Dr. John Mark Dempsey recently had a fascinating discussion with Autumn Johnson, director of campus recreation at Texas A&M University-Commerce, concerning the topic of hedonism and self-control.
In it, they discussed recent research into that topic conducted by the University of Zurich. Self-control, they found, is important. But so is allowing oneself to rest on the couch from time to time instead of going for a run, and having a cheat day to eat an unhealthy meal is a good thing build into your diet plan.
It’s a great discussion, and if you have the time to listen, head over to KETR.org and give it a listen.
For this column, however, I would like to answer the question Dempsey asked the Blacklands Café Facebook group based on his conversation. He asked where we stood on the issue of hedonism vs. self-control.
I’d like to answer that question here by first stating I think we are all hedonists, and then to explain what I mean when I consider myself a Christian hedonist.
We are all hedonists
First, I think we’re all hedonists.
As Pascal said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception.” Whether experiencing it in the satisfaction we receive when we exercise self-control in a situation, to indulging in anything from food, drink, play, etc., we are doing what we think will make us most happy.
I think the difference between common hedonism and self-control, is the type of hedonism. One considers immediate gratification the goal: doing whatever one wants, whenever one wants. The other, by having self-control over impulses, seeks for delayed gratification (i.e. the difference between buying a car on a credit card vs. saving up).
Either way, happiness – whether by self-control or impulse – is what drives us to do what we do. I think it’s our purpose to seek happiness. However, since the Fall of Humanity in the garden, we attempt to find happiness in ways we weren’t designed to – why so many people are so unhappy. If humans were made to seek happiness, then there must be an end goal, something to be happy about.
With that in mind, this is why I call myself a Christian Hedonist. I believe God is most glorified when I am most satisfied in him. I hold the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Praising God is the end goal of my happiness.
In Scripture, David commands us to “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). That’s not a suggestion, it is written in the imperative.
I am commanded to delight in God. But it is not a burdensome command because God delights in us being satisfied in him, namely, in us being satisfied in his glory.
I know people who say they’ve never worked a day in their life, though they have had long careers. They say it because they truly enjoy their job. The principal here is similar. Though life is hard and filled with trials and temptations, Christ tells us his yoke is easy and his burden, light. When I delight in something or someone, my work feels lighter.
Delight in Christ
The theme of delight in Christ undergirds my Christian walk, informing my thought and action. God has a passion for his own glory, and we give him glory when we find our true and lasting joy in him. And, to summarize Jonathan Edwards’ treatise, “The End for Which God Made the World,” if God’s glory is an excellent thing in and of itself, then knowing that glory is an excellent endeavor, as well. And if both those are true, then it must follow that the praise of God’s glory must also be excellent.
In other words, if God’s glory is a good thing, then the understanding and praise of God’s glory are also good things.
Consequently, the act of praise is enjoyable in itself. I can’t see a beautiful painting, hear an exquisite piece of music, or eat a delicious meal, and not begin to praise it. We praise what we love. And when we praise, it makes us happy. I can’t see my wife smile when I surprise her with flowers and candy, or a handwritten note, and not feel a sense of happiness in myself when I see her happy.
In the same way, when I see the sin God saved me from and look at the glory of God in nature and his Word, I can’t help but to praise God’s glory, which in turn makes me delight in him. This delight is not a byproduct of praise, the two are comingled. And so, God’s glory and my delight in him as a being created to praise God’s glory (Eph. 1:14) are entwined. So, God has created me to find my joy in him.
But when I say I am a Christian Hedonist I do not mean that God desires me to be happy every second of every day. Rather, I am to find my supreme and lasting joy in Christ. Joy in Christ is a deep-seated, overwhelming, and unshakable knowledge that Christ will return to make all things new (John 16:22; Rev. 21:5). It is unshakable because God’s promises will stand.
The writer to the Hebrews stated we as Christians are to look to Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, and to emulate our Savior, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
James says we are to “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you face trials,” because these trials will make us more like Christ.
That joy in Christ, that unshakable understanding of God’s promised salvation, is what will uphold us through trials because it is the very thing we were made for. Nehemiah says the very joy of the Lord “is our strength.” To take joy in Christ, to praise his glory, will give us strength because it is the chief end of our existence, why God created the world.
God created us to find our happiness and complete joy in him. We strayed, seeking happiness in our own way.
This has made humanity restless, causing us to strive after happiness at the expense of others, which has caused untold number of heartaches. In Christ, by whom and for whom all things exist, is where true happiness, hope, and joy are found.
And as Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Joseph Hamrick is a semi-professional writer and sometimes thinker. He lives in Commerce and serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3).
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org