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Monday, 12 September 2011

Fighting Epicureanism

Ok, I’ll grant you, the name in the above title is probably not something you’ve ever heard of before, but for myself I have found that it is something that invokes foreboding and wariness. But first things first, what is Epicureanism?

Act 17:18  Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, "What does this babbler wish to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities"--because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection

You know the context, Paul, after various trials had found himself in Athens. He was walking around, enjoying the sights but his ‘spirit was provoked’ (vs 16) because of the idolatry and idols that was rampant. So going to the nearest synagogue as well as to the market square on his soap box, he begins preaching the gospel to the people. Now before we have his famous “Men on Athens” sermon (vs 22) we get verse 18, which tells us that two groups of people, both philosophers. Now it is interesting, that of the many hundreds of philosophical systems that were around both before and after the only two mentioned in the bible are Stoicism and Epicureanism.

Epicurus_bust2These two systems were opponents, and were markedly different from each other in many respects, but like almost every philosophical system ever invented by man, the ultimate goal was happiness. In Stoicism’s case, this was done through overcoming destructive emotions whereas Epicureans tried to achieve this by enjoying physical pleasures temperately.

Epicurus reasoned that while pleasure was to be had from such things as food, (thus making it a form of hedonism) over indulging in those pleasures lead to bad results later, for example stomach ache and dissatisfaction because the food just didn’t satisfy for long. And the same applied to other physical pleasure also. So, he decided that the best way to find happiness was to each only fine food, but in small quantities, drink only the best wine, but again, in small enough quantities so as to not get drunk, because after drunkenness is the hangover, and often more consequences than that. Now it often was taken further than that, resulting in asceticism, or the renunciation of physical pleasures altogether, to prevent, in the epicurean though, the bad consequences.

Now we know from Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes that while the desire to get pleasure is a very human on, There is no satisfaction to be found in any physical pleasure. There is nothing wrong with nice food, but whether taken in excess or in moderation, satisfaction will not be found in them. Only in God can satisfaction be found. Therefore this philosophy is dangerous, both to our Christian lives, and also generally to humanity. From this I have identified two dangers in particular that need to be identified and avoided.

  1. The first danger is fairly personal, and to my knowledge something not everyone struggles with. I have found in myself a tendency to want to get pleasure from many physical things in life, food and social interaction in particular. As a working bachelor I have both time and money to indulge these pleasures more or less to the extent I want. Again neither food nor social is bad, but taken to excess there can be a problem. I know this and so limit myself. Here is the danger, I am tempted to think that because I am not just indulging every pleasure of the flesh but rather enjoying the fine company of good friends doing wholesome and moral activities together (which is my particular point of temptation) I can find happiness and lasting pleasure in this. I have to remind myself that THIS IS NOT THE CASE. I need to revolt and fight against this kind of thinking. Satisfaction can only be found in God.
  2. The other danger is far more profound and rampant. It involves running from God. People can run from God in two ways. The most common way is for them to ignore Him in every way, ignore His laws and rules, by being immoral and rampantly ungodly, and ignore the consequences of those sins, ultimately ignoring the eternal consequences, death, judgment and hell. The other way is by obeying God. People think that by obeying God’s laws, living a moral life and possibly going through the actions of bible reading, church going and prayer, that God owes them heaven. The bible says that nobody gets to the Father, unless they have been born again (John 3:3) only through Jesus (John 14:6). However people think that they can get to the Father through, their efforts, their ‘good-doing’. They believe that if they do all these things for God, God somehow now owes them good things, in life and ultimately heaven. This is patently false. Today we would call this moralism and and self-righteousness. But I identify it as a semichristian form of epicureanism. This is why:
    The person reasons that they enjoy the fine, moral things in life; then things should be better for them. For example, if they don’t sleep around they won’t get an STD. To that extent, that is true, better behavior generally results in a better life. Generally, but its not guaranteed. They then extend the thinking all the way to heaven. “I live morally in this way, then I get the ultimate pleasure, heaven”

You can just imagine a person standing before the thrown, saying to God “But I did all these things for you, you owe me heaven” and God replies “depart from me, you worker of inequity, I never knew you” (Mat 7:22-23). Epicurean thought leads to hell, we need rather to believe the Gospel of grace which says, “you, a sinner, are forgiven by a just and holy God who, because of His love for you, poured out His wrath on His Son, Jesus Christ to take away all of your sins, then three days later rose from the dead, proving that His sacrifice had been a sufficient payment.” Don’t run from God, ‘repent and believe the Gospel I’ve just described above.

Solomon, in Ecclesiastes spends the duration of the book describing how he tried to find satisfaction and pleasure in actions ranging from the most extravagant to the most moderate. This is how he concludes that book:

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14  13The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Soli Deo gloria


Note: picture and research on epicureanism taken from this Wikipedia article

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