“But see, there is joy and revelry,
slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep,
eating of meat and drinking of wine!
“Let us eat and drink,” you say,
“for tomorrow we die!” Isaiah 22:13
What is so terrible about enjoying life, we might wonder reading this verse. But this was happening whilst God’s people were supposed to be being sober, lamenting and repenting. Feasting is all very well but God advises over and over again that it needs to be balanced with fasting. Ramadan has just come to an end, a month of fasting in daylight hours for our Muslim friends. Eid Mubarak! During Lent, Christians also traditionally fast. Abstaining is good for us as long as it doesn’t turn into the idol of a constant and strict asceticism. Focussing too much on the things we are not meant to do is just as harmful as overindulgence, especially if it becomes a source of pride. A sure sign we have overdone the self-denial is when we start to judge other people for enjoying the things we’ve given up.
Treating every day as if it were a party though, leaving no room or time for sobering up, for replenishing our stocks, is a foolish way of living too. If there is no discipline, there is no enjoyment in the freedoms. If there is no lack, there is no real abundance, if there is no holding back, there is no release. If we simply allow ourselves every luxury without having worked for it, without having invested ourselves in the growing of the crops or the making of the wine or whatever it may be, we are simply idling our way through life and will not only learn nothing, but appreciate nothing.
A long cool drink of water tastes better after an afternoon’s harvesting. There is no room in God’s house for gluttony, sloth or hedonism, because pleasure for its own sake leaves out the one necessary thing, which is love. If we are simply consumers, with no investment of time, compassion or work, with no understanding of the process that creates abundance, then we are on a hiding to nothing.
This goes as much for spiritual processes as it does for earthly goods. We need to have sacrificed or suffered or loved, in order to comprehend that nothing grows except that a seed first falls to the ground and splits open. If we are simply receiving spiritual bounty and ecstasy, without first building a relationship with God and an understanding of kingdom ways and means, we will not mature in our faith, but remain shallow and self-centred. We will imagine that the reason for being spiritual or praising God, or being in a fellowship, is so that we should feel good. And whilst feeling good is often a side effect of faith, it has its centre elsewhere. Without loss, there is no true abundance.
Photo from Pixabay