At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

What Is Christian Hedonism?

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It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily-pleased. 

– C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Is it sinful for a Christian to seek joy and happiness in this life?

Based on his essay, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis would say “no,” adding that it is not a bad thing to desire our own good. In a previous blog I referred to this notion as “self-interest.”

Lewis goes on to say that our greatest problem is that we are far too easily pleased. We don’t seek enjoyment and happiness with nearly the resolve and passion that we should. We too often settle for mud pies instead of infinite delight.

As I wrote in my last post, God purposefully designed us to pursue happiness and delight. One area in which we are to find this happiness is in God’s creation and what we make of it.

Yet doesn’t seeking our own happiness sound self-centered? Aren’t we supposed to seek God, not our pleasure?

One great resource that helped me answer these questions was John Piper’s Desiring God: Meditations of A Christian Hedonist. Piper suggests that to answer questions about our own happiness and pleasure, we need to understand a crucial truth about hedonism, or pleasure-seeking.

Piper writes that we value most what we delight in most. Idols are God’s competitor, not pleasure. Pleasure is a gauge that measures how valuable someone or something is to us. Pleasure is the measure of our treasure.

Piper argues that nowhere in the Bible does God condemn people for longing to be happy. He illustrates that the truth is quite contrary to this notion:

  • People are condemned for forsaking God and seeking their happiness elsewhere (Jeremiah 2:13).
  • The Bible commands us to delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:4).
  • Jesus teaches us to love God more than money because our heart is where our treasure is located (Matthew 6:21).
  • Paul encourages us to believe that gaining Christ is worth the loss of everything else (Philemon 3:8).
  • The author of Hebrews exhorts us to endure suffering, like Jesus did, for the joy set before us (Hebrews 12:2).

Although the term “christian hedonism” sounds like an oxymoron, it is not a contradiction at all. Piper writes that christian hedonism is desiring the vast, ocean-deep pleasures of God more than the mud-puddle pleasures of wealth, power, or lust.

We are christian hedonists because we believe the song of the Psalmist sung in Psalm 16:11:

You make known to me the the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness and joy, in Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The sentences that best sum up christian hedonism for Piper are this:

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. If this is true we may not without guilt be indifferent to the quest for that satisfaction. It is a duty. Delight in God is a divine command.

When we delight in God, we find the freedom and the strength to delight in his creation and the cultivating work he has set before us all. We can find joy in our vocations because we first find joy in God.

I want to leave you with a final quote from Piper, a quote that has great significance for us as we think about our work:

God created us to live with a single passion, to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. 

Is it sinful for Christians to seek joy and happiness in this life? What are the implications of “Christian Hedonism” for our work? Leave your comments here

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