Have you ever heard someone joke about how much fun they’ll have in hell? “All my buddies will be there. We’ll just keep the party going!” they might say. I read a verse in Proverbs this week that cut to the heart of this thinking.

The Lord will not let the righteous go hungry, but he denies the wicked what they crave.

Proverbs 10:3 (CSB)

The ultimate frustration of the wicked is that God denies them what they crave. Everyone desires to be happy.  That is a fundamental part of human existence.  It is hardwired into us.  What varies from person to person is what we decide will make us happy, what we will crave, what we will define as “good.” We can pursue happiness by fixing our will on either what is good and good for us or not — with vastly different results.

The happiness we were made for, however, can only be found in the fountainhead of goodness that created us. As I’ve mentioned before, Aquinas defined a person’s ultimate happiness as the beatific vision — “the unobstructed vision of God…the immovable repose of his will in the first Good.” When we stubbornly turn against God and His goodness, we shut ourselves off from His divine light and suffer extreme unhappiness. When Proverbs 10:3 says that God denies the wicked what they crave, I can picture the frustration of all those things I desperately want being just beyond my fingertips. The word for “denies” means to cast away, push away, thrust away, repel.  Those cravings are just out of reach, as when the like poles of two magnets keep pushing apart instead of satisfyingly clicking together. Can you sense the frustration?

Hell will not be an extension of any earthly pleasures. Far from it. Aquinas describes it so well:

Libertines in hell will have no opportunity to gratify their passions; the wrathful and the envious will have no victims to offend or obstruct; and so of all the vices in turn…the wicked regret the sins they have committed, not because sin displeases them, for even in hell they would rather commit those same sins, if they had the chance, than possess God.

from Compendium of Theology by Thomas Aquinas

I am certainly not trying to build the doctrine of hell from this verse in Proverbs. There are plenty of other scripture passages that are much clearer on the subject. It’s merely the sentiment of God withholding from the wicked what they have set their hearts on as “good” that brought these thoughts to my mind this week. C.S. Lewis uses the example of lust to describe the same kind of scenario of freewill gone awry.  He writes:

The sensualist, I’ll allow ye, begins by pursuing a real pleasure, though a small one…But the time comes on when, though the pleasure becomes less and less and the craving fiercer and fiercer, and though he knows that joy can never come that way, yet he prefers to joy the mere fondling of unappeasable lust and would not have it taken from him. He’d fight to the death to keep it. He’d like well to be able to scratch; but even when he can scratch no more he’d rather itch than not.

from The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

Even when he can’t scratch anymore, he’d rather itch than not itch at all.  Sounds like this guy is trapped.  Sounds like his will is immovably fixed on what he has decided will bring him happiness, long after that happiness has vanished. We are free creatures.  We have been given the gift of intellect and choice.  We have the ability to come up with our own definition of “good.” And, sadly, many choose to define it apart from their Maker.  

I read some words of Jesus this week that got me thinking about what my definition of “good” is.

Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.

Matthew 7:9-11 (CSB)

Jesus recognized that we give good gifts to our children. We give them what they need, but we also love to give them delightful things, don’t we? We want them to be safe and provided for.  We also want them to take pleasure in wholesome things.  We want their bodies to be healthy, but we also care deeply about their emotional and psychological well being.  That loving, open, free, and fun kind of relationship is what we can have with our Heavenly Father too, if we can learn to trust Him like a child.  And I love the words “how much more.”  God is infinitely better at this parenting gig than any of us are!  His definition of “good” is perfect.  It’s not clouded by obscurities or incomplete understanding.  He knows us even better than we know ourselves.  He sits in eternity and sees the end from the beginning of all things.  How could we not trust Him?  If we only knew His good father-heart, we could never doubt His love and intimate care ever again!

So I ask myself, what have I decided is “good” for me?  And where am I looking to find those good things?  Am I deceived?  Have I been fooled into a lesser idea of good?  Am I settling for cheap and unsatisfying imitations of goodness?  Or am I going to the fountainhead of goodness itself to ask and receive what I really need and truly crave?  Those good gifts really boil down to one thing — God Himself!  I love how Luke records this same sermon:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

Luke 11:13 (CSB)

Luke names those “good things” (that Matthew refers to) as the Holy Spirit Himself — the ultimate good gift for us is God’s presence and power.  The greatest gift God has to give us is Himself, and if we knew what was “good” for us, we would wholeheartedly ask Him with open hands and hungry hearts! We were created by Him and for Him and can only find purpose and meaning for our existence in Him.

Aquinas, and many like him, believed there was a lot riding on our definition of “good.”  What we set our hearts on determines our course right into eternity — leading us eventually to the beatific vision or to eternal separation from God.  In a sense, either way, we get what we want.  The kicker is that we’ll either be eternally satisfied with our choice or not! Do you need to reconsider your definition of “good” today? Have the wells of happiness you’ve chosen proven dry and empty? Ask God for the good things He created you to enjoy! He longs to give you the best gift of all — Himself!

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