Christian Hedonics

C.S. Lewis on the Heavenly Good of Earthly Joys

Bethlehem College & Seminary | Minneapolis


Let me give you some personal background. I’ve been listening to John do what he did last night for fifteen years, since I was in college. And what John did last night is what he’s been doing in books and sermons and articles and conference messages for over 35 years. He’s Johnny One Note. He’s got one thing to say, and eight, ten, twenty, fifty arguments for it.

All through college I listened as John unpacked Hebrews 11:6 and John 6:35 and Psalm 34:8 and 1 Corinthians 10:31 and all of the other passages that say that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” And like many of you, it cut me to the core. I knew it was true. I could see it for myself in the Bible, plain as day.

The Safest Air to Enjoy God’s Gifts

But then the questions came. Christian Hedonism doesn’t just solve the central problem of how the pursuit of God relates to the pursuit of happiness. It creates problems. If I am to pursue my maximal joy in God, then how do I enjoy earthly things? Should I enjoy earthly things? If I am increasingly satisfied in God alone, then should my delight in my wife and my kids and my Chipotle burrito diminish? Should it grow “strangely dim”? And so I thought and prayed and read the Bible and tried to answer those questions, and the result was The Things of Earth, my attempt to press Christian Hedonism into the earthly corners of life.

The flow of this conference illustrates the context in which I wrote that book. I wanted to write a book that would encourage Christian Hedonists to treasure God by enjoying his gifts, that would set them free to enjoy God in everything and everything in God. But I wanted to do so with the call to self-denial and unreached peoples and suffering in my ears. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Sacrifice in the cause of love. Go to the nations. Lose everything, with indomitable joy in God. That was the air I breathed as I tried to write a book about enjoying the things of earth. And I believe it is the only safe air in which to write such a book.

The first time I was going to preach the core message of The Things of Earth was about four years ago. Piper had just preached “Why Did God Create the World?” and talked about the glory of God and the supremacy of Christ and the gospel of God’s grace. And so I followed up with “Why did God create this world, filled with fish tacos, Dr. Pepper, wool socks, and baseball?”

So I’m working on the sermon on the fourth floor, Piper walks by, and I give him the preview of the sermon. And I’m telling him about integrated joy, enjoying God in everything and everything in God, and embracing the things of earth as ways of creating categories for knowing God. And he looks at me and says, “Until you die.” It was a very Piper thing to say. And statements like that shaped the way I wrote that book.

And not just statements. I wrote a book encouraging people to delight in their children, and I did so while weeping with close friends whose infant son died of a terminal disease. I wrote a book about seeing God’s fatherhood pictured in our earthly fathers, and I did so while my own father slowly withered and died of dementia. So I just want to echo what John said last night. We speak of our maximal joy in God in the light of unfathomable suffering, and we speak of our delight in the things of earth in a world in which we will lose them.

Christian Hedonics

There are a lot of ways that I could have approached this topic, but I’m in the midst of writing a book on C.S. Lewis, and few people have been as helpful to me on this question as Lewis. So I want to talk this morning, not about Christian Hedonism, but about Christian Hedonics and use Lewis to do so. Hedonism, you’ll remember, is the philosophy of life devoted to the pursuit of maximal pleasure. Christian Hedonism is the philosophy of life devoted to the pursuit of maximal pleasure in God. “Hedonics” refers not to the pursuit of pleasure, but to the science or study of pleasure. Lewis once wrote an essay entitled “Hedonics,” in which, among other things, he encouraged us to attend to our pleasures, to distinguish and categorize them.

For example, in The Four Loves, Lewis distinguished between Pleasures of Appreciation and Pleasures of Need. A Need-pleasure is the pleasure of a drink of water after a hot day in the sun, or a hearty meal after a long day’s work, or (and this is an example Lewis himself gives) the feeling of joy when a gas station is found at just the right moment on a long road trip. The distinctive element of this pleasure is that it is preceded by desire and dies in the fulfillment of it. The thirst, once quenched, no longer demands or desires water. The lavatory no longer calls forth a Hallelujah! chorus once our business has been done.

Pleasures of Appreciation, on the other hand, are not necessarily preceded by desire or hunger or thirst. Pleasant smells, beautiful sights — these are things we enjoy in their own right and not because of some need. They claim our appreciation by right. We feel that they deserve to be enjoyed. If we fail to savor them, then something must be wrong with us. Pleasures of appreciation are the starting point for our whole experience of beauty. Making this distinction is an exercise in Hedonics. And the reason it is necessary is because the category of “Pleasure” is too abstract to be of much use to us. We experience all pleasures as concrete; every joy is a particular joy. Thus, one of Lewis’s aims in many of his writings is to make different pleasures imaginable to us.

Lewis’s Aim to Make Pleasures Concrete

For example, in the essay on Hedonics, Lewis attempts to describe the particular pleasure of “seeing things the wrong way round . . . of seeing as an outside what is to others an inside.” He calls this the mirror pleasure, and the instance he provides is the pleasure one takes in other people’s domesticities. You drive by homes in a place that is unlike your own home. You feel the strangeness and foreignness of these places; you are an outsider here. And yet (and this is where the pleasure comes for Lewis), you know that others feel perfectly at home here. They have the experience of intense familiarity in a place that to you feels like another planet. This, Lewis says, gave him an almost incalculable degree of happiness (he refrains from describing the depth of his pleasure because he thinks that we will believe him to be exaggerating). Lewis spends the bulk of this essay attempting to make this pleasure real for us.

Or again, in another essay, Lewis describes the particular joy he had as a boy when he went to the theater and imagined the difference between “the stage” and “behind the scenes.” For him, the idea of this transition between the stage world and the backstage world was incredibly alluring.

To come from dressing rooms and bare walls and utilitarian corridors — and to come suddenly — into Aladdin’s cave or the Darlings’ nursery or whatever it was — to become what you weren’t and be where you weren’t — this seemed most enviable.

As a boy, he wished he could sit in the stage boxes, where he might, if he strained his neck, be able to see the stage and backstage at the same time. When he was older, he took great pleasure in standing on a wooden plank and looking out through a piece of canvas that, to the audience, appeared to be a palace with a balcony. In the essay, Lewis is attempting to explore the difference between the world as it appears to us (the stage), and the world “as it really is” (behind-the-scenes). This distinction is relevant for our discussions of poetic language and scientific language, the latter of which supposedly gives us knowledge of Reality, not merely that of Appearances. Lewis here is at pains to “save the appearances,” to prevent us from dismissing the Appearance as somehow false (or at least “less true”) than whatever is happening “behind the scenes.”

But Lewis’s particular use of the analogy is not my point. I am simply drawing attention to Lewis’s desire to describe the particularity of his pleasures. Lewis believed that God was a hedonist at heart. He has scattered pleasures and merriment abroad. As Screwtape laments in a letter to Wormwood, “He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least — sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working.”

And if God has given us these pleasures from his right hand, Lewis believed that we ought to attend to the details and particularities of them. He doesn’t want to simply tell us about “Pleasure” in the abstract; he wants us to understand this pleasure. This seems to be one of his goals in his science-fiction novel Perelandra, where he regularly tries to make Paradise real to us by describing the different types of pleasure that Ransom experiences there. Here is a sampling.

When drinking the ocean: “Though he had not been aware of thirst till now, his drink gave him a quite astonishing pleasure. It was almost like meeting pleasure itself for the first time.”

When smelling the flowers: “The smells in the forest were beyond all that he had ever conceived. To say that they made him feel hungry and thirsty would be misleading; almost, they created a new kind of hunger and thirst, a longing that seemed to flow over from the body into the soul and which was a heaven to feel.”

When eating his first Perelandrian gourd: “It was like the discovery of a totally new genus of pleasures, something unheard of among men, out of all reckoning, beyond all covenant. For one draft of this on Earth wars would be fought and nations betrayed. It could not be classified. He could never tell us, when he came back to the world of men, whether it was sharp or sweet, savory or voluptuous, creamy or piercing. ‘Not like that’ was all he could ever say to such inquiries.”

When splashed with the bubble tree: “Immediately his head, face, and shoulders were drenched with what seemed (in that warm world) an ice-cold shower bath, and his nostrils filled with a sharp, shrill, exquisite scent that somehow brought to his mind the verse in Pope, ‘die of a rose in aromatic pain.’ Such was the refreshment that he seemed to himself to have been, till now, but half awake. When he opened his eyes — which had closed involuntarily at the shock of moisture — all the colors about him seemed richer and the dimness of that world seemed clarified.”

When eating the Perelandrian banana: “The flesh was dryish and breadlike, something of the same kind as a banana. It turned out to be good to eat. It did not give the orgiastic and almost alarming pleasure of the gourds, but rather the specific pleasure of plain food— the delight of munching and being nourished, a “Sober certainty of waking bliss.” A man, or at least a man like Ransom, felt he ought to say grace over it, and so he presently did. The gourds would have required rather an oratorio or a mystical meditation. But the meal had its unexpected highlights.”

Why Should We Study Particular Pleasures?

In each of these cases, Lewis is attempting to make these (imaginary) pleasures distinct and imaginable to us. Why is attending to the particularities of our pleasures so important for the Christian? At one level the answer is simple: pleasures and pain are both unmistakably real. As Screwtape laments, they give us “a touchstone of reality.” Thus, real, positive pleasures are a protection and deliverance from Worldliness.

The World tries to pawn off vanity, bustle, irony, and expensive tedium as pleasures; in reality, these are parodies and corruptions of pleasure as God designed it. As we noted above, God is a hedonist, the original inventor of pleasures. When we talk of “bad pleasures,” we mean “pleasures snatched by unlawful acts,” as Lewis said. “It is the stealing of the apple that is bad, not the sweetness.”

Demons take legitimate pleasures and tempt us to enjoy them at times, or in ways, or in degrees that God has forbidden. They seek to make pleasures unnatural, less reminiscent of God himself. They encourage the confusion because, over time, worldly pleasures build up a crust around the soul that keep us from engaging with God.

Genuine pleasures, enjoyed without guile and without regard for the approval of the masses, puncture this crust. A walk in the countryside, playing a sport for the love of the game, a good book (or even a third-rate book enjoyed with self-forgetfulness) — all of these inoculate us against the twisted mockeries that dark powers offer up in their place. What’s more, they have the ability to shock us awake when the dreary music of the World has lulled us into a stupor.

Self-Restraint and Encore

But of course, it’s not enough to encourage people to enjoy real, particular pleasures. If our Hedonics is to be Christian, then it must be obedient to God, and this means that there must be some element of self-restraint in our earthly enjoyments. Again, Perelandra gives us a window into Lewis’s thinking on the subject.

After each of the intense pleasures above, Ransom immediately desires to have another. Even though the first gourd satisfied him, he desires to have another. Even though the bubble trees refreshed him, he considers running through an entire cluster of them in order to get the magical refreshment tenfold. However, in each case, his impulse to repeat the pleasure is checked by an internal sense that to demand the same pleasure over immediately after experiencing it would somehow be vulgar and wrong. It would be “like asking to hear the same symphony twice in one day.” This demand for an Encore, this “itch to have things over again,” spoils the pleasure that it wants to repeat.

As Ransom considers why self-restraint is so important, he wonders whether the itch for encore is the root of all evils. Remembering that the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evils, Ransom realizes that money is precisely the thing that allows us to say encore in a voice that cannot be disobeyed.

The rejection of encore is fundamental to Lewis’s view of self-denial. Lewis is clear that the pleasures, whether of Perelandrian fruit or earthly delights, are not bad in themselves. Christian self-denial, unlike other religious forms of self-denial, celebrates the good even when it is denied. “Marriage is good, though not for me; wine is good, though I must not drink it; feasts are good, though today we fast.”

This is the paradoxical, two-edged character of Christianity, and it flows from the fact that God has made a good world, and yet this world has fallen. Thus, the Christian demand that we order our loves, that we love things in proportion to their worth (no more and no less). The lust for encore is an expression of our fallenness, an attempt to treat a single good as if it was the only good.

Instead of embracing the Solomonic truth that there is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the sun, we refuse other, different goods and pleasures in favor of the one that has enthralled us in the moment. We gorge ourselves on one good, and reject the other goods that God intended for us. Rather than allow God to give us a symphony, we insist on playing the same note over and over and over again.

Encore and Memory

But Lewis’s rejection of encore, his insistence on self-restraint, serves another purpose as well. By refusing to say encore, we create the possibility of another distinct pleasure: the pleasure of Memory.

When Ransom visits the planet Mars, he discovers that the unfallen inhabitants only make love for a few years out of their lives. While love-making is as pleasurable to them as it is to us, they do not insist on gratifying this desire with the same reckless abandon as fallen humans. Ransom remarks, “But the pleasure he must be content only to remember?” Ransom’s Malacandrian tutor Hyoi corrects his view of pleasure and Memory.

A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmān, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. . . . What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure. . . . When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it, but still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then — that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it. You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?

The real pleasure of meeting is the pleasure as it grows within us over time — as it makes something inside of us, as it makes us into something more. To demand the continual experience of the pleasure is to cut ourselves off from the pleasure as God intended. This principle — that Memory is the capstone of pleasure — is for Lewis one instance of Christ’s teaching that a thing will not really live unless it dies, and it has many applications.

Pleasures Cannot Live Unless They Die

Lewis wrote, “On every level of our life — in our religious experience, in our gastronomic, erotic, aesthetic, and social experience — we are always harking back to some occasion which seemed to us to reach perfection, setting that up as a norm, and depreciating all other occasions by comparison.” Many Christians look back with longing on the bright days after their conversion or after some great spiritual moment. They lament that those fervent desires have in some measure died away. No doubt sometimes the death of those initial pantings is owing to sin. But not always. Lewis suggests that God intends those intense passions to pass away. They were the explosion that started the engine of the Christian life. But man does not live on explosions alone.

What’s more, God has built us so that we can’t keep these explosions going. Our bodies will not suffer the intensity of thrills for long. Lewis calls this the Law of Undulation (a fancy word for a wave-like rhythm). Humans, as Screwtape tells Wormwood, “are amphibians — half spirit and half animals. . . . As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change.”

The result is undulation: “the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.” Periods of emotional and bodily richness are inevitably followed by periods of numbness and poverty. Undulation is the natural, bodily way that God regulates our desires. Self-denial is the supernatural way that we join God in ordering our loves. As fallen humans, we’re sorely tempted to ignore undulation and seek to get maximum and repeated joy out of the same pleasures. Self-denial is our resistance to this temptation, not because we wish to hinder our joy, but because God wishes to give us additional joys.

“It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life.”

Instead of being tormented by the lost golden moments of our past, Lewis encourages us to accept them as memories. When we do, we find that they are entirely wholesome, nourishing, and enchanting. “Properly bedded down in a past which we do not miserably try to conjure back, they will send up exquisite growths. Leave the bulbs alone, and the new flowers will come up. Grub them up and hope, by fondling and sniffing, to get last year’s blooms, and you will get nothing.” The past joy must die if it is to live.

Memory Is Made Full in Praise

So Christian Hedonics will attend to the diversity of pleasures, will refuse the siren song of Encore, and in so doing open the way for the distinct pleasures of Memory. As Lewis’s friend Owen Barfield once wrote, each great experience “is a whisper which Memory will warehouse as a shout.” Barfield wrote this in a poem, and Ransom’s friend Hyoi saw it as the responsibility of the poets to teach us the proper relation between pleasure and Memory. According to Hyoi, all of the pleasures in our lives are remembered and boiled inside of us so that we can make them into poems and songs.

It’s not enough for us to remember the bare facts. We must capture and condense these pleasures into words and poems, stories and songs. And thus we see how Lewis’s view of Memory and pleasure dovetails with another of his insights about praise. Not only is a pleasure not full grown until it is remembered, but our delight is incomplete until it is expressed.

Lewis discovered the necessity of expressing our joy as he wrestled with God’s demand for praise in the Psalms. Lewis was troubled that God seemed to crave our worship, “as an old woman craves compliments.” Yet he knew that God has no needs: “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee” (Psalm 50:12, KJV). Thus, the problem of God’s demand for praise. It was then that Lewis realized the obvious fact that

“all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. . . . The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetle, even sometimes politicians or scholars.”

Not only do men praise what they value; they also urge us to join them in praising it. Lewis realized that, in objecting to the praise of God, he was denying to us the very thing that we always do and can’t help doing with everything else we value. And he was doing so in regard to the most valuable being in the universe. And this leads him to his final realization about the relationship between joy and praise: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”

For Lewis, there is an art to pleasure. There is a music of joy, a poetry of delight. And like poetry, everything has its place. Pleasure passing into Memory. Memory forming itself into Poetry. Poetry erupting into Praise. “The most splendid line becomes fully splendid only by means of all the lines after it.” Again this is Solomonic. There is a time to enjoy, and a time to remember. A time to be pleased, and a time to praise.

These are the rhythms of pleasure, and they are essential to the Christian life. And if we attend to them, if we both indulge ourselves and deny ourselves, we discover that there is a Joy that runs through them all. Our enjoyment is completed and enhanced by our remembering. Our pleasure is enlarged and consummated by our praise.

The Distinct Experience of Joy

But whatever we may say about the distinct varieties of pleasure, they are not to be confused with “capital-J” Joy. The pleasures and delights surveyed earlier may be the occasion for the arrival of Joy, but they must never be identified with it. Joy, for Lewis, is a very particular and massively important phenomenon. In his writings, he calls it by various names: Joy, Sehnsucht, Romanticism. Though each of these is misleading, for simplicity’s sake, I will use Joy for the remainder of this talk — his description of the experience is more important than the word he uses to describe it.

Joy, as distinct from pleasure, is an experience of intense longing with two distinct qualities. The first is the paradox that it is a pleasing pain, an absence that is more wonderful than any presence, an unsatisfied desire that is more desirable than any satisfaction, a hunger that is better than any fullness, a poverty better than all wealth. Most of our desires long for fruition; with Joy, we want to desire and keep on desiring; we long for this unending and pleasing pain. More than mere aesthetic pleasure, Joy must have “the stab, the pain, the inconsolable longing.”

Second, in experiencing this desire, we long for we-know-not-what. The desire may be triggered by many different things: imaginative literature, faraway hills, a suggestive title of a book, a smell, a particular strain of music, even the memory of a cookie tin made to resemble a toy garden. But these things are not the objects of our desire, but merely the occasions of it. And we know this, because Joy is not satisfied even when we possess these things.

In his writings, Lewis describes this desire in various ways. In The Pilgrim’s Regress, Lewis shows it to us as John’s longing for the faraway island. In Surprised by Joy, it is the bright shadow that flowed out of George MacDonald’s Phantastes, transforming all the common things and baptizing Lewis’s imagination. In Perelandra, it is a homesickness, a cord of longing that is sharp, sweet, wild, and holy, all in one.

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis describes it as the signature of each soul (thus stressing that it comes to each of us in its own way or on its own occasions). It is

“the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work.”

We have never possessed the object of this great Desire; we have only experienced the wanting.

“All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it — tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest — if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself — you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’”

Lewis tells us that his experience of Joy led him on many false roads and rabbit trails. He sought to find the object of this great Desire; he looked to sex, to beauty, to music, to literature, to philosophy. Yet his failure to find anything in his earthly experience to answer this Desire did not lead him to despair. It led him to God. The Quest for Joy became for him “a lived ontological proof of God’s existence.” We might call this the Argument from Desire: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

The Pleasures of Earth Are Occasions for Joy

The Argument from Desire pervades Lewis’s apologetic works. He employs it whenever he seeks to weave the spell of Joy by ripping open the inconsolable secret in his audience. But here, we’re not talking mainly about the Quest for Joy as it relates to apologetics but to the Christian life. Before he became a Christian, Lewis’s experience of Joy was a desire for he-knew-not-what; he simply wanted to find the place where all the Joy came from.

Once he became a Christian, the Quest for Joy became far less important to Lewis. This was not because the stabs of Joy diminished or decreased. The sharpness was still there. But Lewis now realized that the stabs of Joy were merely pointers to something other and outer. They were not the destination, but merely signposts along the way. Now that he knew where this journey led, the signposts lost their allure, even as they continued to encourage him on the narrow road.

We could leave the subject aside here; in fact, this is precisely where Lewis leaves us at the end of his autobiography. But, as this is a talk on the heavenly good of earthly joys, I believe a final step to tie these threads together is in order. Pleasures are distinct from Joy. But they are not unrelated to Joy. When God grants, they may become occasions of Joy.

In a passage that has shaped me as much as any other in Lewis, he unfolds how simple pleasures may become occasions for adoration of God. Since I’ve written a book detailing how the things of earth help us to enjoy God himself, I’ll content myself with the briefest summary here.

Begin with the simple, unchanging, absolutely unique glory of God. God is completely and absolutely himself, and his glory is completely and absolutely itself. Nevertheless, we give different names to this glory as it touches our various faculties. When God’s glory touches our will, we speak of goodness. When it touches our mind, we call it truth. And when the glory strikes our senses, we call it pleasure. As Lewis say, “pleasures are shafts of the glory as it strikes our sensibility.” As a result, any pleasure, no matter how simple, can become a “channel of adoration.”

“We can’t — or I can’t — hear the song of a bird simply as a sound. Its meaning or message (‘That’s a bird’) comes with it inevitably — just as one can’t see a familiar word in print as a merely visual pattern. The reading is as involuntary as the seeing. When the wind roars I don’t just hear the roar; I ‘hear the wind.’ In the same way it is possible to ‘read’ as well as to ‘have’ a pleasure. Or not even ‘as well as.’ The distinction ought to become, and sometimes is, impossible; to receive it and to recognize its divine source are a single experience. This heavenly fruit is instantly redolent of the orchard where it grew. This sweet air whispers of the country from whence it blows. It is a message. We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures forevermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore.”

Why Don’t We Recognize God in Our Pleasures?

What keeps us from experiencing these tiny theophanies? Lewis gives us four answers.

  1. Inattention: we ignore the presence of God everywhere. We fail to see that every bush is a burning bush.

  2. The wrong kind of attention: we subjectify the experience and see only the internal workings of our own mind or body. The pleasure comes and we kill it by turning around and directing our attention inward.

  3. Greed: we demand the exact experience again. We shout “Encore!” forgetting that all of space and time is not enough for God to utter himself even once.

  4. Conceit: we take pride in our ability to find God in the little things, forgetting that those who are looking down their noses at others are never able to see the One who is above them.

Enchanted by the Pleasures of God

For Lewis, the Quest for Joy launched by his early experiences of Joy led him down many false trails and almost left him disenchanted. He thought that the promise of Joy that his early experiences offered was an optical illusion, a mirage.

But in finding God in Christ, Lewis was re-enchanted. He came to realize that the universe was not a fraud. Earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy the ache in our souls, but “only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” Thus, we must avoid the twin errors of ingratitude and idolatry. We must not despise the earthly blessings which awaken Joy. But neither must we mistake them for the Something Else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.

We must be alert and awake to pleasures, while also embracing the necessity of self-denial in governing our earthly joys. When God gives us earthly pleasures, we must say thank you for the gifts. “How good of God to give me this.” And then, we must labor with God’s help to adore him, to run our minds back up the sunbeam to the sun, saying, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far off and momentary coruscations are like this!” Christian Hedonics — the science and study of pleasure — leads us to Christian Hedonism — the pursuit of our deepest pleasure and highest satisfaction in God through Christ.


The Indulge seminar was a part of the 2016 Preview Days of Bethlehem College & Seminary in downtown Minneapolis. Students are equipped for joyful lives of high-impact, helping other people be eternally happy, by learning and sharing that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.