Winning Like a Christian Hedonist

Pride is an ugly thing whenever it shows itself. It tinges the cuteness of the smallest toddler declaring their independence and self-centeredness with screams too young for words. It stains the honor of the elderly grandfather losing control of his temper and tongue. And it rears its head on the field of athletic competition time and time again.

Over the last couple weeks, the Olympic Games have proven this, especially in the greatest triumphs. It’s difficult to explain, and sad to witness, but evidently even the most elite athletes feel obligated to defend their domination of the field with exaggerated declarations of their greatness.

One decorated swimmer compares himself to Michael Jordan as the greatest ever in his sport. Meanwhile a wildly celebrated sprinter proclaims, “I’m now a legend. I’m also the greatest athlete to live.”

What is it that compels the most gifted and successful people to clarify their own significance, especially when all the news outlets, Facebook timelines, and the world’s retweets stand ready to do it for them?

Why do they never realize that these embarrassingly prideful sound bytes are splashes of mud on their otherwise sparkling performances? Why do they allow themselves to forever scar the memory of their victory?

Sadly, it’s no different for us who, instead of winning gold medals, more often lose, disappoint, and leave our friends, family, and co-workers relatively unimpressed. Pride.

Though ours may not be plastered on billboards or edited for the latest frontpage story, it is as ugly and pervasive in the things we say and attitudes we carry. Our pride boasts when we win; and it wallows in self-pity when we come up short.

In The Dangerous Duty of Delight, John Piper writes this about the war waged against pride by delighting in God as the work of your life (what he calls “Christian Hedonism”):

The nature and depth of human pride are illuminated by comparing boasting to self-pity. Both are manifestations of pride. Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.” Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have suffered so much.”

Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. Boasting sounds self-sufficient. Self-pity sounds self-sacrificing.

The primary experience of the Christian Hedonist is one of helplessness and desperation and longing. When a helpless child is being swept off his feet by the undercurrent on the beach and his father sweeps him up just in time, he does not boast; he hugs.

For the rest of us who will never represent our country in the 100–meter dash or poolside in the butterfly, we face situations every day where we will either succeed or fail.

How will we respond? Will we win with humility and a greater joy in God? Will our failures lead us to find a refuge in Jesus and a contentment in our salvation? The Christian Hedonist — who has made delighting in God, not self, to be the project of his life — shouldn’t boast in his successes or wallow in self-pity over his failures. But in both victory and loss, he clings to the neck of Another. The Christian Hedonist hugs.