It’s not uncommon to hear Christians talk about “redeeming” things.
What they typically mean by this is taking something seemingly ordinary or normal and injecting God into to it, like hiding veggies in a pile of meat (yes, kind of weird analogy, but you understand). By injecting God into the normal, that normal thing suddenly becomes valuable or godly.
Let’s redeem this hike by talking about our devotional lives. Let’s redeem this football game by inviting community members. Let’s redeem this movie by finding the 8 gospel themes present. Let’s redeem this karaoke night by singing worship songs (kidding – karaoke can never be redeemed). You get the point.
The impulse behind redeeming things is good: use every moment to the glory of God. No moment left behind. It’s a godly desire to weave 1 Corinthians 10:31 (“…do all to the glory of God”) into every facet of life, including recreation.
At one point in my life, I felt guilty for doing any sort of leisure activity if I couldn’t figure out a way to redeem it. I was paranoid about wasting a single moment of my life. I was paranoid about having fun.
As you can imagine, this made me a lot of fun to be around and got me invited to all the cool parties. “Don’t invite Stephen! He’ll try to turn the Breaking Bad finale into some sort of spiritual object lesson involving the pink bear and Jesse Pinkman as a gospel figure.”
But as I’ve gotten older, slightly less annoying, and, hopefully, more godly, I’ve come to see that in most leisure situations, the most godly thing to do is simply sit back and experience joy.
The theme of earthy joy resonates through the book of Ecclesiastes, like a thumping bass line in an LCD Soundsystem song. It’s not usually explicit, but it sits underneath, adding substance to the book. The Preacher (presumably Solomon) is reflecting on the utter emptiness of a life of excess. After plumbing the depths of sex, alcohol, knowledge, wealth, and work, he concludes that everything is “vanity and striving after the wind.” Solomon literally tried to buy happiness and at the end of his life realizes the entire thing is a Ponzi scheme.
Solomon has come to the same conclusion Kerry Livgren of Kansas did in “Dust In The Wind”:
Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Given Solomon’s bleak view of life, you would expect his advice would be either commit suicide, continue to pursue excess in spite of its emptiness, or try to redeem every moment for the glory of God since the only thing that matters is eternity.
Pick a door: Kill yourself, waste your life, or live only for eternity.
But surprisingly, Solomon lands on none of these options. In Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, he says:
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
And then in Ecclesiastes 5:18:
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.
A life lived solely for pleasure will lead to complete emptiness. The testimony of 1,000 shriveled up rock stars and celebrities confirms this. A life lived for sports or movies or fame or fishing or anything else will leave you hung over and miserable.
But the solution isn’t to start redeeming everything.
Rather, the answer is to enjoy the many ordinary pleasures of life as gifts from God.
The godly alternative to a life of excess is actually enjoying life.
Rest, friends, food, and sports are all to be enjoyed. They don’t need to be redeemed. They don’t need to be spiritualized. They are not neutral things that need to have value injected into them.
Relaxing can be godly.
Eating can be godly.
Wine tasting can be godly.
A fine cigar can be godly.
Netflix, football, and video games – dare I even say it? – can be godly.
Frankly, there are many times when life absolutely sucks. When life is an unexpected punch in the mouth. The gifts of God offer a sweet respite in the midst of the storm (cue “Eye Of The Hurricane” from Hamilton).
Is it wrong to find the 8 gospel themes in The Revenant? Of course not. But it’s also okay to watch the movie simply for fun and to observe Leo’s bear skills. That too is a gift from God. An activity doesn’t need to be overtly “spiritual” for it to be deeply spiritual.
Spurgeon enjoyed his cigars and beer. Calvin had a budget line for wine. Lewis loved his beer and cigarettes.
Life and pleasure are a gift from God, and the godly savor those gifts.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Netflix for the glory of God.