THE GOD OF PLEASURE
The Idolatry of Hedonism
"IF IT FEELS GOOD, DO IT". This could be a slogan for our age. From the luxury of the deep pile carpet, the well-filled wine cellar and the BMW in the drive to the ecstasy-induced ability to dance all night, the modern world lives for pleasure. Advertising persuades us that to please ourselves is a desirable end. Hugh Hefner and his Playboy magazine, Peter Stringfellow with his claim to 2000 sexual partners are icons of our time. Even with the recent death of Diana, Princess of Wales, commentators were noting, with approval, that her jet-setting lifestyle in the company of Dodi Fayed had made her happier.
The god of our Age
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the technical term for this, hedonism, as the "belief in pleasure as the highest good and mankind's proper aim" or "behaviour based on this". Few have perhaps thought this through as a philosophy, but many have adopted it as a practical way of living. Superficially it is an attractive and easy way of life; who could resist it? But like so many false gods, the god of pleasure exacts a high price. He is never satisfied, his rapacious appetite always looking for more. Today's ecstasy becomes tomorrow's boredom. And so some new experience has to be sought.
None of this is new. The Bible has quite a bit to say about this search for pleasure. The writer of Ecclesiastes tried it and found it wanting (Eccl.2:1-11). The people of Samaria are condemned for indulging in a life of pleasure and luxury at the expense of others (Amos 4:1; 6:1-6). Jesus made it clear that we cannot serve God and seek our own selfish pleasure (Lk.16:13) and called people to a life of self denial (Mt.10:37). Babylon in Revelation -- a symbol of decadence and self seeking pleasure -- is overthrown amidst great rejoicing (Rev.18).
This forms the background to a Christian way of thinking. But we cannot escape the hard reality that this is a way of life that young people find particularly attractive. To them church is seen as boring -- where's the pleasure in listening to sermons you don't understand and singing hymns from past centuries?
Appealing to Modern Youth
How do we make the Christian good news relevant and interesting? Scripture Union schools worker Wayne Dixon suggests one possibility: "If I'm chatting informally in a common room, I find that one approach is to quote some of the numerous examples of successful people who are not happy. This can lead to our discussing, 'What does make someone happy?'"
The Bible presents another side. God gives us all things to enjoy (1 Tim.6:17). He expects us to take pleasure in Him and in our relationship with Him (Is.61:10). That results in our wanting others to experience pleasure rather than simply looking for pleasure for ourselves. Ian Vallance, Scripture Union worker in Havering, recalls an incident.
The Greatest Pleasure of All
"We were discussing 'Love is patient, love is kind' in 1 Corinthians 13 during a Scripture Union holiday when one girl said, 'I'm never going to find a boy friend like that.' So I replied, 'It's not about you finding someone like that. It's about you being like that.' I believe that was a Spirit-inspired reply... That girl became a Christian during the holiday. That was two years ago and now she's part of our junior leadership team."
Many have found that the greatest pleasure in life comes from knowing God -- the object of so much of our work, from beach missions and holidays to the Bible reading notes of the SALT programme, is designed to that end. Claire Derry, until recently one of our schools workers, shares the story of a young boy who came to numerous holiday clubs. His mother came to collect him and spoke to Claire, "I'm not sure what has happened to my son, but it's so embarrassing, even when we have visitors he sits and reads the Bible instead of his other books." This boy found excitement and pleasure by reading the Bible.
God calls us from a self-indulgent approach to life that thinks only about our pleasure to one that is designed to bring Him pleasure, through our actions and our service. And let us beware. It is all too easy for our Christianity to become another way of looking for pleasure -- the attitude that perpetually complains about the songs we sing (or do not sing) reveals a self-centred rather than a God-centred faith. A final challenge -- why not think about giving some time to serving God next summer rather than looking for pleasure on the beaches of the Mediterranean?
Reproduced from The Scripture Union Magazine, Winter 1997/8, pp.10-11
SU National Office, 207-209 Queensway, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK2 2EB, England
SU Mail Order: P.O.Box 764, Oxford OX4 5FJ, England
The New Covenant Church of God is currently a supporter of SU.
This page was created on 7 April 1998
Last updated on 7 April 1998