Have you heard of the Hedonistic Fallacy? It’s the belief that if you want pleasure, you should pursue pleasure.
It’s a fallacy because pleasure only comes, almost without our noticing, as we pursue other things. Like a weakly twinkling star that only becomes visible when we look away rather than staring directly at it, lasting pleasure has to be arrived at incidentally.
When we do stare directly at pleasure, it has a way of disappearing. C. S. Lewis, in Surprised by Joy, says that “the surest way of spoiling a pleasure is to start examining your satisfaction.” If it feels it has been noticed, pleasure blushes and runs skittishly away.
There is also the Faith Fallacy. It’s the belief that if you want faith, you should pursue faith.
It’s a fallacy because faith only comes, almost without our noticing, as we pursue the object of our faith. When someone says, “If only I had more faith”, it may well be because they are staring directly at their faith – examining it, prodding it, tutting quietly at its inadequacy. In other words, they’re pursuing faith itself, when it has to be arrived at incidentally.
Faith comes from its object. It blooms as the happy side-effect of contemplating Jesus, rather than itself. When we stare directly at faith, it tends to disappear. “If I behold myself only, and set Christ aside,” said Martin Luther, “I am gone.” This is the insight Paul is pointing us toward in Romans chapter 10: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
We should beware of substituting contemplation of Christ for contemplation of our own faith. Take to heart the Puritan reminder, “No one has finally perished whose face is turned towards Jesus Christ.”
If you want faith, look away.
[HT: Dr Graham Cole, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School]