Joe Rigney’s book The Things of Earth has been a great joy to read. He takes John Piper’s idea of Christian Hedonism and expands upon it and fills it out. The book produces a deep love for God and his gifts. He shows how we can love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love all the gifts that he gives to us. He does this by encouraging us to put Christ first. But then we are able to cheerfully love all the gifts God has given to us. Our love for God does not diminish, but rather strengthens, our love for things.
He uses the illustration of a cake his wife makes. The more I love my wife the more I will enjoy the cake she has given to me. If my love for my wife is weak, I might eat the cake, but I will not enjoy it as I ought to. It certainly isn’t loving my wife to not eat the cake.
Throughout the book he answers questions such as: What about idolatry? If I embrace God’s gifts will that lead me to be selfish? How can I enjoy God’s gifts when they come from a sinful culture? What about self-denial? Should I give up good gifts and if so why? What about when God takes away gifts, when I suffer involuntarily? His answers to these questions are biblical, practical, and balanced.
He focuses on gratitude and joy. He reminds us that God loves pleasure. He made us good and he made us creatures with eyes to see, noses to smell, hands to touch, ears to hear, and hearts to feel. He wants us to enjoy cake, ice cream, hikes, sunsets, our spouses, fireworks, and basketball. And he wants to enjoy these things guilt free.
So how would he answer the question, Can we love things too much? Here is a portion of a letter he wrote to a friend whose infant son was dying. All italics are his.
You cannot love your son too much. This is because, as you’ve said to me over and over again, he is a gift to you. God has given him to you, as a gift, and you are receiving him as a gift. Your son is a work of God, as expression of God’s glory and grace and love, and one that is customized for you and your family. You can only love him wrongly if you love him in place of God. But if you receive him as a gift from God, in all his wonder and beauty and sweetness and fragility, then you cannot love him too much or prize him too highly, and you should feel no shred of guilt because you love him as you do and long for his health and desperately want to cling to him and know him and spend time with him for as long as you can.
So I just want to encourage you and your wife to plunge headlong into the gift. Savor every moment with that baby. Touch him, hold him, caress him, let the love that you feel for him surge through you. Let it provoke you to tears and sadness and gut wrenching feeling that you would do absolutely anything to make your son whole. Let your love for your little boy take you beyond pain and sorrow to the indestructible joy of the God who gives good gifts and is not threatened by them.
Rigney’s answer is no you cannot love things too much. You can only love them wrongly. A drunkard does not love beer too much. He hates beer. A man addicted to porn does not love sex too much. He he hates it. As our love for God increases our love for the gifts he has given increases as well. We should “plunge headlong into the gifts” God has given to us. In this example, Rigney uses a child. But throughout the book he makes clear that all things are gifts from God, including our cars, houses, food, toys, books, movies, grass, trees, etc. We cannot properly honor God or follow him until we see things as gifts from his hand.
I am sure you have more questions. I would encourage you to get the book. The second half is particularly valuable in helping free up Christians to love God and His gifts, to live free of guilt and full of gratitude for those gifts, and to use those gifts in service of God and neighbor.