1.2 Pleasure and Displeasure, and Art

1.2 Pleasure and Displeasure, and Art

By Jonathan Martinovici

In the previous session, we observed that God has pleasure and displeasure – they are aspects of God’s character and nature. Since they are aspects of God’s character, they are both good – both His pleasure and displeasure – because there is no darkness in Him at all.

A brief note before moving to the topic of Pleasure and Displeasure, and Art:

God’s word can be misunderstood regarding the nature of God’s pleasure and displeasure. God’s word teaches that God is all-powerful and all-knowing; and thus, God does not suffer and is not caught by surprise at man’s sin.

(That God is All-powerful, see Job 24:2, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” That God is All-knowing, see all of Psalm 139. See also Acts 15:18, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” God knows everything because He is sovereign over everything, including all events that come to pass – see Isaiah 46:9-11 and Ephesians 1:11.)

Nonetheless, the passages in Scripture that portray God as grieved, displeased, surprised, etc. are given by God, and it would be wrong to say these passages do not reveal anything about God to us. God spoke these things to us to help us to understand Him, and used imagery that is quite human for our help. Thus, there must be some analogy, some similarity, between how we emote, experience grief, etc. and God’s nature and character. Otherwise, these passages of Scripture reveal nothing about God to us. This is simply a qualifier, for the avoidance of misunderstanding.

Nonetheless, as we saw in the previous session, Scripture is clear that some things please God and some things displease God.

Outline of this session:

In this session, we will look at passages from God’s word on the pleasure and displeasure of creatures. I will seek to establish the following points:

  1. God’s word says that we should be pleased by what pleases God, and that we should be displeased by what displeases God.
  2. God’s word says that we should not be pleased by what displeases God, or displeased by what pleases God.
  3. God’s word condemns speaking evil of what pleases God, and condemns speaking well of what displeases God.
  4. God’s word gives express allowance to us to outwardly express our pleasure at what pleases God, and to outwardly express our displeasure at what displeases God.
  5. God’s word says inward joy or grief can be expected, at least in some cases, to be attended by outward signs of joy or grief.
  6. God’s word says we should not express pleasure at what displeases God, or displeasure at what pleases God.
  7. Table of applications for the arts.

I should note that much of what I will say of pleasure and displeasure in this video has borrowed from the first chapter of Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections, though I have re-shaped it here somewhat, and have not heavily relied on his work.

  1. God’s word says that we should be pleased by what pleases God, and that we should be displeased by what displeases God.

Amos 5:14-15, “Seek good and not evil, That you may live; So the LORD God of hosts will be with you, As you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate…”

Job 1:8, “Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?

Psalm 45:7, [of the Messiah] “You love righteousness and hate lawlessness.

Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all of your strength.”

In loving  God is implied a love for what God loves.

Romans 12:9, “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”

Psalm 119:97, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”

God’s law articulates what pleases Him. Here the Psalmist expresses his love for God’s law.

Application to the arts:

  • We should be pleased by art that pleases God.
  • We should be displeased by art that displeases God.
  1. God’s word says that we should not be pleased by what displeases God, or displeased by what pleases God.

2 Peter 2:12-13, “But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime.”

2 Peter 2:15, “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Baalam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness

Application to the arts:

  • We should not be pleased by art that displeases God.
  • We should not be displeased by art that pleases God.
  1. God’s word condemns speaking evil of what pleases God, and condemns speaking well of what displeases God.

2 Peter 2:12-13, “But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption”.

Isaiah 5:20, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

 Application to the arts:

  • Art should not speak well of what displeases God.
  • Art should not speak ill of what pleases God.
  • Art should not make what pleases God seem displeasing.
  • Art should not make what displeases God seem pleasing.
  1. God’s word gives allowance to us to outwardly express our pleasure at what pleases God, and to outwardly express our displeasure at what displeases God.

Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep”

Here we are commanded to outwardly have empathy with those who suffer; and we are to have general sorrow at the consequences of the Fall – suffering, sin, sickness, death, etc.

Scripture also encourages such outward self-expression by its own example.

Psalm 119:97, “Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”

This, “Oh”, was entirely unnecessary, but it was a means of outwardly communicating the extent of his love for God’s law. Here pleasure is expressed.

Psalm 38:6, “I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long.”

The Psalmist, speaking to God, expresses the state of his own soul candidly. Here particularly displeasure is outwardly expressed.

Psalm 38:9-10, “Lord, all my desire is before You; And my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart pants, my strength fails me; As for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me.”

Once again, displeasure is expressed outwardly here.

Psalm 38:18, “For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin.”

Once again, displeasure is expressed outwardly here.

Ephesians 1:3 onwards, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…”

Following these words, Paul seems irresistibly drawn to contemplate all the blessings of God, as if he could not stop at listing one, but felt compelled to say them all, as if to show the never-ending list. If Paul’s aim had merely been to instruct in doctrine succinctly, he could have written in shorter sentences. But Paul also wanted to communicate his own personal awe at the wondrous mercy of God, as if to say, “Join with me and be amazed at God.” Here wonder is expressed, and pleasurably.

Romans 11:33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?””Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?” For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

Paul compares the wisdom and knowledge of God to the finitude of any created mind, and declares them unsearchable. Paul’s thoughts are both of God and of himself in comparison. Wonder is pleasurably expressed here.

Psalm 139:17-18, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You.”

David expresses his awe at the sum of God’s thoughts to him. He dwells on it by means of two considerations: (1) David’s own incapacity to count them all; and (2) the comparison of them to the number of the grains of sand. David is awed at the multitude of God’s thoughts towards him, and his awe drives him to personal expression.  Wonder is pleasurably expressed here.

One may also consult the book of Lamentations as an example of prolonged expression of deep anguish.

One may also see the example of Christ in expressing His displeasure in Luke 19:41-42; John 2:13-17; Mark 3:1-5.

The passages quoted so far will, I think, be sufficient to have made the point clear that God’s word approves of our outwardly expressing our pleasure at what pleases God and our displeasure at what displeases God.

In all of these examples, the Scripture writers wrote in a way that not only commended good and condemned evil by pronouncing them good and evil, but also reflected the author’s own love, pleasure and admiration of good, and their hatred, displeasure and grief toward evil.

Applications for art:

  • Art can legitimately express our pleasure at what pleases God.
  • Art can legitimately express our displeasure at what displeases God.
  • Art can legitimately express awe at the works of God,
  • Art can legitimately express our suffering of heart, if the reasons we suffer are godly reasons, i.e. we are grieved at the things which also grieve God.
  1. God’s word says inward joy or grief can be expected, at least in some cases, to be attended by outward signs of joy or grief.

James 4:8-10, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

James 5:1, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!”

In both of these examples, these outward signs of grief are portrayed as expected to attend repentance in the particular cases, perhaps somewhat hyperbolically, though not altogether hyperbolically.

  1. God’s word says we should not express pleasure at what displeases God, or displeasure at what pleases God.

James 5:9, “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned.”

God loves His people. We shouldn’t grumble against each other.

James 2:1-6, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonoured the poor man.”

Here the poor man, whom God loves, is treated with despite by people who also show preference to the rich man, whose riches God counts as nothing.

Applications for art:

  • Art should not express pleasure at what displeases God.
  • Art should not express displeasure at what pleases God.
  1. Table of applications for the arts
 Good uses of art can include: Evil uses of art include:
·        reflecting our own pleasure at what pleases God (thus reflecting God’s pleasure);

·        reflect our own displeasure at what displeases God (thus reflecting God’s displeasure);

·        representing as pleasing that which pleases God;

·        representing as displeasing that which displeases God;

·        representing as according to nature what is according to nature;

·        representing as against nature what is against nature;

·        representing as delightful what is delightful;

·        representing as grievous what is grievous.

·        reflect our own displeasure at what pleases God;

·        reflecting our own pleasure at what displeases God

·        representing as pleasing what displeases God (e.g. Satan’s temptation of Eve in the garden of Eden);

·        representing as displeasing what pleases God (e.g. Satan’s temptation of Eve in the garden of Eden);

·        representing as according to nature what is against nature;

·        representing as contrary to nature what accords with nature;

·        representing as grievous what is delightful;

·        representing as delightful what is grievous.

 

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