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At His Right Hand Are Pleasures Forevermore

April 19th, 2024 | 5 min read

By Cory Barnes

In the Screwtape Letters, the senior tempter Screwtape admonishes Wormwood about the danger of tempting humans with pleasure. He tells his devilish understudy, “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. . . He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one.” C.S. Lewis’s imagined letters from Screwtape coaching Wormwood on how best to tempt an individual so that he will not fall into the hands of “the enemy” (i.e. Christ) communicate powerful insights into temptation and the Christian life. In this section of the Screwtape Letters, Lewis’s imagination is shaped by a clear biblical truth that was present in Proverbs millennia before it appears in Screwtape’s fictional letter.

There is no real pleasure outside of what God has made pleasurable.

In Proverbs lady wisdom and lady folly both call out to the simple, beckoning them to come into their respective houses.

Lady wisdom calls, ““Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”” (Proverbs 9:4–6, ESV)

Lady folly seeks to seduce the same simple ones with her siren song ““Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”” (Proverbs 9:16–17, ESV)

Righteous Wisdom and Sinful Folly

The Old Testament makes it clear where wisdom is to be found. Observation of the natural world and learning from personal experience and the experience of others may be helpful, but true wisdom only comes from God (Prov 2:6). This is why “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10; Psalm 111:10). We do not come into a relationship with God because of our wise behavior. Rather, being in a right relationship with God is the only way to obtain wisdom. Christians understand that we cannot come into a relationship with God through our own righteousness; God makes us righteous in Christ by his grace (Ephesians 2:8).

In Lady’s Wisdom’s invitation we hear the gracious calling of Christ. Only when we are in Christ can we live wise lives.

Lady Folly’s siren song tells us to remain in our sin by forsaking God’s gracious offer to be made righteous and wise and to seek other pleasures.

Proverbs 9 challenges readers to see themselves as simple ones who are being called to by both wisdom and folly. The voice of Christ and the beckoning of sin each call to us with an invitation to sit at their table. We will be wise or foolish not based on the strength or our intellect or virtue but on the invitation we accept.

Lady Folly Can Offer No Pleasure

Hidden within folly’s lie is a significant clue to the poison of her message: Lady Folly has no water, and she can’t bake bread. Wisdom offers a meal made with her own hands; Folly offers only what she has stolen. Wisdom calls out with an offer of true pleasure and fulfillment; Folly seeks to dress up the morsels she has stolen and present them as a feast. All she has is secondhand water and stale breadcrumbs that she has strung out as bait along the path that will lead her victims to hell.

Like all sinful temptations, Lady Folly’s fake feast offers no true sustenance. This reveals the truth that sinful pleasures are not really pleasures at all.

The voice of Folly calls to us to partake in “pleasure” that God withholds from us. That God is withholding what will make us happy is at the core of the Serpent’s lie in Genesis 3 and the tempter places the same falsehood before believers today.

We hear Folly call from her doorway “Sexual promiscuity will fulfill your desires! Forsake God’s good plan for sexual purity and come be happy!” But those who enter her house and seek fulfillment in their lust find that the supposed pleasure they pursued was just an empty shadow of the real pleasure God offers for sexual fulfillment within marriage.

Folly beckons us to come into her house to pursue self-love. “Prioritize yourself above all else!” she cries, “Be famous! Be fulfilled! Be selfish!” But across her threshold there is only self-loathing and depression. She has no love to offer, she just stole the word and is using it to lead people into lives of hate for self and hate for others.

True Pleasure Comes from Dining at Christ’s Table

Assuming that avoiding pleasure is essential to living in obedience to Christ is an understandable default for most Christians. After all, multiple passages of Scripture tell us about avoiding the desires of our flesh (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 2:3). The central goal of the Christian life, however, is not to avoid pleasure but rather to seek true pleasure not false pleasure.

There is true pleasure to be had at Wisdom’s table because Christ is there. Indeed, “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are in Christ (Colossians 2:2–3). In wisdom’s house there is a feast set by the Lord who, by His grace, offers His guests the abundance of life (John 10:10). All good things are His to offer. He dispenses with glorious generosity the good gifts of His Father (James 1:17).

For this reason, every good thing pursued under His Lordship brings true pleasure. Those who seek intimacy within the union of His good gift of covenant marriage will find it and, what is more, find that relationship draws them closer to Christ. Those at his table whom he has called to pursue singleness will find fulfillment and community with their fellow guests and, most of all, with the Lord who is their host. His feast miraculously transforms those who deny self into who they have always most longed to be.

Folly and the powers of hell entice us with cheap copies of pleasure. Christ offers true pleasure that sustains us in all things. When we participate in the stolen secondhand pleasures of folly and sin, then we find we are never satisfied. When we revel in the true pleasures offered to us by God’s good grace, we find that they are truly good for us because they lead us to Christ, the object of our soul’s true desire.

Cory Barnes

Cory Barnes is associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew and the dean of doctoral studies and distance learning at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.