Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise: seek what they sought.
I debated the use of a non-Christian quote to begin this post, but it really sums up what I am doing here. I could follow the book I’m reading and trust in John Piper’s wisdom in what he says and I can trust that the Biblical passages he cites are accurate, or I can follow along in my Bible and see where his information is coming from. I do trust the word of Mr. Piper, but I don’t want to follow in his footsteps. I am seeking what he once sought.
The Introduction to Desiring God is entitled, “How I Became a Christian Hedonist.” I will admit that I was a bit guarded at that title of choice, and I am sure that Piper has encountered questions over his choice in self-description. Admittedly, had I not explored his website and had there not been several recommendations from trusted brothers in Christ, I would never have had the desire to read this book. A hedonist is often thought of as a selfish glutton, even to the point that a person’s religion was the pursuit of their carnal pleasures. Piper has chosen to give us a taste of what he means by this declaration to help us understand his self-depiction.
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. Many people separate those two fundamental ends of God in their own understanding, when their separation was not the intention of the scholars who wrote the catechism. How can we say this so boldly? The scholars who assembled these foundations made it their life’s joy in the subtleties of language. An entire sermon (and more) can depend on the tense of a verb or the choice of one word over another, when both words mean almost the same thing. These scholars did not say that “the chief ends of man are to glorify God and then to enjoy Him forever” as if they were two separate things. They used singular terminology in this catechism. Glorifying God and enjoying Him are one end, not two!
With that knowledge, rest assured that John Piper hasn’t changed anything by changing the wording to “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” All he has done is clarified the semantics for a generation of believers who grew up watching their parents attend church out of the obligations to them as their children or to avoid disappointing the generation before them. I have never visited any church that didn’t have somebody there who looked grumpy. They may not truly desire to be there, for whatever reason, or perhaps they feel that a somber stonewalled look is the most appropriate expression for worshiping God. Maybe it is just the way they were raised! This is a cycle of gloom that could be detrimental to a curious unbeliever, so I say that it is paramount that these church families lock arms and have a revival of praise!
As the book progresses, Piper will show that it is both unbiblical and dangerously arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.
Christian Hedonism is a philosophy of life built on the following five convictions:
The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.
While in college, Piper had a philosophical notion that so many people are burdened with. He thought that if he did something good because it would make him happy, the goodness of the act would be lost. That thought is reworded to say that the goodness of any moral action is lessened to the degree that pleasure is a motivator. The higher the activity, the less self-interest should be involved, and worship became a duty to be performed. The very heart of worship is removed when this is the case.
We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy. Instead, we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
From the sermon, “The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis: If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not to be too strong, but too weak. Humanity is busy wading through the muck of our own design and looking for contentment in the acts of man.
The deepest and most enduring satisfaction (happiness) is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.
I just mentioned the muck we wade through on our never-ending quest for satisfaction. This fool’s errand has us so busy that we often overlook the infinite satisfaction that is found in the Lord. Our undeniable yearning for happiness should not be suppressed, but needs to be consumed in God. We need to feast on Him to the point of gluttony!
The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in the manifold ways of love.
Praise is not foreign to our lives. I remember witnessing a sunset on the western beach of Key West, Florida twelve years ago. I stood there in awe at the beauty and majesty of the sun as it seemed to sizzle into the unreachable depths of the waters. My heart was moved and I spoke about it for many days after that. When the Green Bay Packers won their Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, I jumped and shouted for joy. This morning, I told my wife how beautiful she is. We delight to praise what we enjoy! Stifled praise is conflicting, while expressed praise completes our enjoyment. So how could God be worshiped where He is not treasured and enjoyed? How can we just sit there with our arms crossed in church and say that we are praising Him? If we are not enjoying God, we are dishonoring Him. To allow something else to satisfy our desires more than Him is a sacrilege. It truly is as simple as that! Joy and awe are not options during worship. They are essential components of our worship. And to try to give praise without pleasure is hypocrisy.
To the extent that we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. To word this statement positively: The pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.
The Psalms are filled with hedonistic scripture! Do note that in all of these passages are a few important consistencies:
- God is not the means to an end, but He is the end of our search for pleasure. He doesn’t reveal treasures to us, He is the treasure!
- This Christian Hedonism does not make a god out of pleasure. The Christian Hedonist worships that which gives the most pleasure, and there is nothing that can give a fraction of the pleasure that we gain from God.
- The Christian Hedonist does not put oneself above God by seeking Him out of self-interest.
- Christian Hedonism is not a theory of moral justification. An act is not right because it provides pleasure. Joy is not a moral criteria. The goal is to proclaim that joy is a moral duty in all true worship and virtuous acts.
- The distinguishing feature of Christian Hedonism is not that pleasure seeking demands virtue, but that virtue consists essentially, but not only, in pleasure seeking.
We are commanded to act out of joy in situations that the world does not often recognize. As followers of Christ, we are to:
- Love mercy, not just do it
- do acts of mercy with cheerfulness
- joyfully suffer loss in the service of others
- be a cheerful giver
- make our joy the joy of others
- tend the flock of God willingly and eagerly
- keep watch over souls with joy
Christian Hedonism is not a distortion of the earlier-mentioned Catechisms of faith.
The underlying questions of those statements is truly, “What is the source of my comfort and happiness?”
Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him. When we deny ourselves, we are denying the carnal joys of the world in favor of the limitless pleasures of following our Lord and Savior in the gratification that only He can provide.