Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits, the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
~ Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 ~
John Piper has famously coined the term “Christian Hedonism.” Piper defines Christian Hedonism as, “the conviction that God’s ultimate goal in the world (his glory) and our deepest desire (to be happy) are one and the same because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Not only is God the supreme source of satisfaction for the human soul, but God himself is glorified by our being satisfied in him. Therefore, our pursuit of joy in him is essential.”
Piper’s definition here has two key phrases I would like the highlight. 1. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. 2. “Our pursuit of joy in him is essential.” These two ideas are the essence of Christian hedonism, feasting on God and indulging in Him. What Piper espouses is a wonderful idea, and I thank God that Piper has been teaching this throughout his life and ministry. However, (and I’m sure that Piper addresses all this within Christian Hedonism), what if Christians find it impossible to find contentment and joy in God? While I believe our pursuit of joy and contentment in God is essential so that we glorify Him, there are seasons, if not entire lifetimes, where some of us experience the never-ending onslaught of suffering and angst the world has in store for us. God becomes distant and impossible to relate to at times. You feel like you could never glorify God, not even in your best moments. Jesus becomes an idea rather than the person you used to be swooning over. Where there was purpose and meaning, now is chaos and the unfamiliar. You begin to think like the Preacher, “vanity of vanities” – this all becomes meaningless suffering and grief. The cloud of uncertainty settles upon the heart as you wander through life like a lost bedouin. “Exiles”, the Bible calls us (1 Peter 1:1-2), and you certainly begin to feel like one. How do we make sense of all of this “vanity?” I propose Christian Existentialism Nihilism.
Christian Nihilism is an oxymoron if ever there was one. On the one hand, you have Christianity that teaches us to be joyful, happy, and content in all things. Christianity teaches us that there’s a purpose, a plan, and meaning in the darkest places (true, by the way). On the other hand, Nihilism teaches us that life and suffering are ultimately random, meaningless, and chaotic. For proponents of Nihilism like Friedrich Nietzsche, the belief in God and the practice of religion is a crutch that humanity uses to make sense of a senseless existence. Christian Nihilism is an almost paradoxical embracement of both realities. As one walks through life through the seemingly purposeless and brutal sufferings that life brings us, we are to embrace the pain and grief it throws at us (allow the barbs of suffering to settle in your heart). Christian Nihilism is the idea that while joy and contentment in God might be ideal, they might never be experienced on this side of eternity. It is embracing the chaos while trusting that God will make all things work together for our good, even if the good isn’t always seen.
In reality, this isn’t anything new. The Bible often speaks of the suffering and pain Christians are to go through. I suppose what I aim to do with this idea is to alleviate the burden of joy for those who are constantly pursuing it and only ever experiencing more pain and sorrow. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Christian Hedonism is wrong. I’m just putting a new card on the table as I wrestle with a reality that I’ve experienced, and I’m sure many others do. Pursuing joy and contentment in God has been an extremely tiring journey that has yielded little fruit for me. However, I believe God is doing something in me apart from my effort and typical expectations. As I walk, I painfully groan with creation as I patiently await the new world.
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ~