“You shall be like God, knowing good and evil,” the serpent told Eve. Our contemporary culture loves to give us similar advice. Who can be sure what God really said? Better to choose your own identity, express your own personality, construct your own social media profile. Decide what’s right for you, what brings you happiness, peace of mind, security—a sense of flourishing. No one can judge you. “You will not ‘surely die.’” Such warnings are just the toxic voice of external authority trying to suppress your own inner voice. You be you. Live your truth.
This advice is not only wrong but cruel. No one speaks of “my truth” and “your truth” when it comes to matters of fact. We accept authority and objectivity on such matters. It would be cruel—even criminal malpractice—if one’s physician distorted or denied the evidence for a life-threatening diagnosis because it was considered toxic or disempowering to the patient. But the problem is that most people in our culture—and judging by surveys, many of us Christians—do not live as if the claims of Christ are matters of fact rather than simply personal value judgments. The heart is where my truth comes from. Consequently, my truth is that I am a decent person, deserving of good things in life, and I have every right to be deeply frustrated when those good things don’t come my way. There is nothing more offensive to our pampered Western selves than to be told, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
Hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure above all, does not have to be expressed merely in grotesque antinomianism. It is motivating us whenever we think that the chief end of humans is to be happy. Even secular studies like The Trouble with Passion (University of California Press, 2021) by sociologist Erin Cech demonstrate the downside of the follow-your-passion message, showing that the pursuit of happiness as an end in itself leads inevitably to depression, anxiety, and anger.
The truth is that our hearts, as Augustine famously said, were made for rest in God. He is the only one worthy of our passion, and when we rest in him, he gives us callings to serve our neighbors, where we find genuine purpose and meaning—and yes, pleasure.
Our own “truth” leads to delusion, conflict, and despair in this life and destruction in the next. What we really need is the truth. We need the One who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Let’s live as if we really believe that it is the truth that sets us free.
Michael Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation.