Frequently Asked Questions about Christian Hedonism
|Copyright © 2004, 2005 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Before reading the following questions and answers about the doctrines and philosophies of Christian Hedonism, you may wish to read the article A Biblical Study of the Theological Foundation of "Christian Hedonism" . That article provides a deeper elaboration of where the philosophy of Christian Hedonism is in apparent conflict with Scripture..
Each of the questions and answers below discuss in a general way the doctrine of Christian Hedonism as defined in the books Desiring God and Dangerous Duty and compares those concepts with the Scriptures. Of a certainty no one will agree with all the opinions offered, however, it is hoped that a sincere questioning of the published philosophies will drive Christians back to the Bible to dig out the answers for themselves to resolve lingering questions or concerns.
Click here to read the answers to questions 1 through 20 sequentially.
Click here to read the answers to questions 21 through 37 sequentially.
Is God Pleasure? (A question on the nature of God.)
God is pleasure, or so assert some pleasure-centric philosophers. Such is the ever increasing misconception on the nature of God; people have begun to override what Scripture says about God with what their philosophies say God "ought" to be.
God is love. Love is not present with God, rather, God is love itself. Where there is true love, there is God. All that God does is loving. It is His nature. They will know we are Christians by our love for one another (John 13:35). Love is not simply a tool or a reward that God manufactures, God Himself is love.
God is holy. Again, holiness is Godís nature. Holiness is not an aspect of God He can choose not to manifest. God does not become holy only to favored individuals, God is holy to all. God is holy.
God is almighty. God created all. God owns all. God rules all. His nature, His being, His title is ruler and creator. God is almighty.
Is God pleasure? Is it His nature to know only pleasure and to be incapable of experiencing anything unpleasant? No (Ezekiel 18:32, 33:11, Isaiah 53:3). Instead of it being His nature, pleasure is a tool that God uses to reward men, to draw them to Himself, to help men visualize one possible eternity. God also uses the tools of trials, suffering, and sorrow in much the same way, to motivate men to repent and to serve Him (Hebrews 12).
God is not "sorrow" by nature. God is capable of feeling both sorrow and pleasure, but Godís nature is neither comprised of sorrow nor pleasure. God can choose to exhibit and bestow sorrow, or He can choose to exhibit and bestow pleasure. Such are the choices He makes with His tools.
As God is love, He can act only in a manner that is loving. As God is holy, He can act in ways that are holy and can never choose to sin--in fact, He cannot even be tempted (James 1:13). As God is almighty, He can never select a new being on whom to place the glory of His kingship while He abdicates and walks away (Isaiah 42:8).
Perhaps this was why the miracle of God becoming a man was so significant. While God cannot be tempted to sin, the man Jesus was tempted though all the while remaining holy (Hebrews 4:15). While God cannot abdicate his glory as King of Creation, the man Jesus could temporarily put aside the glory of that title, though not the weight of its responsibility (Philippians 2:7). Jesus, the man of sorrows, became an example of the perfect man.
Unlike agape-love and holiness, pleasure exists, even apart from God.
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4)
Pleasure is not god. God is not pleasure. Pleasure, when it becomes a desire of man, can become the source of lust and sin. How unlikely it is that pleasure is the essence of Godís very nature.
Psalm 16 refers to God as dispensing pleasure and joy from His right hand to the resurrected dead, not as being composed of pleasure itself.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Psalm 16:10,11)
In fact, a careful reading of Psalm 16:11 demonstrates that joy and pleasure are the reactions of the believer, the response of those who encounter God, who stand in His presence. It does not say that Godís nature is composed of joy and pleasure. Rather, joy and pleasure are the internal responses that the children of God will experience when placed into Godís presence eternally, following death and after the judgement.
Manís response to Godís glory as King and Creator is often described as fear and awe (Psalm 89:7). This does not mean that Godís nature is fear and awe. Manís response to Godís holiness is often sorrow and repentance (Hebrews 12). This too does not mean that Godís nature is sorrow and repentance. So it is with resurrected manís response to Godís perfection and forgiveness, man responds with joy and pleasure yet it does not mean that Godís nature is joy and pleasure.
When discussing the nature of the Lord God Almighty, it is wise to be most careful with Scripture. The Word does not say, "God is pleasure." Rather it does tell us that resurrected man responds to God with both joy and pleasure having been saved from the decay of the grave forever. It is a mistake to characterize manís happy response to Godís grace as if manís responses were what composed the nature of God.
Let us be awed and rejoice in the fact that someday we will be in His holy, loving, and mighty presence. Until that day, let us pursue holiness as He is holy.
You are invited to read more about Godís nature in the article: Is God a Hedonist?
Why donít you folks at thefaithfulword.org website get it? Itís not ordinary hedonism, itís hedonistic pleasure "in God".
The "question" above is often stated as a comment but everyone knows precisely what the author intends. He means to ask, "Why donít you get it? We arenít talking about taking pleasure in the ordinary things of this world like sunsets, beaches, lakes, and Autumn leaves. That would be Ďordinary hedonismí. Weíre talking about taking pleasure in nothing else but God. Being satisfied in nothing else but God. Why canít you get that?"
Perhaps C.S. Lewis already answered this question sufficiently when he wrote in letter number 17 in Letters to Malcolm:
I was learning the far more secret doctrine that pleasures are shafts of the glory [corporeal displays of the glory of God] as it strikes our sensibility. As it impinges on our will or our understanding, we give it different names--goodness or truth or the like. But its flash upon our senses and mood is pleasure. Ö
You notice that I am drawing no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures. But why should I? The line is almost impossible to draw and what use would it be if one succeeded in drawing it?
Lewis meant that finding pleasure with your senses, such as seeing sunlight through tree limbs and foliage of the canopy in a shaded forest with your eyes, feeling the sunlight on your face and the cool breeze on your hand, and sensing the aroma of wildflowers is no different than finding pleasure with your spirit in an aesthetic manner when you meditate about God. Most Christian Hedonists would refer to the forest experience as "sensuous pleasure / ordinary hedonism" and the meditation experience as taking pleasure "in God".
But this is not what Lewis meant. Please do not miss Lewisí point. To Lewis there is no difference between experiencing pleasure in God (what he refers to as aesthetic pleasure) and experiencing pleasure in the world God created (sensuous pleasure). No difference.
How is this possible? It is revealed to us in the Word that God created the world. It is His footstool. He is present in the world as well as over the world. Christ alone holds the world together. There is no good thing in the world that He did not create. If we find the created world pleasurable, we are experiencing pleasure in God.
Lewis further goes on to explain to Malcolm that it is his intent not to go searching for more pleasure, but rather the opposite, "I have tried Ö to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration", adoration of God and what He has done. In other words, Lewis would come across a pleasurable experience, and he would consciously respond by saying, "what is Godís part in this?"
By contrast, Christian Hedonism requires man to actually pursue the pleasure itself "in God." But which pleasures? Aesthetic pleasures, or, sensuous pleasures; spiritual pleasures, or, common pleasures? According to Lewis there is no difference.
If there is no difference between taking pleasure in the lawful things of the world and taking pleasure in God, then when Christian Hedonism commands us to pursue our pleasures, it is equally acceptable to pursue the pleasure of fishing, of good dining, of prayer, or of giving. There is no difference.
If there is no difference between taking pleasure in the fact that God created a beautiful lake and taking pleasure in the fact that He is so loving as to save us, then what is the true meaning of "Christian Hedonism"? Which pleasure is it more biblical to pursue? All lawful pleasures are of God and in God.
Is a Christian "wrong" because he prefers to pursue the pleasure of Godís people at a picnic beside a babbling brook, compared to the believer who prefers to sit in his room and meditate on a difficult passage of Scripture? Is a believer in sin because he more enjoys singing in the choir while another believer more enjoys cooking dinner for her husband who is returning from a week long business trip?
"Christian Hedonism" loses all meaning when you understand the following:
C.S. Lewis also wrote to Malcolm a deadly serious warning regarding the temptation to desire pleasure. He called it greed. "Greed. Instead of saying, ĎThis also is Thou,í one may say the fatal word Encore." Greed. The pursuit of pleasure for oneself. Demanding of God that we again and again get pleasure from Him or His world. C.S. Lewis was no advocate of pursuing pleasure, merely ascribing to God goodness for having provided pleasure on those occasions when he would come upon it.
C.S. Lewis also found that by focusing intently on pleasure in order to find God within that experience could lead to another human downfall: pride. Lewis wrote: "There is also conceit: the dangerous reflection that not everyone can find God in a plain slice of bread and butter, or that others would condemn as simply Ďgreyí the sky in which I am delightedly observing such delicacies of pearl and dove and silver." Not everyone will respond the same way to any given circumstance, and when this happens, the tendency of man and the hedonist will be to assume oneself to be superior over another who sees not a pleasure in an experience, but perhaps some other equally valid but unpleasant message (e.g. a rebuke for sin committed, a memory of a lost one resurfaced, a foreshadowing of an impending doom that escapes the notice of the one consumed with pleasure).
For this very reason, that often the sober warning of impending doom is a more proper message to be noted than distilling the pleasure out of every experience, the Scriptures tell us that the minds of fools reside in the house of pleasure. And because of pride, many men and women will wear a smile of supposed spirituality on the outside while their heart is being crushed from a weight of grief on the inside. Elevating pleasure to the point of a pursuit carries with it a wealth of condemnation and warning from the Word.
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure. (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)
Even of this fact, C.S. Lewis once again acts as his own clarion claxon, warning no one to take his philosophy too far regarding finding ways to adore God through every small pleasure one might encounter. He knew the importance of not elevating pleasure to the level of a pursuit.
"One wants a great many things besides this Ďadoration in infinitesimalsí which I am preaching. And if I were preaching it in publicÖI should have to pack it in ice, enclose it in barbed-wire reservations, and stick up warning notices in every direction. Donít imagine I am forgetting that the simplest act of mere obedience is worship of a far more important sort than what Iíve been describing (to obey is better than sacrifice). "
Lewis properly understood that authentic worship is "mere obedience" and that obedience is "far more important" than experiencing pleasure. He was genuinely concerned that someone might misconstrue or misrepresent his position as meaning that pleasure was in any way equal to or higher a calling than worship or obedience. Lewisí cautions and warnings not to elevate pleasure are quite clear.
The desire to experience pleasure is a natural element of mankind. Yes, the desire for pleasure motivates us along with so very many other motivations. Which motivation is "holiest", "most pure", or most highly commanded? Only one: "pursue love" for there is no commandment greater that this (1 Corinthians 14:1, Mark 12:28-31).
In so much as "Christian Hedonism" requires the pursuit of oneís own pleasure as if this were a command from the Lord, "Christian Hedonism" is in error.
When "Christian Hedonism" attempts to differentiate what good things we "should" take pleasure in and which we should not, as if taking pleasure in every good thing was not entirely of Godís gifting to mankind, then "Christian Hedonism" mistakenly devalues Godís creation or certain attributes of God, and therefore God Himself.
Taking our pleasure in God, in Who He is, in what He has created, in what He has done, is a good and proper thing. Taking pleasure in any good thing is to take pleasure in God. Taking pleasure in God is what has been going on for thousands of years by the ancient believing Jews up through the contemporary Christian.
Taking pleasure in God as a natural response to His good gifts to man is an entirely different concept than to require a whole-hearted dedication to nothing but the pursuit of pleasure. This is where Christian Hedonism fails. It cannot offer one Bible verse that directly commands man to "pursue his own pleasure". Much more than that, it cannot find anywhere a preponderance of evidence suggesting that this "pursuit of pleasure" should be elevated to the rank of "greatest pursuit" or "highest calling" (as Dr. Piper calls it). And the pursuit of pleasure must become a manís foremost pursuit if the name "hedonism" is to have any meaning whatsoever.
Since Christian Hedonism is a call to use "all our strength" in devotion to pleasure in God as our highest calling, and since it has no mandate from the Scriptures to issue this call, the philosophy is fully and wholly without meaning or substance, not merely the name of the philosophy, but the entirety of its content. Even more so is it without meaning given that pleasure in God can be found through our senses as we behold His creation; through our mind as we contemplate Him, His works, and His creation; and in our spirits as we are made aware that we have been regenerated by His Spirit.
Pleasure is not to be pursued. Pleasure is an experiential gift from God which He offers to us in all good things. As silly, arrogant, and greedy children might, we could demand more gifts of pleasure from God our Father, but we are not so commanded by His Word. In fact, we are often told to stop thinking of ourselves first, our comforts over those of our neighbors, and our selfishness. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and foremost of all that we do, pursue love for God.
Pursue our own pleasures as our highest calling and greatest priority as do the hedonists? No. Pursue love, fear God, seek to be righteous as He is righteous, those are our biblically commanded priority pursuits.
There is no such thing in the Bible as the distinction between "Christian Hedonism" and "ordinary hedonism". All good things can be gratefully received from the hand of God with thanks, and taking pleasure in any of these worldly (but lawful) and spiritual gifts is to experience pleasure "in God". Let us not be spoiled children and demand more pleasure from our Father, but let us instead unselfishly love Him as is His due as Father, God, Savior, and Creator. Our pleasures will take care of themselves with no purposeful attention given them at all if we focus the whole of our energy first on our obligation as children: love our Father with all our mind, body, and strength.
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