The giver and the gift: A Christian's delight in things

In choosing between meaning and pleasure we always make the wrong choice. Pleasure without meaning is vapid; meaning without pleasure is crushing. In its own way, each is nihilistic without the other. But we don’t need to choose. The unity of meaning and plea­sure, which we experience as joy, is given with the God who is Love.

But how are meaning and pleasure united? Relationship to God belongs to the very makeup of human beings. Whether we are aware of it or not, in all our longings, in one way or another, we also long for God. Our lives are oriented toward the infinite God, and they find meaning in relation to the God who created the world and will bring it to consummation.

Apart from God, with the earth of our existence unchained from its sun, the deeper meaning of our lives, the kind that doesn’t subvert itself by its arbitrariness, eludes us. Parched for meaning, we then project the power to give meaning onto the finite goods that surround us—the muscle tone of our bodies, steamy sex, loads of money, success in work, fame, family, or nation. Looking for meaning in finite things is a bit—in one regard and to a degree only—like expecting sexual fulfillment from pornography: it isn’t just addictively unfulfilling; as a crass simulacrum of a genuine good, it eats away at our ability to enjoy actual sex.