Hello There!

On names

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.

Or

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 joy
4
, 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.

 

~Philippians 4:10-13

1. [ http://www.dictionary.com/browse/ascetic]
2. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asceticism#Christianity]
3. [http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/god-is-most-glorified-in-us-when-we-are-most-satisfied-in-him
]

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]

Comments

  1. So…I might have a problem with this. Or maybe just the wording.

    “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,
    with the end result being that we are more fulfilled, more content, more joyful.”

    I think there’s a fine line between doing things to get closer to God and doing them because we HAVE become closer to God. The only way we can commune with God is on the basis of Christ alone and His finished work on the cross. When we start adding things like fasting, self denial, meditation, etc. in order to get closer to God it will have the opposite effect.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think doing those things can be a good thing, but for other reasons. Maybe we don’t disagree on this but I just wanted to clarify so I could understand your position better.

    • “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

      Obviously it is only through Christ’s work on the cross that we are brought near to God (Isaiah 53). No work of ours can ever add to that. However:

      “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

      “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”(Philippians 2:12-13, This also suggests it is only through God that we can do these things.)

      It seems like God expects us to continue striving after Him. We would only desire to do this if He was already at work in our hearts,

      “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

      The end of 1 Corinthians 6 going into chapter 7 suggests this is something that we strive to do because of what God’s promises to us. So on that level I think it’s true, we practice asceticism because of what God’s given us. But I think more that asceticism is a means rather than an outflow of drawing near to God.

      “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)

      We are commanded to draw near to God. There must be some way of doing this or why would we be told to do so? And if we are already near, why strive to be closer? One day our marriage will be consummated and asceticism at that point would be fruitless.

      “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. “ (Matthew 9:14-15)

      “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,” (1 Timothy 2:3, In reference to living a “peaceful and quiet life, Godly and dignified in every way.”)

      These verses suggest that we can do things to please God which is further confirmed by verses which suggest we can displease God.

      “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)

      “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30)

      If we can act in a way that displeases God it stands to reason we can also act in such a way that pleases God. I’m not necessarily talking about damnation but an abundant relationship with God. In a similar way God promises to reward us for certain behaviors.

      “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12, The first commandment with a promise.)

      “so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

      “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:17-18)

      Or the entirety of the beatitudes from the sermon on the mount. (Matthew 5) Which I believe to be something more than just another law showing us how we can never measure up to true righteousness. I believe these really are promises of blessings for which we can strive.

      One last thing. Asceticism is more a means of fleeing evil and pursuing righteousness than it is righteous in and of itself.

      “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. “ (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

      Doing these things alone would probably not really get you anywhere. Even the pharisees fast, atheists practice self-discipline and plenty of demons are worshiped through denial of self.
      It is only through and for Christ that are asceticism can have any real value. As a tool with which we can seek to be more wholeheartedly devoted to God.

      Hope that serves to clarify my position a little better.

      • Yeah, like I said, those things aren’t bad to do and should be practiced as part of our Christian discipline. Our love for God grows cold when we are consumed with ourselves. This is why it is important to deny ourselves and seek to serve Christ by serving others.
        It’s when we use these disciplines as some sort of tool to draw near to God that it becomes a problem. If not applied properly, these disciplines of asceticism can be just as self consuming as other vices like greed and gluttony. It can cause us to become pietistic and self-centered, focusing only on ourselves.

        Yes, we are told to draw near to God so there must be a way to do so. I believe it’s through prayer and worship solely on the basis of Who Christ is. I’m not speaking of how we are made right with God sensationally, but how we meet with and commune with Him as Christians. I’ve known of too many Christians (myself included) who have at some point in their Christian walk been frustrated with their relationship with God because they were trying to meet with Him through these sorts of means. They thought they would become more spiritual the more they denied themselves. This isn’t how it works.

        And yes, we can and are told to please God. I believe this is done through our obedience to Him. This is another one of those fine lines. We obey God because of our love for Him (“If you love me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15), not to receive love from Him or earn favor with Him. We love Him because He first loved us. Yes, He IS pleased when we obey from a heart that loves Him, much like a parent is pleased when their child obeys, but their obedience is not what causes the parent to love their child.
        Furthermore, I don’t think it’s solely our practice of asceticism that pleases God. It’s when it’s used as a tool to persevere in obeying Him that He is pleased. I can fast for days, go barefoot and never spend another dime on frivolous stuff for myself, but it means nothing if I don’t do what He’s commanded of me. “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” 1Cor. 13:3

        Most of the verses you cited above, I believe, have to do with obeying Christ, not necessarily asceticism. The race we run is staying true to Christ. He has called us to love Him and love our neighbors, to expand His kingdom in the earth through the preaching of the gospel, making disciples, taking care of the widows and orphans, etc. Asceticism may be a tool that disciplines us to persevere in doing these things that God commands but I disagree that it is the means by which we draw near to Him.

        With all that being said, I think it’s important to note that drawing near and pleasing Him are two separate things and the means by which we achieve those are different.
        -The means by which we draw near to God: solely on the finished work of Christ.
        -The means by which we please God: obeying Him out of love from a pure heart.

        We don’t meet with God through our good works so asceticism cannot be a means to drawing near. Perhaps you are only confusing those two points and we aren’t really disagreeing at all.

        Another potential (but not necessarily inherent) problem I see with asceticism is that it can manifest itself as a type of gnostic dualism, where one sees the physical/material world as evil and the spirtual world as good.
        I’m not saying I think you are a gnostic dualist (and I seriously hope you’re not) but this quote of yours, “Asceticism is more a means of fleeing evil and pursuing righteousness than it is righteous in and of itself.” causes me to wonder what evil you think you’re fleeing. I just want to make sure that I’m not misunderstanding you. I think your statement can be true if what we are fleeing is our sin (lust, greed, pride, gluttony, etc) and not simply the material world. There is nothing sinful about enjoying a piece of cake…until our lust demands we eat the entire pan. 🙂 But I think you would agree with me on that as you blog title suggests.

        • I think I mostly agree with what you’re saying. Part of it sounds like “if done the wrong way (e.g. legalistically) asceticism can do more harm than good. I guess this is a valid point but it’s true of almost anything. I’m still going to say something is good and pursue it even if it’s possible to do it wrongly or with the wrong heart and not achieve the intended end.

          Recognizing Asceticism as a tool comes mostly from those who started the practice of asceticism. The Desert Fathers (and Mothers) saw asceticism as a means of drawing closer to God, of getting more out of their spiritual life. They also recognized that this was impossible without humility and a focus on Christ. Thus they actively avoided making it a legalistic practice.(1)(2)

          I do believe that the bible teaches we will be rewarded according to our work.(3)(4) Again, not in any way pertaining to salvation, but in regards to an additional reward. I also believe that part of that has to do with our relationship with God. Some of the things God promises to reward us with have to do with Him drawing near to us.(5)

          “And yes, we can and are told to please God. I believe this is done through our obedience to Him. This is another one of those fine lines. We obey God because of our love for Him (“If you love me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15), not to receive love from Him or earn favor with Him. We love Him because He first loved us. Yes, He IS pleased when we obey from a heart that loves Him, much like a parent is pleased when their child obeys, but their obedience is not what causes the parent to love their child.
          Furthermore, I don’t think it’s solely our practice of asceticism that pleases God. It’s when it’s used as a tool to persevere in obeying Him that He is pleased. I can fast for days, go barefoot and never spend another dime on frivolous stuff for myself, but it means nothing if I don’t do what He’s commanded of me. “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” 1Cor. 13:3”

          I totally agree with this. I would only point out that I honor my father primarily because I love him but also I also look for a reward. This is where the hedonism comes back into play. We don’t just obey God because He deserves it or we are expected to. He adds on to that the promise of rewards for our obedience. The ultimate example of this is salvation itself. God demands our obedience unconditionally, we deserve nothing from Him in return. He does promise us something though, salvation is granted freely to those who believe in Him.

          This also, to seek justice and love mercy is good whether God rewards it or not. We should seek God continually through any means we can (including asceticism) without any expectation or demand of a reward. God owes us nothing.

          Most of these verses don’t talk about asceticism because it’s not in the bible. My source for asceticism comes from ascetics! Specifically the early church fathers, monks, nuns and hermits who practiced asceticism in the 3rd and 4th centuries(5)(6).
          Asceticism is a tool to help the believer follow these verses.

          I agree that we primarily glorify God and draw near to Him by doing His will. The Church recognizes that not all people are called to an extreme ascetic lifestyle such as monasticism. They revere those who pursue that calling but don’t recognize it as an essential part of the Church or Christianity(7).

          I don’t know to what level Christ commands to us to take up our cross and deny ourselves include asceticism. I tend to believe we are all called to do things like fast(8), give to the point of hardship(9) or eschew consumerism(10). I wouldn’t however say that these are rules for all Christians, but I would say all Christians should consider them as a means of bringing glory to God.

          On some level what you said is true. We do only draw near to God through the finished work of Christ. I found a really good quote pertaining to this but I already lost it. If I find it I’ll text it to you. However, in James 4: 7-8 we are still commanded to “draw near to God”. Meaning it’s something we can have an active part in. A more orthodox view of Salvation as a process rather than an instant may be helpful in this. Throughout our life we are continually trying to seek a deeper, better communion with God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ.(11)

          And yeah, the evil that we should be fleeing is Sin. I think you know me too well to think I’m a gnostic. Plus the whole post we’re talking about in the first place. I’ll leave you with a quote from Isaac the Syrian.

          “To whatever extent a person draws close to God with his intentions, is to what extent God draws close to him with His gifts.”

          It’s hard to do footnotes here so:
          (1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Fathers
          (2)http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8134
          (3)Matthew 6:4, Matthew 5, Matthew 25:14-30 (this verse also talks about salvation but in part it deals with Jesus rewarding His followers not only for their faith, but according to the measure of their deeds.)
          (4)http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Heavenly-Rewards
          Matthew 5:4, 6-8
          (5)http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/monasticism
          (6)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Fathers
          (7)https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/monasticism
          (8)Luke 5:35
          (9)Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22
          (10)Luke 3:11
          (11)http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/how-are-we-saved

          Sorry if some of these don’t match up exactly. I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on this and I lost some of my sources. Also, because of all this studying I’m learning a lot which may lead to changes in position. I’m not that dogmatic. Caytie’s probably right anyway.

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