a wilderness experience. The experience is either a guilt-ridden ongoing struggle or living with the bitter consequences of some uncontrolled pleasure.
Both experiences can be wilderness experiences. As we reflect on Jesus’ time spent in the wilderness, can we approach him with our experiences and pay attention to his solutions?