I was just recently made aware of Mark Talbot’s chapter “When All Hope Has Died: Meditations on Profound Christian Suffering” in the festschrift for John Piper, For The Fame of God’s Name (Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, eds., [Wheaton: Crossway, 2010]).
In this chapter, Talbot captures the essence of some issues I’ve been wrestling with regarding Christian Hedonism. I’ll quote two of his conclusions that I am curious how many of those who identify as “Christian hedonists” would react to. First, in speaking of how CH can be applied to “profound suffering”—a category he gives to things ranging from the horrors of the holocaust to the individual horrors of grief over loss and depression—he says this,
Appeals to Christian hedonism will not motivate profoundly suffering Christians because they have at least temporarily lost all motivation to produce one state of affairs in preference to any other in the hope that producing that state of affairs will maximize their pleasure, everlastingly or not. For such sufferers have abandoned pursuing any pleasure because they have lost all hope of feeling any pleasure again.
He would not necessarily claim this state is universally true, but it does seem to be the experience of many Christians, including characters we can point to in Scripture (Ruth, Job, Jeremiah). This is important because of his conclusion. Here, he speaks of attempting to comfort those in the midst of profound suffering:
Because of my own experience I also know that their faith [the faith of those who are experiencing profound suffering] and their ultimate happiness do not depend on whether God is right now being glorified in them. Their future with God does not depend on their manifesting right now their complete and total satisfaction in him, nor does it depend on their obedience, nor even on their being able to acknowledge God’s goodness. It depends only on God’s continued faithfulness to them.
I think this corrective is vital to our understanding and articulation of CH. To fail at this, I feel, leads us towards what I believe is a minor form of works-salvation: we must work (or fight, in Piper’s preferred terminology) for joy. I’m not sure that Piper would qualify his definition of CH to include this, but I hear it articulated far less than I would like.
I have so many more thoughts on this, but not the time to write them down yet. I am very thankful for Mark’s chapter.