Christian Hedonism

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I think God is taking me to a new level on the whole surrender issue–you know, that issue that I keep coming back to over and over again. This time, He’s not doing it through having me actually surrender one thing or another, which is a bit unusual in my walk with Him. This time, I think He’s showing me what my motivation should be for the surrender itself, a motivation I’ve often left out of the equation.

Recently, I began reading John Piper’s book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. I’m not quite finished with it, but I’m on the last chapter. I chose it because my pastor loves Piper, and unfortunately, I tend to be a bit of a hedonist myself, but not always in the good way Piper describes. I sometimes find a bit too much joy in a big slice of chocolate cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory or nice sliver of aged gouda cheese melting on my tongue. I thought, Maybe this book will help me become a good hedonist instead.

The whole premise of the book is that our motivation for loving God, loving people, missions, or pretty much anything in life should be to find joy for ourselves. To a girl well versed in surrender, hard work, and checklists (not that I always live that way–I can’t live up to it, so I go back and forth between gluttony and deprivation), this kind of talk raised my hackles. What? Find joy for ourselves? I thought, That’s called selfishness. Yes, we will end up with joy after we do the hard deed, but we don’t do the hard deed for the sake of joy!

It’s a fairly fat book. It took Piper about five long chapters to win me, but after many examples and Scripture to back himself up, I think I see his point. He says, “If the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever, human life should be a ‘living for pleasure’ ” (p. 365). Gaining pleasure from or enjoying God, he argues, is the best way to glorify Him. In addition, I would add that the greatest commandment is to love God (Matt. 22:37), and what is loving God without enjoying Him? Piper says Christian Hedonism does not make a god out of pleasure; instead, whatever we take the most pleasure in (or love), will be our god (p. 367). We humans are naturally bent to seek after our own pleasure. Therefore, we’d better take this desire and seek after pleasure in God Himself!

I found another argument he used to be convincing. If a husband takes his wife out on a date out of a sacrificial love for her, as a duty that a good husband must do, and the wife finds out, she will be deeply hurt. It is much better if a husband wants to spend time with his wife for the pleasure of being with his wife. It will give his wife much happiness to know her husband takes pleasure in her company. As Piper writes, ” ‘It’s my duty’ is a dishonor to her. ‘It’s my joy’ is an honor” (p. 94). I can easily see how the same would hold true of our worship of or service to God. We do it out of the joy we gain in worshiping or serving our worthy Father, not out of duty.

He gives arguments from Scripture. I find three to be the most persuasive. First of all, the Bible is filled with promises of reward, although not always in this life. If we are not to seek our pleasure in this life or the next, why would God even give us these promises? Second, II Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Piper writes about this, “…God is not pleased when people act benevolently but don’t do it gladly. When people don’t find pleasure (Paul’s word is cheer) in their acts of service, God doesn’t find pleasure in them” (p. 120). Not far before this verse, the Macedonians are described, people who were moved to be generous out of the overflow of joy in the grace of God (p. 121). God wants us to seek to have joyful hearts as we serve Him.

Finally, and I find this to be the most persuasive example from Scripture, Hebrews 12:2 describes how Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before Him. His purpose was the joy. The joy was over us being reconciled with Him and Him being glorified, but the purpose was that joy.

I said Piper had convinced me, and I’m giving my best argument on Piper’s side (in 910 words), but to be honest, even as I write, my mind whirls with “but what about…” or “I don’t know about…” or “maybe it’s partly that…” I still need to wrestle with this and talk it over. Maybe somebody reading this wants to talk it out with me? I do know that sacrifice for God without seeking the joy in it can cause me to go right back to the gluttony I mentioned earlier.

If all this intrigues you, I recommend you read the book yourself. I’ve barely scratched the surface of all he writes. In the meantime, I think the best question you can start asking yourself is Do I find pleasure in God and in serving Him?

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10 thoughts on “Christian Hedonism

  1. Hey, Heather. . .I think it is the fear of God I wrote about–not the filial fear or the awe/reverence definition. . .but the face-to-face falling head over head in love with Him. Then the doing of wisdom is JOY!. . .because we love. And, that is the abundant life. . .living in love.

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  2. Nice, thought-provoking piece Heather. I’m thinking of the way siblings play together. I can force them to get along, or they can seek each other out. The difference is that in seeking each other, they are actually seeking the joy they feel when they are together. Do you want them not to seek that joy? Of course not. However, you would be even more thrilled when, after a full afternoon of joyful play, they say to each other, “Wow, this was fun. I sure am glad you’re my brother!” Wouldn’t that just tickle your heart? In the same way, I think we’re supposed to find joy wherever we are because that’s how love is truly expressed. And when we find it, let our hearts overflow with gratitude to the One who made it possible. Just don’t forget 1 Cor 6:12, which kinda nixes your cheesecake argument.
    p.s. Surrender your fear of not surrendering correctly. 🙂
    Rose

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    • Rose, thank you for this reply! This scenario would definitely tickle my heart! I’m not sure Piper would say God doesn’t want us to seek the joy, but I see what you mean, I think. Joy is how love is truly expressed–I think that does get at the heart of it.

      Oh, 1 Cor 6:12 is a hard one for me. I’m never sure how lawful or profitable that cheesecake is. I know that I need to be thankful to God as I enjoy good things, which I mostly am!

      The last about surrendering my fear of not surrendering correctly is really hard!! Or the fear of not doing a bunch of other things correctly! Say a prayer for me?

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  3. I’ve never read the book but I have heard much of what piper describes as Christian hedonism. I’m personally in agreement. It’s not the pleasure itself that is the aim. But being pleased in Him, is. When you find yourself having pleasure in God, you know that you are in right relationship to Him. Jesus said “MY joy I give to you”. Meaning : not a joy that is the mere byproduct of something, but the actual joy that I possess, I give to you; the joy that I have in the Father.
    As I look at my own son, I want him to have a tangible experience of how I feel about him. I want him to have the same pleasure in me, that I have in him.
    I think God wants to share with us, the pleasure he has in us. We do that by having that pleasure in Him.
    John 17 sums it all up… oneness

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    • Being pleased in Him…yes, I can sign on with that one. He does talk like that in the book.

      And sharing the pleasure–that makes sense to me. It makes me think of two lovers. Their love is only complete when both take pleasure in the other. Thank you for that example.

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