Happiness and Hedonism

An old story goes like this: A Texas sheriff was pursuing a bank robber who kept crossing the Mexican border to hide out. Finally, the sheriff crossed the border himself and the posse tracked the robber to his hideout, where the robber was cornered. The sheriff needed an interpreter since he spoke no Spanish, and one was found. “Tell me where you’ve hidden the loot?” he asked. The robber wouldn’t answer. After several tries the sheriff got tough. “If you don’t tell me this time, I’m going to shoot!” He was serious, and it was obvious. The robber spilled his guts, admitting to his fault, telling where the money was hidden with detailed directions. “What did he say?” the sheriff asked the interpreter. After a few seconds the interpreter replied, “He says, ‘Go ahead and shoot.’”

The pursuit of happiness can take many avenues. If being happy is truly our deepest concern, we’ll rob for it, we’ll lie for it, we’ll do whatever it takes to be happy. Such is the Happiness & Hedonism Picture2life of the hedonist. They plunge into the experiences of life with one goal – enjoy! Sex in any form, lifestyles to please self, whatever it takes. A recent academic book suggests that, if the acquisition of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are our chief desires, maybe we’ve got the evolutionary theory backwards. Animals actually score highly on the pleasure scale, yet have few of the complex psychological pains, such as anxiety and disappointment, that are built into the human psyche. Yes, pleasure and happiness are good things, but they are not the only good things, and without boundaries they can enslave us. C.S. Lewis once said, if happiness was all he was after in life, a good bottle of port would do the trick.

If this life on planet earth is all there is, if the Bible’s promise of an eternity somewhere is not true, then hedonism makes some sense. Enjoy life while you can! The only boundaries you need are those that provide some level of safety, otherwise do whatever it takes to be happy. The trouble is, creating those boundaries is a fuzzy target. They vary with the individual’s background and worldview. And that’s exactly what we see in our culture, which has largely adopted the hedonistic philosophy. People stake their ground, then fight for their view of what can create happiness for them. Yet sexual fulfillment never really fulfilled anyone; financial security never really made anyone secure. Break God’s law for the sake of happiness, you end up proving God’s law, while breaking yourself.

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:1)

There was one person who could have taken this approach and been completely successful. Jesus. All he had to do was not create the world and the people who inhabit it. Then he could have stayed away from such craziness and rested in the fellowship of God, only pleasure, the absence of pain. But he didn’t. He wanted to have fellowship with humans. He gave them free choices of right and wrong. He even allowed them to accept him and follow his way, or reject him and do what they wanted. He spelled out consequences, but there was always a choice. Because humans chose the sinful path routinely, rather than push them away, Jesus chose to come to earth and suffer, and die, a ransom price paid to win us back. Isaiah 53 tells us, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain…surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…he was led like a lamb to the slaughter…for the transgression of my people he was punished.” This is the life Jesus chose. During his life on earth he healed the sick, provided direction for the downhearted. What is it that motivates our choices?

The Christian life comes with a cost of discipleship. God provides boundaries in his word. More than that, he provides a reason to follow joyfully. Purpose in life, finding it’s true meaning, helping others know the love of God. Hope for an eternity where the real reward comes, where the burdens of life can be laid down. Meanwhile we take up our cross and live a life of self-sacrifice for the good of others. Happy? Yes, deep down. But it’s not the same as the hedonistic type. It comes as an unsought side benefit of this God-centered lifestyle.