The Problem With Perfection

At the end of the show “The Good Place” (spoiler alert), everyone is in heaven and blissfully happy. There is just one problem—heaven is eternal. As it turns out, eternal perfection has its downsides. Foremost among them is boredom. Once a person experiences every pleasure (eternal) life has to offer, he begins to become numb to its effect. What was once exhilarating becomes fun, then becomes amusing, and then becomes a pastime, and then becomes boring, once enough trips around the marry-go-round are made. Death, ironically enough, was the final desire of the characters in eternal bliss since it at least alleviated the boredom.

        One of the most powerful experiences of pleasure in the world is sexual gratification. That is why its draw has the power to ensnare the strongest and most affluent of men and crush them under its weight (e.g. Jeffrey Epstein). However, even this pleasure has its limits and once the sexual procedure is endured enough times, it becomes systematic life-support—it begins to merely keep a person going, not because it’s “fun” anymore, but because it’s necessary. The exhilarating becomes boring routine. Hard to imagine for those who are lightyears away from such immersion in reckless pleasure, but a hard reality for those who have been there.

        We, by nature, become sensitized to stimuli. The bright light piercing the contracted pupil slowly becomes normal when enough time passes. The intense drug-induced high flooding the brain soon becomes a trickle of normalcy intermingled with the pain of sobriety. The joy of Christian fellowship becomes mundane and even burdensome when the clock strikes “too late” and sleep slides into the superlative. We, by definition, are creatures hardwired for dissatisfaction. How much money, for example, does it take to make a man happy? The richest man of his age, John D. Rockefeller, was reputed to answer this question (perhaps speaking more as a pedagogue than an interlocutor) thusly, “Just one more dollar.”

       The question of the T.V. show is not a new one—is eternal bliss possible given our creaturely proclivity toward complacency and dissatisfaction? Once we experience enough pure happiness, does it ever get boring? In other words, is eternal life simply floating on clouds playing little harps with fat, winged babies?

       We would do well to consider the thing toward which our desires point. If it is true that the fulfillment of our earthly desires will ultimately result in boredom and the desire for death (which, I argue, it will), perhaps we should re-consider the validity of our desires. If the fulfillment of our desires only results in momentary happiness followed by certain boredom which will result in no other option other than the desire to die, why not cut in line? Indeed, this is the philosophy of some of the most consistent atheists. David Benatar, for example, argues in his book Better Never to Have Been that the most logical and caring thing we can do as humans is to stop having children so that humanity will slowly go extinct. Without question the following is true: To be alive is to suffer; to have never been born is to not suffer. If even eternal life ends with the desire to cease to exist, why endure the necessary suffering to get to the point from whence you began—nonexistence? The desire to live forever, for the atheist, is the desire of Sisyphus; it will be all travail and no prevail. The proverbial ball of unmet desires will always roll downhill, until it can roll no more. None will ever say, “Finally I have arrived at perfect contentment” because discontentment is sure to follow. That “arrival” will always necessitate one more step—death. This is the wisdom of Buddhism. Without God, the absence of emotion is the best one can hope for. Happiness is, by definition, fleeting.

“The desire to live forever, for the atheist, is the desire of Sisyphus; it will be all travail and no prevail.”

       But there is another option. The possibility that a perfectly infinite, all-loving Being exists who created mankind for Himself. If this is indeed the case, living for eternity would not entail living for our finite human desires, but living for His eternal ones. Therefore—if this were the case—eternal life would not become boring because the experiences humans would have would be those of something infinite. That is, there would be no point at which every pleasure had been experienced because pleasure—the experience of the perfect Being—would be inexhaustible. Since the infinite Being is indeed infinite, the experience of Him must necessarily be infinite as well. Boredom, therefore, would be impossible since there would never be a moment when a person would be constrained to say, “I’ve done this before.” On the other hand, it is perfectly reasonable to think that the person could say, with each new day, no, each new second, “This is the greatest moment of my life.” It would be like experiencing the most pleasurable experience every moment because each experience would be as new as the last.

        This, of course, is the Christian position. God is infinite love and goodness and He has not created us to make ourselves happy but has made us to glorify Him. Therefore, when a human being glorifies Him (which, generally speaking, simply means that the person enjoys Him) that person is experiencing something higher than the highest earthly pleasure. He experiences earthly pleasure in the moment of enjoying God to be sure. His brain produces serotonin and dopamine like it does when drugs or sex are used. But the enjoyment of God is on an elevated plain when compared to earthly pleasure. It is so elevated, in fact, that the experience is in an altogether distinct category—that of joy. To be truly joyful, rather than merely happy, is only possible through an intimate love-bond with the eternal and infinite God who is love Himself. Everything short of this experience produces happiness (if we’re lucky) that eventually wanes into boredom like a chemical high. But when we do experience this, we feel an eternal weight of glory—joy without diminishment in strength or duration.

        If this is all true (and I think it is) then we would do well to reconsider how we live our lives now. If earthly pleasures inevitably trend toward boredom (or worse, death) and godly pleasures always increase in potency, does it not make clear, sober sense to pursue the latter rather than the former? If this drink will get you high for an hour, and that one will cause springs of eternal life to well up in your soul forever, the drink menu is easy to navigate. No one bought a cocktail named, “Guaranteed Hangover.” The good news is the drinks in our hands are all refundable, if we would simply try a new watering hole. To mix my metaphors, we must ask ourselves, “Is the path my life is on moving toward a happy ending? If not, why not try a different trail?”

Rob Golding graduated from Westminster with an M.Div. in 2021. He is the pastor of First Artesia Christian Reformed Church in Artesia, California.

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