God filled this world with many pleasures; it is your religious duty to enjoy them.
Now, I suppose that such an idea strikes some of you as slightly off kilter, as the kind of thing a Christian ought not to say. In 1 John 2:16 we read, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” Aren’t we supposed to avoid worldly pleasures?
Yes and no.
Yes, we ought to avoid pleasures that cause us to love anything more than God, whether they are food, drink, sex, or whatever. Pleasure becomes worldly when it leads us to violate the first and second greatest commandments: Love God, and love neighbor as self (Mark 12:28–34).
But no, avoiding worldly pleasures does not mean avoiding the pleasures that are present in the world. Remember, God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, and when had done so, he pronounced all of them “good” (Genesis 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) or “very good” (1:30). Indeed, he “blessed” the first man and woman in precisely the one area that so many Christians associate with worldly pleasures, namely, their sexuality (1:28).
A Christian may take pleasure in everything present in God’s world, provided that he or she does so in the way God intended that pleasure to be experienced. The Preacher, in Ecclesiastes 9:7–10, counsels you to “eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart.” Not only so, but he goes on to say, “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life.” You can eat, as long as you do not become gluttonous. And you can enjoy sex—you ought to enjoy sex!—as long as it is with your spouse. All these pleasures are part of God’s will for you in this present age: “God has already approved what you do” and “this is your portion in life.”
But, of course, there are pleasures and then there are pleasures. The pleasures of this world are wonderful, but a better world is coming. As C. S. Lewis wrote in his essay, “The Weight of Glory”:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, 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.
Properly speaking, then, every Christian is—and ought to be—a hedonist, both in this life and in the life to come.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
One thought on “Christian Hedonism (Ecclesiastes 9:7–10)”
“God filled this world with many pleasures; it is your religious duty to enjoy them.”
George, now you tell me! I was raised Pentecostal where everything fun is a sin. (Sigh)