Summary: This is part 5 of Jesus Among Secular Gods, based on the book by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. This week the dangers of hedonism in our lives, churches, and cultures are discussed.
Hedonism is all about happiness or pleasure. Happiness and pleasure are good things, but when we make happiness and pleasure the highest forms of good, we miss out on the best God has for us.
In the movie, The Matrix, it is discovered that machines have taken over the world and are channeling human energy to power their world. All humans are suspended in a solution where their minds and reality are integrated into an elaborate VR program, "The Matrix" to give the "human batteries"; the illusion they are living. A few people have been freed from this false reality and are living in the true reality dominated by the machines. Those who have been freed have found a way to enter into the matrix where laws of physics and consciousness can be altered and manipulated.
In the movie, they can "load" themselves into a program where they can learn virtually anything and be in any kind of environment. Do you want to learn Jujitsu? Load the program. Vince Vitale poses a similar question. If there was a machine where we could load or chose any experience: winning the Olympics, falling in love, eroticism, your pleasure is the determiner. What would we do if we could preprogram our lives in such a way?
Hedonism is the belief that life is about happiness and limitless pleasure. Hedonism does not place boundaries on pleasure but makes personal pleasure the highest goal of life. In fact, many people today give into this way of thinking. It's part of the American Dream. Gain as much wealth and possessions as possible and die happy. I've heard many times from people, "I don't need God, I'm happy just the way I am."
This is what we teach our children too. Go to college so you can earn more money and be happier. We love you just the way you are. We say this culturally, our "pride" in licentiousness. The greatest call in our society is to make sure we satisfy our every desire, scratch off the bucket list, buy the bigger house or car.
What is even more alarming is how the teaching of hedonism has infiltrated the church and popular teaching. Joel and Victoria Osteen are quoted as saying, “do good for your own self” because obedience, the church, and worship are not for God as much as for self-happiness." (September 2014). Christian hedonism tells us that God's purpose is to bring our life pleasure.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon, and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalms (8:3-9)
“The loneliest moment in life is just when you have experienced that which you thought would deliver the ultimate and it has let you down.” (Ravi Zacharias)
I. Our Ultimate Purpose is for Worship, Not Self-Pleasure
Anything that delights you and energizes you in life is a legitimate pleasure so long as it does not violate your ultimate purpose in life. Our purpose in life is to first worship and give glory to God. Some seem to believe that in choosing to follow God, we must abandon all pleasure. Pleasure and happiness are actually good and godly things, but they are not do not give meaning.
“If happiness were all that I was after, I would have settled for a good bottle of port." (C.S. Lewis)
What the psalmist is proclaiming is that there is a profound pleasure, joy, and happiness in finding relationships and intimacy with God. In fact, God brings deeper meaning to life, not only in life's pleasures but also in life's sorrows and pain.
II. The Pleasures of this World are Temporary
The hedonist will say that the highest calling in life is pleasure: sex, expressions, the arts, getting high, escaping pain, success, wealth, etc.. These are things that bring us happiness so we should indulge in these things, escape pain and struggle in pursuit of better things. In fact God is anti-pleasure.
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, (Galatians 5:19-20)
Some of the most unhappy people in this world are those considered wealthy and successful. I think the worst thing that can happen to someone is to find success in Hollywood. Sooner or later, disappointment, betrayal, sickness, and death will all come into our lives. What is going to sustain you during those times? The moment you desacralize life and its pleasures, you lose the true meaning and depth of what it means to be human.