The Dangerous Duty of Delight, chapter 4

PURSUING PLEASURE UNDERMINES PRIDE AND SELF-PITY

Over against all human pride, “God chose what is low and despised in the world … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28–29, RSV). Any view of the Christian life that claims biblical sanction must be the enemy of pride. This is one of the great values of Christian Hedonism. It undermines the power of pride.

Pride is the primal evil in the universe. The Lord leaves no doubt about how He feels about it: “Pride and arrogance … I hate” (Proverbs 8:13).

Christian Hedonism combats pride because it puts man in the category of an empty vessel beneath the fountain of God. Philanthropists can boast. Welfare recipients can’t. The primary experience of the Christian Hedonist is one of helplessness and desperation and longing. When a helpless child is being swept off his feet by the undercurrent on the beach and his father sweeps him up just in time, he does not boast; he hugs.

The nature and depth of human pride are illuminated by comparing boasting to self-pity. Both are manifestations of pride. Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.” Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have suffered so much.” Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. Boasting sounds self-sufficient. Self-pity sounds self-sacrificing.

The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be so needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego. It doesn’t come “from a sense of unworthiness, but from a sense of unrecognised worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride.

Christian Hedonism severs the root of self-pity. People don’t feel self-pity when suffering is accepted for the sake of joy.

“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

(Matthew 5:11–12, RSV)

This is the axe laid to the root of self-pity. When Christian Hedonists have to suffer on account of Christ, they do not summon up their own resources like heroes. They become like little children who trust the strength of their father and who want the joy of his reward. The greatest sufferers for Christ have always deflected praise and pity by testifying to their Christian Hedonism. We will see this especially in the lives of missionaries in the final chapter.

You can see the principle at work among the godly again and again. For example, I knew a seminary professor who also served as an usher in the balcony of a big church. Once when he was to take part in a service, the pastor extolled him for his willingness to serve in this unglamorous role even though he had a doctorate in theology. The professor humbly deflected and softened the praise by quoting Psalm 84:10 (NIV):

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

In other words, “Don’t think that I am heroically overcoming great obstacles of disinclination to keep the doors of the sanctuary. The Word of God says it will bring great blessing! I am maximizing my joy in God.” We don’t pity or excessively praise those who are simply doing what will make them the most happy. And even when we see this very thing as a virtue, our admiration will be deflected onto the Treasure that satisfies their souls, not the simple experience of satisfaction. Enjoying the infinitely Enjoyable is no great feat. Unless you are spiritually dead. But then the solution is resurrection, and only God raises the dead. What’s left for us to do is breathe the sweet air of grace outside the tomb.

Most people recognize that doing something for joy—even on the merely horizontal level—is a humbling experience. For example, a businessman may take some friends out for dinner. When he picks up the check, his friends begin to say how good it was of him to pay for them. But he simply lifts his hand in a gesture that says, “Stop.” Then he says, “It’s my pleasure.” In other words, if I do a good deed for the joy of it, the impulse of pride is broken. The breaking of that impulse is the will of God and is one of the reasons Christian Hedonism is so vital for the Christian life.