In case you’re wondering about the name of this blog; let me explain.
Let me first define my terms. Though Hedonism is probably familiar to most people, ascetic is a little less common. Dictionary.com defines asceticism as:
the doctrine that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and the like.
Rigorous self-denial; extreme abstinence, austerity.
Ascetics are those such as monks or hermits who “dedicates his or her life to a pursuit of contemplative ideals and practices extreme self-denial or self-mortification for religious reasons.”1
According to wikipedia, examples of ascetics include John the Baptist, Jesus and the twelve disciples. Many past saints such as Francis of Assisi have practiced asceticism.2
Fasting is a good example of an ascetic practice, as would be going barefoot, wearing sackcloth or sleeping on the hard ground instead of a soft bed.
With that definition out of the way let’s move on to Hedonism. Dictionary.com defines Hedonism as:
the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good.
In other words, there is no higher calling in life than to seek pleasure. Many philosophers believe that all people are intrinsically hedonists. That is to say that all people act in a way that they believe will yield them the most happiness. For some this means indulging in immediate pleasures like gorging on food or using drugs. Others think of the long term pay off and chose to forgo immediate gratification for what they perceive as higher pleasure in the future, like working out.
These two philosophies, one of self-denial and the other of self-gratification, seem like they’re in direct opposition. Why then did I pick these two words to name my blog?
The bridge between these two concepts lies in a different definition of hedonism, one that comes from John Piper. John Piper coined the term Christian Hedonism. WIth the Christian modifier, the word hedonism takes on an entirely different meaning. The summation of Christian Hedonism can be found in the phrase “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
John Piper teaches that God doesn’t just want us to obey Him, He wants us to be satisfied in Him.3
This is more about finding satisfaction in God, than it is about finding ways to make God satisfy you. That is to say, God is the author of joy4
, we should be looking to Him to find joy in our life. It’s not about making God do what we want, but wanting to do what God wants; in being content in Him.
Not only that, but through a relationship with and obedience to Christ, we are granted the ultimate pleasure of enjoying Him in heaven for all eternity. This means that by simply putting our trust in Christ, we gain more pleasure than we could ever experience in this life and more joy than we could ever find without Him.
Thus, any true hedonist would seek to come to a knowledge of God and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Christians as well, should act as hedonists by seeking fulfillment in those things and not the things of this world. No matter how much pleasure the world offers, it can never compare to the glories of heaven. To quote C.S. Lewis:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”5
When compared to eternity, any pleasure we forgo or pain we endure fades away. Though enormously persecuted, Paul calls his troubles light and momentary afflictions in comparison to the reward promised him.6
Peter writes that we rejoice in the midst of trials because we can look forward to the inheritance set aside for us.7
So where does asceticism come into play in all this? Ascetics are those who practice self-denial in order to commune more deeply with Christ. This means that by denying ourselves we gain more happiness through God. It’s almost like a step-by-step process. Forgo pleasure, deny self, have a deeper relationship with God, find pleasure. The scripture is filled with examples of denying ourselves in order to seek God,8
with the end result being that we are more fulfilled, more content, more joyful.
There is one more thing about this combination of terms, Ascetic Hedonism. God created everything good. God wants us to enjoy His creation; after all, He is the creator of pleasure. This means that it is good to enjoy various things in life: sushi, mountains, muscle cars, etc. These are however not the most important things, they’re just signs pointing to the most important thing. “The Heavens declare the glory of God”9
and creation displays God’s glory.10
This means that our enjoyment of nature (or anything for that matter) should point us to God, it should be excuse to give Him praise. This is Hedonism.
By the same token, it is sometimes good to turn away from pleasure or temporary fulfillment to focus on God. Sometimes all the good things with which God blesses us can blind us from seeing Him. When this happens it is often necessary to deprive ourselves of the thing until we can recognize its author. For example, going without sleep can teach us how much we must depend on God for rest and the necessity of waiting on Him to renew our strength. Sometimes it’s hard to give things up and sometimes God has to take them away for a time. The important thing is to use this also as an opportunity to praise God. This is asceticism.
While they seem diametrically opposed, both asceticism and hedonism can be useful tools for seeking God and bringing Him glory. I wouldn’t say that I picked these words for this blog because I sit somewhere in the middle. Rather I seek to be fully in both camps; denying myself in all things to seek God, and enjoying the greatest pleasure in Him and the gifts he gives.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
1. [ http://www.dictionary.com/browse/ascetic]↩
4. [Psalm 16:11]↩
5. [C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses
6. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18]↩
7. [1 Peter 1:3-9]↩
8. [Matthew 16:24, Luke 5:35, Luke 9:23, John 3:1-4, 1 Corinthians 9:25-27]↩
9. [Psalm 19:1]↩
10. [Romans 1:20]↩