You may accuse me of being worldly or selfish. I admit, there are times I am. It’s one of my flaws. But if you had accused me because I said that I am a Hedonist and because I value pleasure and joy above anything else, then that is not a good reason to accuse me.
In fact, Hedonism and desiring pleasure for my own good above anything else is not bad at all. It’s strange that the world distorts principles like this and had branded seeking one’s happiness as selfish and sinful.
All humans are like me. All seeks happiness. Different means, same ends. Sure some deny it and things they are being moral martyrs by being so “selfless.” (here’s another flaw: Immanuel Kant and others were wrong for what they say, that for a good deed to be moral, we should do it by denying pleasure from ourselves. So for a good deed to be good, we should not feel good about it for the deed to be good? It’s False! Quite the contrary, we should do good because it gives us pleasure. More about that later.) But the closer we admit that we seek happiness above all, probably, the closer we’ll get it.
Again I say, seeking pleasure – our happiness – is not wrong at all. Moreover, it is not optional, it is essential. We ought to seek it.
Back to Hedonism. Probably, the term is just too worldly. But this philosophy is really right. We should seek pleasure. We should prioritize it above anything else. We should enjoy it. Those are truths. In fact, if I dare say, it is the true meaning of life – this is our purpose why we are here. (I could already hear shouts of disagreement from you, “No. No. No. You indeed are too worldly. You are wrong. Our true purpose in life is to give glory to God.” Yes, you are correct, too. Because giving glory to God is the same as what I was talking about, seeking and enjoying our own pleasure. But I’m getting ahead of myself.) In fact, finding joy and pleasure is commanded by God. The problem is, we tend to turn to the wrong things to find them.
There is always a void in man’s heart. A hunger. A thirst. So he turns to what the world can offer to try filling it. Sex. Drugs. Booze. Romance. Jobs. Careers. School. Fame. Money. Family. Friends. Etc. Yes, all can give pleasure and joy. But they are all temporary and unsatisfactory. Economics’ Law of Diminishing Utility always applies. What comes up most come down. After the climax comes the denouement. What pleasure he gets from this world is temporary. Thus, he craves for more. More and more. But it’s still not enough. All the happiness he feels are just illusions… but deep inside there is only a black hole of sadness. But still, even if it’s all an illusion, man convinces himself that what worldly happiness he gets is real. He can’t imagine that there is something better – a lot better – and more precious and beautiful. C.S. Lewis said it best: “We are content to go on making mud pies in the slums because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
There is only one thing that can fill up that void. A joy and pleasure unspeakable and glorious. And permanent and can make us complete. What is it? No, not a what, a who… God. God is the only one that could grant real happiness, real pleasure.
Every good thing that comes to and happens in my life, everything that gives me pleasure and joy, I acknowledge all came from God. And my pleasure and joy increases because of this fact: that they came from God Himself! And by also acknowledging that they are all from Him, I give Him glory. God loves to show his children favors and showers of blessings. He is glorified by this. This is only part in what I mean, but not the core.
What I mean by real happiness and pleasure is not really because of all those blessings. Of course they bring happiness and pleasure, but it’s not all about these physical and spiritual blessings God has given. I enjoy them, but what really deserves to be enjoyed is God Himself. Not from God, but in God. Not the gifts, but the Giver.
Here’s a rough analogy. A girl receives a dozen roses from her lover. Of course, she is delighted in the flowers. She enjoys them. The flowers brought her happiness. But though she enjoys the flowers, what really brings her joy and pleasure in her life is her boyfriend. She loves her boyfriend more than the flowers. The giver than the gift. Just the same, we should enjoy God more than the flowers he gives. That even without the flowers – the blessings – our joy and pleasures are still complete because they are in Him.
Christian Hedonism is a term coined by Baptist pastor John Piper. But the philosophy was also written (and believed and lived by) C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, St. Augustine, and Blaise Pascal to name some. Yes, it is a philosophy. But more than that, it is a truth. The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes the "chief end of man" as "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Piper’s revision of it goes, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” Like Trinity, Christian Hedonism is not mentioned in the Bible. But (substance over form), like Trinity, evidences of its truth are found in the Book (Psalms 37:4, 42:1-2, 63:1, 119:103, 16:11; Job 22:25; Colossians 3:5; Matthew 25:21,23… to name some)
Why is God the only true source of happiness and real pleasure? Because he is Love. He lacks nothing, omnipotent, and self-sufficient. He has no flaws. Perfect. He is a Being to be enjoyed. He is the only one that can fill up (overflowingly) that void in man’s heart.
He also desires for us to enjoy Him. He gets pleasure when we take pleasure in Him. He gets glorified when He is the One we enjoy in our hearts.
Christian Hedonism also makes sense if we use an afterlife argument. I think Islam envisions heaven as place of reward of an eternity of banquets and orgies. If that’s their perspective and motivation, wouldn’t they be disappointed if they got there? Yes, it’s a place of rewards, peace and happiness. But what is your definition of “rewards, peace and happiness”? Orgies? Or even if it’s not what you picture, do you imagine heaven as a place to suit your own fantasies? Heaven is not like that. Heaven is about ultimately being with God forever and ever. If we don’t enjoy God, then what sense is Heaven at all? Heaven is a place of true pleasure, since finally Christians would finally see God’s face and enjoy and worship Him forever. There’s going to be a lot of celebrating, but no New Year’s Eve parties. If that sounds disappointing or boring or different from what you envision, then Heaven is not for you.
Oh, about taking pleasure in helping and loving others? “Love your neighbors as yourself”, “Love your enemies”… those are commands. And like all of His commands to us, we would obey happily. It is an offshoot of taking pleasure in God. It is spontaneous and natural thing to do when we have our joy and pleasure in God.
Back to the young lovers illustration, (with God this time as the girl, and we, Christians, the boy) it is only natural that the love-smitten boy would do everything she asks to please her. Like, if the girl asks the boy to accompany her to a dance party. The boy, so in love, will cheerfully do so. Even if that means he would have to sacrifice basketball practice. Then again, in his book, he would not even think of it as a sacrifice after all, since basketball is nothing compared for his delight on his girl. Same with us in God, we would easily do all what he commands with glad hearts to please Him if we love Him and delights in Him more than our delight in other things. So in the case of loving our fellow men and doing good, it would come natural as our love for God would motivate us (to please Him) and God’s love will overflow on us to enable us to do so (no matter how unlovable are they). Thus, doing good would always – should – give us pleasure, in contrast to what Kant and others said.
Same in worship. It is spontaneous if we have our joy and pleasure in Him. Praise is a natural impulse if we admire or enjoy something or someone. We praise our favorite actors. We praise an admirable deed. We give praises to awesome views. We praise movies and books we enjoyed. And in-love boys praise their sweethearts. Praise and worship is a natural reaction when we delight in God.
Also true in evangelization. We tend to boast or talk about these favorites of ours that we enjoy. The favorite books, favorite movies, and sweethearts… the delight we feel in our hearts makes our mouths to spontaneously speak about them. So, it is only natural we also talk about and boast of God if we delight in Him.
There are still a lot of things to talk about Christian Hedonism. But it would take an entire book to talk about it. John Piper himself wrote several to talk about having pleasure in God.
As conclusion: (1) Seeking pleasure and our own good above anything else is not bad or selfish, in fact, it is the greatest good and a must (of course, if it is in God.) (2) The world offers many pleasures but they are all illusions and are nothing compared to the pleasure we will get from God. (3) The physical and spiritual blessings we receive also brings enjoyment but acknowledging that all these things are from God brings us more enjoyment, gives glory to God, and shows that we love and enjoy God more than the blessings. (4) When we enjoy and love God, it is natural that we spontaneously worship Him and obey His commands. (5) Only Christians – His chosen – can enjoy real Hedonism. (6) If I have God in my life, I don’t need anything more. My life is complete.