The Life-Changing Discovery of Christian Hedonism

There was a time when I thought the verb “enjoy” and the noun “God” should never be used in the same sentence. I could understand “fearing” God and “obeying” God, even “loving” God. But “enjoying” God struck me as inconsistent with the biblical mandate both to glorify God, on the one hand, and deny myself, on the other. How could I be committed above all else to seeking God’s glory if I were concerned about my own joy?

My gladness and God’s glory seemed to cancel each other out. I had to choose between one or the other, but embracing them both struck me as out of the question. Worse still, enjoying God sounded a bit too lighthearted, almost casual, perhaps even flippant, and I knew that Christianity was serious business.

Why We Exist

Then I read Jonathan Edwards. Something he said hit me like a bolt of lightning. I’m not a Christian Hedonist because of Jonathan Edwards. Scripture always has and will remain the final authority in my life. But Edwards helped me to see that God’s glory and my gladness were not antithetical. He helped me see that at the core of Scripture is the truth that my heart’s passion for pleasure (which is God-given and not the result of sin) and God’s passion for praise converge in a way that alone makes sense of human existence. I should let you read it for yourself. Outside of the Word of God, it’s the most significant and life-changing utterance I’ve ever read:

Now what is glorifying God, but a rejoicing at that glory he has displayed? An understanding of the perfections of God, merely, cannot be the end of the creation; for he had as good not understand it, as see it and not be at all moved with joy at the sight. Neither can the highest end of creation be the declaring God’s glory to others; for the declaring God’s glory is good for nothing otherwise than to raise joy in ourselves and others at what is declared (Jonathan Edwards,The Miscellanies [Entry Nos. a-z, aa-zz, 1-500], The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 13. Edited by Thomas A. Schafer [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994], no. 3, p. 200).

Here it is again, in other words:

God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory . . . both [with] the mind and the heart. He that testifies his having an idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation [i.e., his heartfelt commendation or praise] of it and his delight in it. (no. 448, p. 495)

Edwards’ point is that passionate and joyful admiration of God, and not merely intellectual apprehension, is the aim of our existence. If God is to be supremely glorified in us it’s critically essential that we be supremely glad in him and in what he has done for us in Jesus.

Meet Christian Hedonism

This is Christian Hedonism, and Christian Hedonism is why Enjoying God Ministries exists. Enjoying God is not a secondary, tangential endeavor. It is central to everything we do. We do not do other things hoping that joy in God will emerge as a by-product. Our reason for the pursuit of God and obedience to him is precisely the joy that is found in him alone. To come to God or to worship him or to yield to his moral will for any reason other than the joy that is found in who he is, is sinful.

I know how strange this sounds the first time one hears it (it can sound strange for a long time thereafter as well!). So permit me to look elsewhere for help in making sense of it. Next to Scripture and Jonathan Edwards, John Piper has helped me understand the centrality of Christian Hedonism more than anyone else. I strongly recommend Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. I trust it will change your life the way it changed mine. In an article entitled “What Is Christian Hedonism?,” the following explanation is found.

A "Christian Hedonist" sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? If the term makes you squirm, we understand. But don't click off this page 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 (Matthew 6:21). Paul wants us to believe that gaining Christ is worth the loss of everything else (Philippians 3:8) and the author of Hebrews exhorts us to endure suffering, like Jesus, for the joy set before us (Hebrews 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.

God's Own Supreme Affection

The next step is a difficult one for some to take. Here it is: our glad-hearted passion for God is exceeded only by God’s glad-hearted passion for God. If the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever, the chief end of God is to glorify God and to enjoy himself forever!

What is the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart? What is God’s greatest pleasure? In what does God take supreme delight? I want to suggest that the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart is his own glory. God is at the center of his own affections. The supreme love of God’s life is God. God is pre-eminently committed to the fame of his name. God is himself the end for which God created the world. Better, still, God’s immediate goal in all he does is his own glory. God relentlessly and unceasingly creates, rules, orders, directs, speaks, judges, saves, destroys and delivers in order to make known who he is and to secure from the whole of the universe the praise, honor and glory of which he and he alone is ultimately and infinitely worthy.

The question I most often hear in response to this is that if God loves himself pre-eminently, how can he love me at all? How can we say that God is for us and that he desires our happiness if he is primarily for himself and his own glory? I want to argue that it is precisely because God loves himself that he loves you. Here’s how.

The Most Loving Thing God Can Do

I assume you will agree that your greatest good consists of enjoying the most excellent Being in the universe. That Being, of course, is God. Therefore, the most loving and kind thing that God can do for you is to devote all his energy and effort to elicit from your heart praise of himself. Why? Because praise is the consummation of enjoyment. All enjoyment tends towards praise and adoration as its appointed end. In this way, God’s seeking his own glory and God’s seeking your good converge.

Listen again. Your greatest good is in the enjoyment of God. God’s greatest glory is in being enjoyed. So, for God to seek his glory in your worship of him is the most loving thing he can do for you. Only by seeking his glory pre-eminently can God seek your good passionately.

For God to work for your enjoyment of him (that’s his love for you) and for his glory in being enjoyed (that’s his love for himself) are not properly distinct.

Suggested Reading

Perhaps it would be best if you began with a little reading to familiarize yourself with Christian Hedonism. Here are a few suggestions:

May God magnify himself through your exultation in him!