John wrote his letters (particularly the first two) in the context of the Gnostic heresy. Among other things, the Gnostics taught that the physical world was inherently evil and the spiritual world inherently good. In Gnostic thinking, it was not possible to glorify God in the evil, physical world.
While few Christians will fully buy into Gnostic heresy, we often draw a sharper distinction than Scripture warrants between the physical and the spiritual. We view the physical world, if not evil, as at least less important than the spiritual realm. This is why, for example, we find it difficult to take at face value Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 11:9: “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.” Surely Christians should not enjoy this present world in such a way? Scripture does not support that supposition.
Psalm 104 is about creation. In it, the writer responds in praise to God’s creative acts. The creation testimony of Scripture is not intended to be fuel for scientific debate, or evidence for conflict between science and faith. Instead, the testimony of Scripture on creation should drive us to praise, as it drove the psalmist to praise. As we consider God’s creation, it should drive us to sing, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (v. 24).
Even as he praises the Lord for his creative power, however, the psalmist also highlights the reality that God gave us creation to enjoy. He writes of “wine” given to “gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (v. 15). Wine, oil, and bread were ordinary, everyday items in the ancient world. These items were given, says the writer, for human enjoyment.
This principle is evident in Scripture from the very beginning. God did not place Adam and Eve in a dreary world and instruct them to grit their teeth until they got to heaven. He created a garden of wonder and beauty for them to explore and enjoy. He gave them each other for the same purpose. We are meant to find delight in God’s creation. Tucker and Grant call it “eschatological tragedy” to “not enjoy these gifts, this world, this life.”
Of course, with enjoyment comes the potential of overindulgence. Wine was given to gladden the heart of man, but we all know how this gift has been abused. Visit an emergency room most weekends and you will see the reality of this truth. Bread was given for our benefit, but gluttony is all the evidence we need that human beings can abuse God’s good gifts. Abuses, of course, do not nullify the goodness of the gifts but remind us of our own sinful tendency to exploit what God has given for us to enjoy.
If humans cared for God’s creation as God intended, there would be no need for environmental groups or societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. Sadly, these agencies exist precisely because humans, in their fallenness, have proven incapable of self-government. But let us not allow our fallenness detract from the fact that, while we trust in God alone, we also recognise that he has provided us with a great deal to richly enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).
We must learn to find enjoyment in God’s good gifts, even as we find trust in him alone. Enjoy without exploiting, but enjoy nonetheless, remembering that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).