Being Happy in God: Christian Hedonism for Parents
I am a Christian Hedonist.
John Piper coined the term Christian hedonism and wrote about the concept in his book, Desiring God. This book, and the concept of Christian hedonism, has been pressed into the corners of the Christian life through the subsequent writings of Piper and his online ministry, desiringgod.org. The basic idea is captured in the sentence “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.” But as I travel around the country and talk to people (and tell them that I’m a Christian Hedonist), they need a bit of help understanding the idea.
I’m happy to offer such help because I believe if you grasp Christian hedonism, you are closer to seeing how two basic biblical ideas fit together. First, Christian hedonism begins with the premise that we are created for God’s glory. This clashes with a world that tells us that we are free to create our own reasons for existence and live in whatever ways suit our inner self. Second, the Bible also teaches us that God is concerned with our happiness. He wants us to experience fullness of joy.
So, we are created for glory and for joy. Christian hedonism comes along and tells us how to make sense of these twin biblical realities. This is a framework that parents can apply to teenagers.
You are created for God’s glory.
We begin with purpose. That is, why do human beings exist? What is the reason you have breath in your lungs, a beating heart, and life on this planet? Have you ever thought about that question? It’s something lots of people think about. Teenagers, in particular, often wonder about the meaning of things, and of their lives in particular.
Thankfully, the Bible gives us an answer to this question. Namely, we exist for the glory of God. In the beginning, God created human beings in his image (Gen 1:27–28). That is, we are created in a way that reflects the God of the Bible. We are, in a sense, mirrors that point heavenly towards our Creator. And, we are created in his image for his glory.
At one point when Isaiah records the words of God to his redeemed people, he says that “everyone who is called by [God’s] name” is “created for [his] glory” (Is. 43:7). All of humanity, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, are created in God’s image and for his glory. So, when Paul comes along later in the Bible and tells us that whatever we do, whether we eat or drink or study or play should be for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), he is calling us to live in accordance with our God-given purpose.
Christian hedonism begins with the premise that all people are ultimately created for God’s glory.
You are created for joy.
Second, Christian hedonists believe that all people—men and women, adults, teenagers, and children— are created for joy. A deep-seated and unshakeable joy or happiness in your soul is not a matter of indifference in the Bible. Listen to John Bloom on the Bible and the command to be happy.
What do you think is the most repeated command in the Bible?
It’s not any of the prohibitions or warnings. It’s not about sex, or money, or power. The most repeated command in the Bible will probably surprise you: Be happy. God tells us more than anything else, in different ways, to “praise the Lord,” “do not be afraid,” “rejoice,” and “give thanks” — all of which are commands, in essence, to be happy.
Don’t move past this too quickly. Let it sink in: more than anything else, God commands us to be happy. God wants you to be truly, deeply happy. Not just in heaven someday. Not when circumstances take a turn for the better. Not when the sorrow or the darkness finally lifts. God wants you to taste real joy today. Now.
In fact, Jesus cares so much about your joy that he came to live, die, and rise again —so that his joy, the joy of the Son of God, would be ours. For instance, in John 15 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
So then, we are created for God’s glory and we are created for joy. Christian hedonists believe both of these realities.
God’s glory and your joy are not at odds but serve on another.
But here is the unique contribution of Christian hedonism: glory and joy work together. That is, they serve one another and help us fulfill our God-given reason for being.
The Christian hedonist believes that the best and most effective way to glorify God is by pursuing our joy in him. That is, when God is the source of our greatest delight, when he is the most happifying reality in the universe, when we live in such a way that God is displayed as our “exceeding joy” (Ps. 43:5), then he is lifted up and receives all the glory.
Our joy in him leads to glory for him.
Imagine for a moment that you experience great personal loss. Your best friend passes away, or your earthly possessions perish in a house fire, or you receive the news that your health is failing. And yet, through the pain and deep sadness, you are happy in Jesus. Your joy in God is unmoved. Though the things of the earth have failed, God is your strength and your portion and your supreme delight. Possessions and people may go, but God will never leave you and therefore his presence gives rest to your restless heart (Augustine).
Do you see? When God is more satisfying to you than earthly relationships or material possessions or physical health, then he is lifted up as the supreme treasure of the cosmos. And when he is lifted up as the treasure that he is, he is glorified.
This, then, is Christian hedonism. The Christian hedonist believes that every person on the planet is created for the glory of God. And the clearest pathway to fulfilling that purpose, to glorifying God, is by living a life that is satisfied in all that God is and all that he has done for you.
Parents, imagine what this means for you when you sit down with your teenagers over breakfast. They are struggling with who they are and why they exist. They are not sure what they are supposed to do with their lives.
A Christian hedonist leans in and reminds his or her children that they do not need to wonder long about why they have breath in their lungs. They exist to glorify God, whether they are eating, drinking, texting, studying, or dating. And, as you tell them they exist for glory, you help them see that the pathway to fulfilling their purpose is not by trying to earn God’s favor by doing more stuff or being more morally upright (though uprightness is a good goal). Instead, because of the finished work of Jesus , the pathway to fulfilling their God-glorifying purpose is to simply enjoy God. Be satisfied in him.
In him, you get the joy and he gets the glory.
In short, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.”—John Piper