Being Hedonistic about God – Desiring God Review

The terms “Desiring God” and “Christian Hedonism” introduced in this book have intrigued me since a long time ago and put a lot of questions in my mind. What does it mean to desire God? Can we even desire the God who is holy and righteous, while we ourselves are prone to sins? How can there even be a kind of hedonism that is by nature Christian, when the object itself – “hedonism” by its most general definition, is a term for the pursuit of joy to fulfill one’s desire by any means possible – is contradictory to the explaining adjective (“Christian”)?

These questions are – obviously – answered in the book. However, before I delve deeper into the content, I would like to give my opinion on this book in general. For me, Desiring God is more than a mere signature book – a book that can be easily identified to the author – by John Piper. It is not due to it being the first book he published that gained recognition, nor to the density and richness of its content, and it does not owe to the so-called controversial term of Christian Hedonism in its subtitle. The reason is because it is so saturated and filled by the Word of God that every page is full with God-glorifying sentences and thoughts.

To make it clear, Desiring God is not the Bible, and it can never be. It does not have the authority and infallibility as the Holy Scriptures. It does, nonetheless, point to the Bible and, most importantly, to God. I have read a few books that really do that. You can feel that the words are so infused by the idea of Christian Hedonism, which turns out to be so rooted in the Bible and God.

I would prefer to leave the details of the reasons why John Piper named this philosophy of life “Christian Hedonism”, which he explained himself in the appendix. But, to give a glimpse to what he thought about it, here is the reason, in my own words. As mentioned earlier, hedonism is defined as “a pursuit of joy to fulfill one’s desire by any means possible”. From this statement, we can derive a fundamental question: What is it that humankind desires? Or, to put it better, What can fulfill our desires? Here I quote C. S. Lewis’s words from his book Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” I do not know whether John Piper has read this sentence or not – as a fellow Lewis fan, I believe he has – but this is exactly what Desiring God captures. It emphasizes that God is the only one that can truly satisfy our desire. God Himself decrees in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Our lives, then, are to be lived in the pursuit to find our joy in God. This pursuit for joy, in its widest application, can be considered “hedonism” of some sort. But since it is the only and true hedonism that can be in the world, because the object and the motivation is God, it is the Christian way of living, hence the term “Christian Hedonism”.

Now, at this point, you may take it all wrong. “How can a Christian pastor teach his readers to be so worldly hedonistic? Even if it is true, we cannot treat God like He is a genie that we can call as we wish to fulfill our desires,” you might think. I also initially denied the term “Christian Hedonism” because of similar rationales. However, do not get John Piper wrong. There are two reasons why we cannot reject this term right away before we read the book (and hence get Pastor John’s full explanation). First, our beforehand knowledge about God might be wrong. I found myself corrected time over time by this book, because its content is derived from the Bible so much that I understand the Bible – and hence, though never completely, God – better. It encourages us to know God more through the Bible, and in fact it is so driven by the Word of God there is a chapter that focuses only on the Scriptures! Secondly, there are many things about God and ourselves that we take for granted. This book helps us to open our eyes to the things that we may consider as miscellaneous, such as prayer.

The book, consisting of ten main chapters, outlines the principle of its main idea, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever”, in fundamental areas of our lives. It first gives the background of how Christian Hedonism came into shape at the first place. Then, it explores the happiness of God – a surprisingly new topic for Christians who have not yet read and understood about it – as the foundation of Christian Hedonism. In the next chapter, it exposes the total depravity of humankind and how God, being full of grace and mercy, has given us salvation through Jesus Christ that our desire may now be directed to the true Object and Person: the LORD Himself. Chapters 3 through 10 redefine the significant matters in our lives in light of Christian Hedonism: worship as our feast, where we praise God in spirit and truth; love as our labor that we receive from God joyfully and share to others to fulfill others’ needs; Scriptures (that special chapter on the Bible!) as the kindling of our joy in God; prayer as our source of power from God to always seek our joy in Him; money as our currency and tool that we use to glorify God (this is definitely not prosperity gospel, but you need to read to not misunderstand what the book really means by having money as the currency of Christian Hedonism); marriage as one of Christian Hedonism’s matrixes where Christ’s joy and His church’s joys are manifested through the relationship between husband and wife; missions (John Piper has frontier mission in mind when he wrote “missions”) as our battle cry to share the Gospel and Good News to the people around us; and suffering as our sacrifice to gain what we cannot lose.

After reading this summary of Desiring God’s content, you must have been intrigued more than I had. That is what I mean to do: to wake your interest up that you will want to read this book, and hopefully be blessed as much as – or even more than – I do. After I read it, my perspective on a lot of things are changed. A good example is on prayer. My view of prayer, now corrected by the corrective lenses of the Bible, changes how I pray. I realize that I am a sinner who has no right to be before Him. Yet, I come to His presence to ask for His mercy and grace to be poured upon the people and matters I pray for. And this is not self-centered, because God receives all the glory by being the all-satisfying Giver who seeks to be known and praised by all people. I am pursuing my joy by seeking that God does everything He wants to make His name be glorified!

John Piper describes, explains, recounts stories, and argues so interestingly that this book serves its main purpose: to share and to prove to people this idea from the Westminster Catechism, that “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever”. For my last remark, I do not think this is one of many ways that Christians can live. There is no other way for us but to see that God is glorified in our satisfaction in Him. I would prefer not to call “Christian Hedonism” by its own name, but simply “Christian”. This owes to the fact that this book describes truthfully our original design to be in fellowship with God and satisfied in Him only; our failure to do so; our punishment for rebelling against Him; His grand salvation on the cross through Jesus Christ; and His restoration at work through the Holy Spirit in His church, preparing His people to have fellowship again with Him in full.

Finally, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist serves as one of the pointers to God, that we may live obediently before His eyes, seeking our satisfaction and joy only in His fellowship and presence, and hear Him saying these words at the very end, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). Hallelujah, amen!

There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious

C. S. Lewis in The Last Battle

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