Question: "Is God a cosmic killjoy?"
Answer: Sometimes we may imagine God as a task master, a dictator opposed to fun or pleasure. We may envision Him as a grimacing judge with a gavel, readily pointing out faults and stifling any sense of joy we have. We might see God as a cosmic killjoy. What a sad—and unbiblical—picture of God! A cold, disagreeable sourpuss is not the God of the Bible. When we study Scripture and come to understand God’s character, we see that He is not in any sense a cosmic killjoy. In fact, He is the one who restores us and gives us true joy.
Jesus declares, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Life “to the full” does not sound like a gift from a killjoy. Throughout the Bible, we see depictions of what a life-to-the-full life might look like. One great example is the life of Jesus Himself. His first miracle was performed at a wedding feast (John 2). Children flocked to Him—and we know that children will shun a grump (Mark 10:13-16). In Luke 7:34 Jesus gives a glimpse of His joy: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’” Jesus was not joyless; in fact, He exhibited too much joy, as far as His critics were concerned. He participated in life and was not abstemious.
God Himself takes pleasure in things. Zephaniah 3:17, for example, says that God delights in us and sings over us. God delights in His obedient children (Deuteronomy 30:9). He delights to show mercy (Micah 7:18).
God created the human body with the capacity to experience pleasure. God’s design includes taste buds—and enough flavorful foods to satisfy any palate. God designed the human eye and enough colors to dazzle the mind. God designed the sexual organs, with their myriad of nerve endings, so that a married couple can enjoy the pleasure of their love. In other words, pleasure was God’s idea; He is anything but a killjoy.
The Old Testament is filled with instructions for celebrations and festivals. While the feasts served as important reminders of God’s faithfulness and provided glimpses of who the Messiah would be, they were also times of outright celebration. A cosmic killjoy would not institute such feasts.
Sometimes, as Christians, we get the idea that being joyful means reading the Bible, meditating, or serving. So we end up thinking God isn’t a killjoy per se, but maybe He expects us to have “fun” with things that really aren’t all that fun. This is wrong on two levels. First, we certainly can and do experience joy in reading the Bible and serving others. Also, joy is not found in those activities exclusively. God created us to experience fellowship, recreation, and creativity. We were made to delight in being His children, in using the skills He has given us, and in welcoming the pleasures He offers. The Westminster Shorter Catechism has it right in its very first answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
However, we should be careful not to love pleasure for pleasure’s sake. We must realize that God is opposed to certain types of “pleasure.” The sad truth is that we live in a fallen world where God’s best for us is often perverted. Many activities that our society deems pleasurable are not pleasing to God (see Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-10; and 1 Corinthians 6:12-17). God does not condone promiscuous sex or drunkenness, for example. As a result, some call God a killjoy. However, these “pleasures” of the world are not in fact healthy for us or conducive to long-term joy. They are the “pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). They are false friends that quickly abandon us and leave us empty and longing. So, rather than killing our fun, God is protecting us and providing what is truly best for us. In this way He is much like an earthly parent who provides boundaries for his children. A parent may be called a killjoy for limiting the amount of candy his children consume, but that boundary will ultimately benefit them.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of our lives is not to be a joyride. Our lives have deep meaning. We were created to delight in God (Psalm 37:4), and we appreciate the good things He provides. But our focus in on the Giver, not the gift.
God is not a killjoy; He is the creator of joy. His Spirit produces it in our lives (Galatians 5:22). Because He is the source of joy, any pursuit of pleasure apart from God is idolatry. For our own well-being, God opposes our grasping after the worldly, temporary joy that sin promises. Sometimes we must put aside instant gratification in order to invest in the greater joy of God’s kingdom. “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).