The Bible identifies the last stages of the end times on this earth as we know it as the worst. "This know also: that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves (utterly self-centered), covetous (stimulated by greed, loving money, and idolatrously materialistic), contemptuous boasters, proud and arrogant, blasphemers (scoffing at God), disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy and irreverently disrespectful. They will be without natural human affection (their hearts calloused and inhuman), trucebreakers (relentlessly allowing no appeasement), false accusers and slanderous troublemakers, incontinent (intemperate in conduct and loose in morals), fierce and uncontrollable, despisers and haters of that which is good. They will be treacherous traitors, heady and high-minded (inflated with self-conceit), lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness (of true religion), but denying (and actually being strangers to) the power of godliness (their conduct belying the genuineness of their profession). From all such people turn away." (II Timothy 3:1-5)
The adjective "perilous" conveys that when those inevitable times do come, our lives will be full of danger and risk, fraught with jeopardy. It will be a time of great stress and trouble, hard to deal with and to bear. Everyday life will be characterized as hazardous, uncertain and insecure - exposed and vulnerable to harm and grave loss. On a journey through menacing, hostile territory is no time for a traveler to be casual, naive, inattentive, or unvigilant; it would be incredibly reckless to be caught napping! And yet, what is the second-to-the-last trait mentioned in the list describing the manner of people during those perilous times to come? They would be "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." Is there something incongruous here?
We human beings typically become quite absorbed by what we love. How a person spends his resources and time (beyond practical expenditures providing for life's basic necessities) and what topics dominate his thoughts and conversation are usually clear indicators of what is important to him. Our priorities and values are undeniably evidenced by that which most occupies our interest. In essence, we give ourselves to what we love. We become enthralled with, even captivated by, the object of our strong affection. If one loves pleasure, then seeking it will be the driving goal of his life. And a lover of pleasure, one whose interests are riveted to its pursuit, would be very unlikely to be alert to and wary of impending danger surrounding him. A looming threat would hardly be able to get the attention of a person engrossed in the grip of pleasure. Thus it is logically implausible that the oblivious state of mind usually accompanying an obsession with pleasure-seeking would be harmonious with an attentive, sober-minded outlook - a perspective that is critically imperative in a time of peril.
< xxx >
Some readers perhaps will argue that this is exaggerating the point somewhat (perhaps being overly melodramatic), and may ask, "What's wrong with wanting a little happiness in life?" We Americans, for instance, revere our supposedly inalienable "right to ... the pursuit of happiness" - as unmistakably noted in our Declaration of Independence! Pleasure is often defined as "happiness," or "enjoyment" (which usually includes the ideas of amusement, entertainment, frolic, and diversion - or in the prevalent terminology of our present day, "fun").Yes, indeed, particularly in the past two or three generations, the concept of "having fun" has more and more taken center stage in our attitude toward life. Contrasted to things being done out of necessity (and even on a higher plane, out of duty), many people increasingly are embracing self-indulgence - and thus the seeking of their own pleasure is becoming not only compelling, but is even perceived as essential in life. After all though, is it inappropriate or erroneous to view pleasure as something bad - as reprehensible, ill-advised, amiss, or corrupt and illicit? The answer is an explicit, "No!" And the reason is because pleasure was "invented" by God!
Ponder these words (regarding those who trust in the Lord and who consider his steadfast love as precious): "They relish and feast on the abundance of Your house, and drink of the stream of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life" (Psalm 36:8-9). And, "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore." (Psalm 16:11) Yes, our good and gracious God has purposed pleasure in the highest sense for us! "It is written: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has even entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that God Himself "takes pleasure." In what things does He take pleasure?
"The Lord takes pleasure in His people" (Psalm 149:4). Also: "The Lord takes pleasure in those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy and loving-kindness." (Psalm 147:11) Clearly, the Father takes pleasure in (is pleased with) His Son: "This is my beloved Son, in whom my soul is well pleased." (Matthew 12:17) The Scriptures delineate many other things that are pleasing in His sight (that give God pleasure) - most notably, that we obey His commandments and follow His plan for us; that we trust in His Son Jesus; and, that we love one another just as He has loved us (I John 3:22-23). Also it gives God pleasure that we grow in the knowledge of Him, and are fruitful in good works (Colossians 1:10). He takes pleasure in our thanking Him, and in our sacrificing to praise Him - as well as in our showing kindness and doing good to the poor and needy. (Hebrews 13:15-16). The Word of God also teaches that He is always pleased by righteousness and integrity, by our doing justly, showing mercy, and by our walking humbly with Him (Micah 6:6-8). Thus pleasure in the biblical sense, as created by God, is assuredly a good thing.
There is a right kind of pleasure-seeking. It is balanced, wholesome and sound. We can perceive that God has a wise purpose in it for us. For example, the term "recreation" brings to mind many agreeable pastimes that afford people relaxation and enjoyment. The image is conveyed of refreshing the mind and body after work (and the duties and necessities of living). Obviously there is an actual physiological need for this. Few people would disagree that a person is not wise who is so strictly driven (or overly committed to too many tasks) and austere that he will not allow himself (nor others) to "play" a little. A story is told of a hunter finding the elderly apostle John gentling petting a little bird he cradled in his hand. The hunter reproved him, asking why he was wasting his time like that. John asked him why he didn't keep his bow always taut, and the hunter answered that it would lose its spring if he did. The apostle replied, "Then don't be surprised if I relax sometimes. After a little recreation, I can concentrate better." In the very word "recreation," it is easy to see the idea of re-creating. Innocent recreation can not only help us by providing an opportunity to have our depleted energies "re-created," but also can "recharge our batteries" in the sense of allowing us time for healthy reflection on our lives and values. Especially recreation to rejuvenate us that is outside in nature (where our thoughts can soar to the great hand of God who produced such magnificence and beauty) can revitalize our spirits, as well as our minds and bodies. What is key, however, is enough good judgment to give recreation its proper time, place, and quantity. The pleasure-seeking characterizing the nature of most people in the perilous last days coming on our earth goes far beyond the sensible limits of this appropriate, beneficial recreation.
< xxx >
There is an interesting little verse tucked away in the book of Proverbs in the Bible: "Without a vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18) The word "perish" here can be translated "cast off restraint." From the original Hebrew text this verse can be understood to say that where there is no special, living revelation of God (as He gave through His prophets - as His own Word), then the result is ignorance of God - and that ignorance of Him leads to the people becoming unrestrained (letting loose morally, throwing off constraints, running wild). Significantly, the second half of this verse presents a contrasting correlation: that the person who keeps God's law (holds by the revelation that God has given for connecting man and God, and obeys His instructions of wisdom) is blessed (and truly happy - and, covered and protected by God). The same Hebrew word for "vision" was used when describing the state of Israel during the dark, licentious days of Eli, when Samuel was first called by God: "The word of the Lord was rare and precious in those days; there was no frequent or widespread, open vision." (I Samuel 3:1) Historically, right before this commentary, in the last verse of Judges, Israel's moral state (as a result of a lack of godly leadership) was described by the words: "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (whatever each person thought seemed right)." (Judges 21:25) When people are destitute of instruction, and there is no expounding of God's authoritative truth (and thus they have no revelation of His will - therefore do not obey His will), then morality passes into the realm of relativity, degenerating into each individual's presumption of right and wrong. Clearly the resulting state will increasingly become one of chaos and anarchy as people become ungovernable. Just as it was for Israel, it is the same for us today: there is a direct correlation to our knowing and submitting to God's special revelation (the Bible, in our day) and our moral condition.
Predictably, the fatal effect of the absence of such revelation of God's will is disorder, confusion, lawlessness, and mayhem. The people fall into grievous excesses which, distressingly, nothing can restrain or control. The behavior of people in the days of Noah is described as so violent and evil that God regretted having made mankind. "God saw that the wickedness of man was growing great in the earth (that human wickedness extended out of bounds), and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (the trend and direction of men's lives was only towards evil, and produced nothing but evil). And then it was grief to the Lord that He had ever made man on the earth; it broke God's heart" (Genesis 6:5-6). Evil not only pollutes and degrades the hearts of individuals, but it gives rise to people injuring other people - in every conceivable way. This was never God's will for man.
In response to all mankind having corrupted their ways in God's sight, God determined to destroy the human race that He had created. He told Noah (a lone righteous man who walked with God in his generation - who pleased the Lord, and who found grace and favor in His eyes): "I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is full of violence (full of lust for power, vicious crime, and utter depravity because of man)." (Genesis 6:13) And in every civilization throughout history, there is knowledge of the worldwide flood that resulted - destroying everything that had breath from the earth (except Noah and those with him in the ark which God had instructed him to build).
Having been warned by God, Noah no doubt shared that warning with everyone he could during the time he was building the ark. How did the people of his day respond, we might wonder. Jesus told us: "For just as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the very day when Noah went into the ark, and they did not know or understand until the flood came upon them and swept them all away - so it will be in the day of the coming of the Son of Man." (Matthew 24: 38-39) While they were at ease, occupied with their pleasures (enjoying banquets, parties, and weddings - obviously not believing what God told Noah was going to happen), the deluge suddenly came upon them. And like a thunderbolt, gone was any opportunity for a change of heart.
Jesus told a parable of a rich man who felt so secure in his laid-up earthly treasure that he also concluded he could just "take it easy" and pursue pleasure. The man said to his soul, "Soul, you have enough wealth laid up for many years. Take your ease: eat, drink, and be merry." (Luke 12:19). Perhaps nowadays, the rich man would have said, "From now on, it's wine, women, and song for me!" But that was not the end of the story that Jesus told His disciples (to illustrate a crucial, paramount point). He continued, "But God said to the rich man, "You fool! This very night your soul will be demanded of you (you will die)..." (verse 20) The rich man's presumptuous plans seemed rational and simple enough to him; but there were eternal verities that his pleasure-biased perspective utterly and disastrously overlooked.
And yet, even in the stark light of our mortality, would people still find reasons to foolhardily ignore reality - and instead choose to elevate pleasure-seeking as their life's highest goal? Centuries after this parable was told by Jesus, the philosophy of nihilism (summed up in the saying "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die") would radically take hold of men's thinking - maintaining that life is meaningless, and that man is a futile being. More than ever, the atmosphere in which we now live is pervaded by this cynical viewpoint that man's existence is senseless and useless. As a result of this fatalism - that basically denies any objective ground of truth (especially traditional moral truths), all ultimate values appear to lose their value (become baseless, meaningless). Such theories leave mankind as if set at sea in a boat without a sail, without a rudder. Indeed, today man has decidedly lost his compass.
< xxx >
It stands to reason, that such a pessimistic outlook on life could spawn a casting off of moral restraint, a capricious dive into hedonism (even unimaginable extremes of fanatic frivolity). In our times, more and more people are embracing the skepticism that believes truth cannot be known - and thus they believe in nothing, and have no loyalties. This leads to rejecting all established laws and institutions. All moral principles are cast aside by those who thus deny that there is any meaning or purpose in life. Therefore, all that is left is: "Eat, drink, and be merry, because tomorrow we die (are annihilated, cease to exist) - End of Story."
Hedonism describes a lifestyle that believes that the pursuit of pleasure is the most important thing in life, the ultimate life-goal. It goes hand-in-hand with the nihilistic argument that since there is no God (atheism), and there is no meaning to life, there is therefore no purpose for morality. If nothing matters (and there is no right or wrong), then why not make sensual pleasure and self-indulgence your sole purpose in life? Thus the lover of pleasure will justify idolizing self-gratification as a warranted escape from futility. Since the hedonist views pleasure as life's highest pursuit, he self-contentedly rationalizes his aim to pursue his own pleasure and enjoyment (through entertainment, thrills and kicks, partying, rollicking laughs and frolic, amusement, and sensual indulgence) - even to the point of profligate revelry and decadent debauchery.
Thus guided merely by each person's own opinions and whims (rather than by our Creator's wisdom, recorded for us in "The Maker's Manual"), people's lives degenerate to this apostate and unrestrained condition. And resultantly, according to the Word of God, (disastrously, by their own doing and their own choice), they are turned over to depraved minds. That is the inexorable consequence of their actually being given by God what they wanted! The perilous times coming in the last days on earth result directly from man being let loose to have his own way, to get his wish: no one to answer to but himself (freedom from any restraints stemming from accountability) - a world without God.
Yes, mankind in the days of Noah rejected God and scorned following His ways. But they were not alone in abandoning God, turning their backs on Him (refusing to acknowledge Him, and spurning obedience to Him). We are all guilty. "All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way. (And the Lord has laid upon Him the guilt and iniquity of us all)" (Isaiah 53:6). In his letter to the Romans, Paul elaborated on this tragic propensity in man to go his own way - and also on God's indignation and wrath at the wickedness of men that suppressed the truth about Him. Additionally, Paul wrote that humankind cannot say that God could not be known. Rather, the truth about God is known instinctively, for God has put this knowledge in the hearts of men (made it known in their inner consciousness). Paul expounded that since the beginning of creation, mankind has been able to see in nature (in God's craftsmanship - the earth, and sky, and all He made) His existence and His invisible qualities of great, eternal power and divinity. Thus they are without excuse (with no defense or justification) for denying Him. (Romans 1:18-20) King David expressed the same awe-inspiring truth: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork. Day after day pours forth speech, and night after night shows forth knowledge of God. There is no speech nor language, where the voice of the stars is not heard" (Psalm 19:1-3).
Paul went on to elucidate: "Although they had knowledge of God, they refused to acknowledge Him as God - and render to Him the honor and thanks He is due. Instead they indulged in their own futile speculations and imaginations about God, and as a result their senseless minds became darkened and confused. Claiming to be wise (without God), they made simpletons of themselves and utter fools instead. They exchanged the glory (majesty and excellence) of the immortal God in order to worship instead images they made resembling mere mortal man, and even birds, animals and reptiles. Because they altered God's truth about Himself into a falsehood (choosing deliberately to believe a lie), and worshipped created things rather than the blessed Creator of all things, for this reason God gave them over to the lusts of their own hearts - into sexual impurity that dishonored their own bodies (He abandoned them to the degrading power of sin). Therefore, God let them go to indulge their shameful passions and dishonorable affections - such that they even exchanged natural sexual relations and function for what goes against nature (woman with woman, and man with man), and they acquired in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God or consider Him worth knowing (they gave up God), then God gave them up to a reprobate mind (to base and depraved thinking - to do every indecent, loathsome thing their evil minds could think of). And their lives became filled (permeated and saturated) with every sort of unrighteousness, wickedness, and immorality: greed; hate and malice; envy and jealousy; murder; quarreling, strife, and fighting; lying, deceit, and treachery; bitter ill-will and cruel maligning; secret gossip, back-biting, and slander; they became hateful to and hating God; full of bragging insolence and haughty arrogance; continually disobedient to parents; and always inventing new ways of sinning, of doing evil. They were without understanding, without a conscience; they unfaithfully broke promises, and were ruthless and heartless (without pity, mercy, love, or natural human affection)." (Romans 1:21-30)
Many of these same dreadful and pernicious traits of character are echoed in those described in Paul's letter to Timothy as being prevalent in the majority of people during the perilous last days. Has humanity, then, disturbingly come full circle? Will the proverb incessantly ring true of us: "As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly"? (Proverbs 26:11)
< xxx >
Our post-modern mentality is characterized by doing one's own thing, disdaining rules, and denouncing absolutes. In our drastically changing culture, people are comfortable with holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and avoiding commitments. Their mindset is to live for the moment, and they view pleasure as life's highest pursuit.
Paul taught through his letter to Timothy that the last days on this earth would be perilous - that is, that people living during them would be exposed to imminent disaster and ruin. He also warned that even among the pervasive intemperance, decline of morality, dissipation, and decay of the fabric of society (its dissolution, or falling apart), there would still be a form of godliness. In other words, many people would be very religious (and religion, per se, would prosper). Is there an irony here? Let's look a little more closely. For example, in those dangerous days many people will even supposedly be Christians - and will no doubt be convinced that they sincerely love God. This "form of godliness," however, could be to them a mighty deception - a treacherous peril in itself. In fact, multitudes will be seduced by a counterfeit - by "false Christs" and "false prophets." (Matthew 24:11; Mark 13:22) Significantly, Paul clarified that "a form" is not the same thing as the true substance, and he stated unambiguously that those who are merely outwardly religious in the last days, in reality, will deny the power of genuine godliness (being strangers to it).
Notably, true godliness is not just good character - nor being moral, benevolent, or even zealous for doing "good" things (although these qualities of life will spring from godliness). To a truly godly person, God is at the center of his life - God is his focal point and his polestar. At a fundamental level, godliness is dedication to God (to a personal relationship with God - that results in actions and attitudes that are pleasing to Him). The godly person doesn't live to his own will, but to God's will - and all that he does is with an eye to God's honor and glory.
People who "deny the power of godliness" may appear to love God (or their own concept of God), but in actuality they love their own will and pleasure more than God. Thus it happens, that claim as they might to love God and be God-followers, their real love is self. These are religious people indulging in self-esteem, self-motivation, and self-worship. Humility and meekness are foreign concepts, even anathema, to them. And definitely, reverent fear of a holy God's wrath against our sin (that justifiably alienated God from us) is missing altogether from their thinking. Thus the love of God demonstrated at Calvary - where Jesus died to save us from that just wrath and reconcile us to a holy God - has no meaning to them. What counts to these deniers of true godliness is their own well-being. They are focused on "what they can get" from God, and thus many fall prey to greed for prosperity, riches, and possessions.
Our present-day society is marked by the "worship" of material possessions - instead of the Creator of the materials. Throughout human history, periods of prosperity and wealth have again and again induced weakening and decay of moral character (as people reject a relationship with God and accountability to Him as their Maker). We turn to idols instead (loving and worshipping something other than God) - and idolatry inevitably corrupts the character of an individual and of nations. God warned the Israelites through Moses that when they ate and were full, had built goodly houses, multiplied their gold and silver, and had abundant possessions, to especially be on guard and to beware: lest their hearts be lifted up in pride (as if they had done it all themselves, without it being God who had given them the power to get wealth) - and they forget the Lord their God (who had redeemed them, had bought them out of slavery). (Deuteronomy 8:10-14, 17) Today, as signally as in other eras in human history, people increasingly are totally disregarding the God of heaven, the Creator and supreme ruler of all things. Without Him (and without the authentic security and enduring satisfaction found only in God), people are left to themselves, and to their own futile innovations that they try to substitute for God. In their inner, spiritual emptiness, many will turn to a frenzied seeking of earthly pleasure - attempting to find that true, high and holy pleasure God wills for them that evades them.
< xxx >
One definition of pleasure is "diversion." As discussed above, recreation can be healthy as an activity that diverts the mind from tedious or tiring labors. Such diversion can beneficially rest and relax the individual, rejuvenating his energies. But let us consider an additional definition of "diversion" that may give us needful insight to another side of this coin. Frequently in military strategy, a "diversion" is purposefully created for the point of diverting attention away from a position of more principal activity against the enemy elsewhere. The tactic of "creating a diversion" is to deflect or draw off attention to a different course from something important. Can we see then, how our love of pleasure (of diversion) can potentially be used by the enemy of our souls to dangerously turn aside our awareness from a critically serious operation of his planned against us? Jesus disclosed to us Satan's chosen job description regarding mankind in the succinct statement: "The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy." (John 10:10) When our alert vigilance is severely compromised by our attention being intently fastened on our pleasure and diversion, then we become easy prey to being taken captive to the one whose sole goal toward humanity is to destroy us. This we need to ponder!
According to what God spoke through Moses, there is a consequence for forgetting God (and instead turning to gods of our own making): Those who do, God says plainly, will perish. (Deut. 8:19-20) Death is the most weighty and sobering of all events. The person who does not prepare for death is much more than a fool; he is a madman. In the face of its absolute certainty, is there really time to give oneself to vain, meaningless frolic and frivolity? Any love of our hearts that has displaced God will bind us in chains that tie us to destruction in that momentous day - that every one of us will assuredly encounter. Then, the idol of pleasure will only cruelly mock us.
"He has planted eternity in men's hearts and minds" (Ecclesiastes3:11). Human beings are aware at a deep level that they are eternal beings. After the temporary "tents" of our physical bodies die, our spirits will live forever - either in God's presence (with the pure and perfect "pleasures forevermore" He offers us), or eternally separated from the Lover of our souls (which agonizing separation is the root definition of hell). As surely as the Son of God came to earth the first time, Jesus is coming again for His own - to take them unto Himself. To them, death only ushers them into the heavenly home He promised to prepare for them with Him. For others, death is their greatest fear. The Master comes suddenly - when the ungodly world least expects Him. (Mark 13:35-37; Matthew 25:1-13) When He does, the opportunity to alter our eternal destiny arrives at the stark, relentless finality of "too late." In Noah's day the vast majority of people on the earth were not ready for the sudden end - they were not prepared to stand before the tribunal of their Creator and give account for the way they had chosen to live their lives. Will you and I be ready? Or will we be found in that group "lovers of our own pleasure rather than lovers of God?"