Sunday, October 3, 2010

Christian Hedonism

You can glorify God by peeling a potato, if you peel it to perfection.

Eric Liddell's father said this. In the film Chariot's of Fire, Liddell himself says,

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.

Those Liddell's were on to something. I think many of us have lost sight of a God who delights, a God who takes pleasure in what is beautiful and good.

I was struck by this a couple of weeks ago as I was practicing with a group of musicians before a chapel service. We didn't know each other and had forgotten each other's names ten seconds after hearing them. The leader/singer who had pulled us all together was out of the room, so I started strumming a simple chord progreession to fill the time and silence. After a few bars the guy on piano eased his away in. I didn't give him a nod, I didn't tell him the chords; heck, I didn't even realise he was playing along with me until I really listened. The drummer then brought in some rythym and there we were, three perfect strangers creating music before worship practice officially began.

I wouldn't have articulated it like this at the time, but looking back I can say that as we played I felt God's pleasure. This was not a worship service, it was not even a worship practice, yet worship was happening in a strange, new form to me. God was in that place, and I did not know it.

I've usually seen my guitar as a tool with a function. It is best used for Christian worship songs and  for "leading people into the presence of God". But what if my guitar isn't meant to be used at all? What if it is simply meant to be played?

In one sense, music serves no purpose. Music doesn't do anything. It doesn't function. But it delights. When it is played well it is enjoyed, for nothing less or more than enjoyment's sake. There's no reason to enjoy it, except maybe our God-given desire for what is beautiful and good and delightful.

It is popular opinion today that the chief questions being answered in the Genesis creation accounts are Who? and Why? This is certainly true of the first, but the second question is never actually answered. "In the beginning God created...", we are told, but the ultimate why? remains a mystery. Christians love to tell the world and each other that we have meaning and purpose, but perhaps what is closer to the truth is that there is no purpose at all. We don't need to be here. Nothing needs to be here. But therein lies the gospel: God does not need the world; He loves it. Terry Eagleton puts it like this:

God the creator is not a celestial engineer at work on a superbly rational design that will impress his research grant body no end, but an artist, and an aesthete to boot, who made the world with no functional end in view but simply for the love and delight of it.

Creation is, at heart, relational. Creator created creation for his own enjoyment, and to share in that enjoyment with the ones he created. It is only in this context that words like "purpose" and "function" can be properly understood.

John Piper might call this "Christian hedonism", with his mantra being "The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever." I would adjust this by adding another dimension - the gifts of God are to be enjoyed too. Not in isolation, of course, but always in relation to the Giver who delights in giving good gifts to his children. And when these gifts are properly enjoyed, when they are not "used" for our own ends but merely played as well as we can play them, then also is God glorified, and in that moment God's pleasure is felt.

No comments:

Post a Comment