A Whole New World of Pleasures

Author Greg Koukl Published on 04/24/2013

Greg ruminates on what we might someday experience with senses we do not yet possess.

One of the things we do here is talk about speculative issues. We’ve talked about the nature of time and whether God is in time. It’s sometimes fun to sit back and reflect on things. Some of you like to go out into the garage and just tinker, fuss with wood, tools, and things like that. You build things or improve things, and you don’t always know what it is you’re going to find or make when you go out there. I go out and start fussing with my fishing tackle. I don’t have a goal in mind, but sometimes I discover, fix, or change things, and reorganize them in ways that make my fishing easier or more effective.

We can do the same thing with ideas. We can begin reflecting, thinking about particular things. We might take a thought to focus on, but we’re not sure what we’re going to do with it. In the process of talking and knocking things back and forth, we can discover some things to be true we didn’t know were true before.

This, by the way, is why it’s very important for you to be open to concepts you have not come to firm decisions on. I hope you will only come to firm decisions on things because you have proper warrant. You might hold tightly to a theological view, but I hope you do so only because you have good reasons to hold to it. There are probably many things in your life, as there are in mine, that you believe without having really good reasons. You’re working with the best reasons you have so far, but it may be that something will change your mind. There’s no reason why you ought not believe in it, but you shouldn’t cling too tightly to that belief because your warrant or justification for that belief is not strong. When you cling lightly to things that are not well thought out that gives you the freedom to knock them around with somebody else. You are not restricted to a point of view you have to defend when the view may turn out to be wrong.

Sometimes it helps us to stumble on some very interesting things. I was thinking, for example, of what it must be like to explain the color yellow to a blind person. How might you explain that? I was talking to a class at Biola last week and raised this particular issue. Part of my point was that you either know what yellow is or you don’t know. If you don’t know, there’s no real way to explain what it is. A student mentioned that you could say, “It’s a hot color.” I’m not sure what that would mean to a blind person. This caused me to begin thinking about why it is that we’d call yellow a “hot” color. Isn’t it because hot things are yellow? Think of the sun, or a flame. We are familiar with some hot things that glow in a yellow kind of way, so we associate a certain temperature with a color. It’s not that a color has a temperature, but we make that association. Therefore, it wouldn’t help to describe yellow as a “hot” color to a blind person because they don’t see the sun that is yellow and hot. They don’t know the color of hot things so that doesn’t help.

I realized that there doesn’t seem to be any way to explain the quality of a color to someone who is born blind, nor does it seem possible to explain the texture of a sound to someone who is deaf. Textures of sounds are things that are perceived in such a way that you know them immediately, and you can’t describe them in any other terms than the experience itself. What does a strawberry taste like? You might say it tastes kind of like this other thing. What does rattlesnake taste like? Just like chicken. Well, everything tastes like chicken. What do turtles taste like? Chicken. Sometimes we have something analogous to compare other things that share categories, but how do you explain the taste of chicken? You can say rattlesnake tastes like chicken or a strawberry tastes kind of like a raspberry to a person who could taste a raspberry or chicken, but for a person who has no taste at all, how do you explain that kind of thing?

A few weeks ago I saw the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus” with Richard Dreyfuss. One scene entailed a conversation between Mr. Holland, a music teacher at a high school, and his students. He was talking about Beethoven and his ability to compose music when he was totally deaf. In fact, there was a touching story that I understand is true which was depicted in the film about Beethoven called “Immortal Beloved.”

Beethoven is seen during the first performance of his Ninth Symphony Chorale, “Ode to Joy.” At the end of the performance it was such a shock and a tremendous experience to the audience that they leapt to their feet applauding for the maestro. He was standing on the dais facing the orchestra, and the conductor had to tap the author on the shoulder and turn him around so he could see the audience enthusiastically applauding for this magnificent work at its debut because he was totally deaf. He wrote the entire piece although he was deaf.

One of Mr. Holland’s students had asked him how Beethoven could know what a C note sounded like. Dreyfuss went on to explain that Beethoven wasn’t always deaf, but there was a time when those sounds were implanted into his mind, and even when he was deaf he could recall those sounds and continue to write music.

What this demonstrates is that there are some things that really exist that are pleasures. The pleasures of tastes, of viewing colors, of hearing sound are totally out of reach of comprehension for those who do not have the capability to receive them. In other words, for deaf people, for those who are entirely and completely deaf, or for those who are entirely and completely blind and have been so from birth, there is a whole world of pleasurable sensations that are not only out of their reach, but they cannot even begin to think about the texture of those sensations.

I lived in Thailand for seven months and I discovered a whole group of fruits I had never even imagined existed. There are all kinds of fruits that Western civilization has never even heard of, much less tasted, and some of them are absolutely wonderful. I discovered these delicious pleasures that I never knew existed.

I guess the application is simply this: To some people there are worlds of pleasure never even imagined, and they are not capable of imagining them because they have no “equipment,” so to speak, to experience those pleasures.

That gets me wondering, wouldn’t it be possible that there are a whole group of things out there, that are like colors, tastes and sounds, that we are not able to perceive and enjoy because we don’t have the right capacities? We think we’ve got the whole world here, yet it may be that, in one sense, we are simply seeing in black and white and think that because we can see textures of black and white we have the range of sight without even knowing there could be a whole world of color out there. It may be there are worlds of experiences, all kinds of different things, that could be opened up to us if we had the right apparatus.

It may be that there are things God has planned for us that are not only unexplainable, but completely unimaginable in the context of our experience now. Maybe this is why Paul said that when he was caught up into the third heaven, “I can’t even begin to express such a thing” (2 Cor. 12:2–4). There are no words to express it because there is no analog in our experience to make it possible for Paul to explain what he experienced, just as there is no analog to make it possible to tell a blind person what colors look like.

That makes me a bit excited because I wonder what could be out there that God has planned for those He has loved? What are the new pleasures we might experience? I think it will turn out that there is a whole new world of pleasures waiting to be discovered as God leads us into those things. A whole new world of discovery, a whole new world which will seem like Technicolor to the one-dimensional black and white of our present experience. It’s a world we will not be able to imagine on this side.

We have woefully deficient language to express these whole new worlds of pleasures that are beyond our imagination, but that God has planned for us. What a wonderful thought—and all from just thinking about tastes and colors!