Friday, November 11, 2011

Pre-Piperian Christian Hedonism

Any of you who are familiar with John Piper likely are aware that he is a proponent of and the key spokesperson for a concept he has termed "Christian hedonism". Briefly, Christian hedonism according to Desiring God-Piper's ministry-is defined and explained in this excerpt:
A "Christian Hedonist" sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? If the term makes you squirm, we understand. But don't throw this paper away just yet. We're not heretics (really!). Nor have we invented another prosperity-obsessed theology by twisting the Bible to sanctify our greed or lust. We are simply stating an ancient, orthodox, Biblical truth in a fresh way.
"All men seek happiness," says Blaise Pascal. "This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves." We believe Pascal is right. And, with Pascal, we believe God purposefully designed us to pursue happiness.
Does seeking your own happiness sound self-centered? Aren't Christians supposed to seek God, not their own pleasure? To answer this question we need to understand a crucial truth about pleasure-seeking (hedonism): we value most what we delight in most. Pleasure is not God's competitor, idols are. Pleasure is simply a gauge that measures how valuable someone or something is to us. Pleasure is the measure of our treasure.
We know this intuitively. If a friend says to you, "I really enjoy being with you," you wouldn't accuse him of being self-centered. Why? Because your friend's delight in you is the evidence that you have great value in his heart. In fact, you'd be dishonored if he didn't experience any pleasure in your friendship. The same is true of God. If God is the source of our greatest delight then God is our most precious treasure; which makes us radically God-centered and not self-centered. And if we treasure God most, we glorify Him most.
Does the Bible teach this? Yes. Nowhere in the Bible does God condemn people for longing to be happy. People are condemned for forsaking God and seeking their happiness elsewhere (Jeremiah 2:13). This is the essence of sin. The Bible actually 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 (Matt. 6:21). Paul wants us to believe that gaining Christ is worth the loss of everything else (Phil 3:8) and the author of Hebrews exhorts us to endure suffering, like Jesus, for the joy set before us (Heb. 12: 1-2). Examine the Scriptures and you'll see this over and over again.
Christian Hedonism is not a contradiction after all. It is desiring the vast, ocean-deep pleasures of God more than the mud-puddle pleasures of wealth, power or lust. We're Christian Hedonists because we believe Psalm 16:11, "You show me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy, in Your right hand are pleasures for evermore."
Join us in this pursuit of satisfaction in God, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
With that in mind, I thought I would share a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel, The Brothers Karamazov, that hinted at some thoughts of the author that seem to support this idea of Christian hedonism.

If I seem so happy to you, you could never say anything that would please me so much. For men are made for happiness, and any one who is completely happy has a right to say to himself, ‘I am doing God’s will on earth.’ All the righteous, all the saints, all the holy martyrs were happy."

Though perhaps Piper would want to, in our current use of the language, differentiate between joy and happiness, I think Dostoyevsky, speaking through the character Father Zossima, is probably speaking to the same thing. Dostoyevsky's character is recognizing that an enduring quality of the righteous, of the saints, despite sickness and other sufferings, is a profound happiness-or joy-found in God and that this happines should be pursued.

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