Chapter OneTreating Delight
As Duty Is
"Christian Hedonism" is a controversial name for an old-fashioned
way of life.
It goes back to Moses, who wrote the first books of the
Bible and threatened terrible things if we would not be
happy: "Because you did not serve the Lord your God
with joy and a glad heart . therefore you shall serve your
enemies" (Deuteronomy 28:47-48).
. and to the Israelite king David, who called God his
"exceeding joy" (Psalm 43:4); and said, "Serve the Lord
with gladness" (Psalm 100:2); and "Delight yourself in the
Lord" (Psalm 37:4); and who prayed, "Satisfy us in the
morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may . be glad
all our days" (Psalm 90:14); and who promised that complete
and lasting pleasure is found in God alone: "In Your
presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are
pleasures forever" (Psalm 16:11).
. and to Jesus, who said, "Blessed are you when people
insult you Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven
is great" (Matthew 5:11-12); and who said, "I have spoken
to you so that My joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be made full"
(John 15:11); and who endured the
Cross "for the joy set before Him"
(Hebrews 12:2); and who promised
that, in the end, faithful servants
would hear the words, "Enter into the
joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21).
. and to James the brother of
Jesus, who said, "Consider it all
joy . when you encounter various
trials" (James 1:2).
. and to the apostle Paul, who was "sorrowful yet
always rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10); and who described
the ministry of his team as being "workers with you for
your joy" (2 Corinthians 1:24); and who commanded
Christians to "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4);
and even to "exult in . tribulations" (Romans 5:3).
. and to the apostle Peter, who said, "To the degree
that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so
that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with
exultation" (1 Peter 4:13).
. and to Saint Augustine, who, in the year 386, found
his freedom from lust and lechery in the superior pleasures
of God. "How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of
those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! . You
drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign
joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who
are sweeter than all pleasure."
. and to Blaise Pascal, who saw that "all men seek happiness.
This is without exception. Whatever different
means they employ, they all tend to this end 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
. and to the Puritans whose aim was to know God so
well that "delighting in him, may be the work of our lives,"
because they knew that this joy would "arm us against the
assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of
taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his
. and to Jonathan Edwards, who discovered and
taught as powerfully as anyone that "the happiness of the
creature consists in rejoicing in God, by which also God
is magnified and exalted." "The end of the creation is
that the creation might glorify [God]. Now what is glorifying
God, but a rejoicing at that glory he has displayed?"
. and to C. S. Lewis, who discovered "We are far too
. and to a thousand missionaries, who have left everything
for Christ and in the end have said, with David
Livingstone, "I never made a sacrifice."
Christian Hedonism is not new.
So if Christian Hedonism is old-fashioned, why is it so
controversial? One reason is that it insists that joy is not just
the spin-off of obedience to God, but part of obedience. It
seems as though people are willing to let joy be a by-product
of our relationship to God, but not an essential part of it.
People are uncomfortable saying that we are duty-bound to
They say things like, "Don't pursue joy; pursue obedience."
But Christian Hedonism responds, "That's like saying,
'Don't eat apples; eat fruit.'" Because joy is an act of
obedience. We are commanded to rejoice in God. If obedience
is doing what God commands, then joy is not merely
the spin-off of obedience, it is obedience. The Bible tells us
over and over to pursue joy: "Be glad in the Lord and
rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who
are upright in heart" (Psalm 32:11). "Let the nations be
glad and sing for joy" (Psalm 67:4). "Delight yourself in the
Lord" (Psalm 37:4). "Rejoice that your names are recorded
in heaven" (Luke 10:20). "Rejoice in the Lord always; again
I will say, rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4).
The Bible does not teach that we should treat delight
as a mere by-product of duty. C. S. Lewis got it right when
he wrote to a friend, "It is a Christian duty, as you know,
for everyone to be as happy as he can." Yes, that is risky
and controversial. But it is strictly true. Maximum happiness,
both qualitatively and quantitatively, is precisely what
we are duty-bound to pursue.
One wise Christian described the relationship between
duty and delight this way:
Suppose a husband asks his wife if he must kiss her
good night. Her answer is, "You must, but not that
kind of a must." What she means is this: "Unless a
spontaneous affection for my person motivates you, your overtures are stripped of all moral value."
In other words, if there is no pleasure in the kiss, the duty
of kissing has not been done. Delight in her person, expressed
in the kiss, is part of the duty, not a by-product of it.
But if that is true-if delight in doing good is part of
what doing good is-then the pursuit of pleasure is part
of the pursuit of virtue. You can see why this starts to get
controversial. It's the seriousness of it all. "You really mean
this?" someone says. "You really mean that hedonism is not
just a trick word to get our attention. It actually says
something utterly, devastatingly true about the way we
should live. The pursuit of pleasure really is a necessary
part of being a good person." That's right. I mean it. The
Bible means it. God means it. It is very serious. We are not
playing word games.
Let it be crystal clear: We are
always talking about joy in God. Even
joy in doing good is finally joy in God,
because the ultimate good that we
always aim at is displaying the glory of
God and expanding our own joy in
God to others. Any other joy would
be qualitatively insufficient for the
longing of our souls and quantitatively
too short for our eternal need.
In God alone is fullness of joy and joyforever.
"In Your presence is fullness of
joy; in Your right hand there are
pleasures forever" (Psalm 16:11).