Why does doing wrong feel so good (at first anyway)?

Why does doing wrong feel so good (at first anyway)?

Once infants learn to crawl, they become very good at doing something that has always puzzled me (I’m sure there’s an explanation–one of you can probably tell me what it is):  they put everything in their mouths.

Have you noticed this?  Almost everything goes in the mouth.

As a kid, my little brother was almost seven years younger, and I would watch him crawl around and try to put nearly everything in his mouth.  Sometimes he succeeded not only in putting it in his mouth but in swallowing it–not the safest thing.  My usual (very unsympathetic) line to him was, “Hey, what are you doing?  That’s not what that’s for!”

One time he swallowed a dime.  Amazingly, it went straight through him.

Infants lack the discernment–the wisdom, we might say–to know what should and shouldn’t go in their mouths.  Whatever they found was usually good in and of itself but not exactly for consumption.  In fact, such things could be dangerous, even poisonous.

Consider the following definition of the word poison:

poison /ˈpoiz(ə)n/:  a lethally disproportionate amount of a good thing.

Think of it this way:  a healthy body (infant or otherwise) is a body that has good things in the right proportion.

That last part is really important.  In fact, it’s everything.  Cell growth is a good thing, but when cells start growing and ignore anti-growth signals from the body, that’s really bad:  it’s called cancer.  Or when the ratio of insulin to sugar in the body is incorrect, that’s called…diabetes.  Serious stuff.

Cells that grow, sugar, insulin–and everything else in your body (except dimes)–are good in and of themselves.  But they can become lethal when out of proportion.

As any kid in Sunday school knows, when God created the world, after had had created X (e.g., light), we read that “God saw that X was good.”  Gen. 1 concludes, “God saw all that he had made and, behold, it was very good.”  In fact, the word “good” appears seven times in Gen. 1.  Seven being the number of completion/wholeness, it indicates that God’s creation is completely / wholly good.

(Fwiw, here the word “good” could not unfairly be translated “pleasing”–probably in both esthetic and practical ways:  delightfully, X was both beautiful and functional.)

Think about that:  God created everything very good.  There was nothing that in and of itself was not good.

But let’s sharpen the statement “God created everything good.”  Have you ever noticed that in Genesis 1 there actually isn’t that much creating going on?

Of course, you have what seems to be a summary statement in in the first verse–famously, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

But most of the rest of God’s activity is actually not so much creating as it is ordering–that is, setting things in order.  Cosmic interior decorating, if you will (“Now what is the sea doing there?  No, no–that will never do”).  Where there was “darkness” and “deep”–an environment hardly hospitable for life, God brings order, and that order is life-giving.  Not too surprisingly, then, the world that God made is often called the created order.

My point:  God’s good creation is life-giving when–and only when–it follows God’s ordering of it.  Recall how he brings this life-giving order:  through his word.

Now let’s return to the definition of poison above.  What is the opposite of poison?  How about medicine?  In fact, we could define medicine as follows:  a rightly proportioned amount of a good thing.

In a hospital, a doctor prescribes medicine for a patient.  When doing so, the doctor will always determine not merely a certain medicine but also a certain dosage of that medicine.  Dosage includes both the amount and frequency of the medicine.  From our discussion thus far, it should be obvious why the amount and frequency must be included in the prescription.

But why is it that (generally speaking) only doctors can prescribe medicine?  Why not the nurses or the patients?

The answer, of course, lies in the fact that only doctors have the expertise to do so.  They know how the body works.

Now let’s apply all this to a really important question:  why does doing evil often feel so good–at first anyway?

(The qualification “at first anyway” is really important, no?)

Well, for at least two reasons:

(1) everything in the world–that is, all that God made–is very good:  should we be surprised that everything is so good–so pleasing?  Our over-indulgence of sex, food, work, power, money, music, the outdoors, etc., is really a tribute to God….

But it’s also a slap in the face to God… why?  Well, because of the second reason that doing evil feels so good:

(2) we think we’re the doctor:  we think we can prescribe for ourselves the right amount and the right frequency of pretty much any good thing:  sex, food, work, etc.  God can step aside, while we the patient cure ourselves….

But, in truth, we are infants:  we go around putting all kinds of good things in our mouths, trying to consume what was never meant to be used that way.  Not surprisingly we find ourselves malnourished and sick with food poisoning.

The New Testament regularly employs the metaphor of human physical development to speak of the process of Christian growth.  Paul chides the conflict-ridden church at Corinth as follows:

“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly–mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”

In Ephesians Paul again uses the “infant” metaphor:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”

In both contexts Paul is calling believers to submit themselves to the authoritative teaching–i.e., the expertise–of the apostles–those who knew Jesus of Nazareth himself and whom he authorized to bear witness to his teaching, death, and resurrection.  (That apostolic witness is captured–enscripturated, if you will–in the New Testament.)

In Ephesians Paul is contrasting the expertise of the apostles–men whose lives of love and joy ended in martyrdom–with “every wind of teaching and…the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”  That is, we have four options to choose from when deciding whose authority:

(1) “every wind of teaching”:  we can follow the latest spiritual “food” diets, that promise health;

(2) “the cunning and craftiness of people…”:  we can become fools, trusting those who will betray us;

(3) of course, we can trust ourselves….or…

(4) we can trust the teaching of Jesus, found in the witness of the apostles:  Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.”

Jesus is the doctor whom we can trust to give us the right dosage.  Through him God created all things; therefore, he knows how this “very good” world is (and isn’t) to be “consumed.”  In short, the more we follow Jesus, the more we can enjoy the very good world that He has made for us.

2 thoughts on “Why does doing wrong feel so good (at first anyway)?

  1. Paracelsus has been quoted as saying, “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or remedy.” This remains true today, and I appreciate your analogy to the rest of life.

    Despite what those with independent Western-born, independent spirits would like to believe, no one is without authority. Thanks for the humbling reminder.

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