Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and in want of all things; and he will put a yoke of iron upon your neck, until he has destroyed you. (Deuteronomy 28:47-48)
The blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28, the consequential judgment on Israel based on her citizen’s behavior, are specifically directed at the ancient Jewish people. There is no indication in the text that they apply to any other nation on earth. One might argue that they are directed at “God’s chosen people” and so now apply to Christian nations rather than to Israel, but nothing in the text suggests the words are offered to any other peoples on earth outside of Israel. So, one has to apply the text with caution to other nations and peoples. The text seems black and white about how God’s blessings and curses will be visited upon Israel but gives no indication that it can be applied to any other people on earth.
So, it is with the noted caution that we look at the verses mentioned above in which God points out that when Israel fails to recognize all their blessings as coming from God and fails to rejoice in the Lord as a result of these blessings that God will allow bad things to happen to Israel. God’s people need to be “thankful enough.” We are to serve the Lord “with joyfulness and gladness of heart“ not with anger and judgementalism. Christians in America might take the words of Deuteronomy 28:47-48 to heart and adapt a popular political phrase to remind themselves of these verses: Make America Grateful Again. Instead of turning our political energy into a negative hatred against political opponents, look at the blessings we have received and rejoice in the Lord offering Him thanksgiving and praise for “the abundance of all things.”
The modern world has created a great amount of ‘free time’ for people and entire entertainment industries to fill that time. I think in the ancient world only the wealthy had free time and needed constant entertainment to fill their time. For the masses, entertainment consisted of occasional distractions to make them forget their harsh lot in life – circuses, fairs, even gladiator events. Today, however, people of all economic classes feel entitled to vacations, the internet, sports events, concerts, restaurants, access to the media, and the host of activities that are offered to entertain us. We might enjoy any of them and be thankful to God for all the leisure possibilities around us.
It is possible for us to allow these ‘distractions’ to dominate our life and goals (Do you work to live or live to work?). In that case, indeed, the Kingdom of Heaven might appear to be some very distant ‘pie in the sky’ while within our reach is every form of entertainment on the planet. Anything that separates us from God makes it difficult for us to enter the Kingdom. I think it is a balancing act because I think God gifted us with the earth to enjoy and experience the abundance of life. I don’t think God wants everyone simply to suffer on earth while awaiting the Kingdom. God does love our thanksgiving and praise when we enjoy the blessings He bestows on us. But, as we know, it is easy to turn anything into an idol which comes to dominate our life, our plans, our orientation and which replaces God as the center of our lives. The spiritual life consists both of enjoying God’s blessings and giving thanks to our Creator, as well as recognizing when something(s) have come to displace God in our lives and cause an imbalance in our daily lives.
We are trying to remove from our lives anything that prevents us from loving God. It turns out that almost anything can draw us away from God including entertainment, vacation, leisure, family. So we have to keep the right balance and tension between ourselves, the world and our God. Healing and health (=salvation) comes when all that separates us from God has been removed. But can entertainment lead us to God in thanksgiving? I think it is possible, but I admit it can also displace God in our lives and become a distraction. Other Scripture to consider: 1 Corinthians 6:12, 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 and Titus 1:15.