Pitfalls and Potential in the Meaning of 'Carpe Diem' Catchphrase



We live in a get-it-now culture which is often referred to as the microwave generation. Not only do we want what we want, but we want it now...which sets off the trend in our society of running after things. This pursuit of happiness that many in the world are after reminds me of a verse in 1 John:

For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. – 1 John 2:16

John is warning of the danger of this mindset slipping into the church...the idea of "carpe diem," historically thought of as "seize the day."

Should you, as a Christian, have a philosophy like this? If you do, how does it line up with the Word of God? Is it a pitfall...or is there potential in the "carpe diem" catchphrase? And if you are seizing the day, then who are you seizing it for?

What Does 'Carpe Diem' Mean?

As I mentioned earlier this term is interpreted as "seize the day," but there is an earlier interpretation used by the Roman poet Horace. According to Merriam-Webster the original line used in his poem was

"carpe diem quam minimum credula postero,” which can be translated as “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one,”

Over time this line has been shortened to the term carpe diem and the definition has been changed to seize the day. The use of this phrase is generally meant to take advantage of the moment...or, when the opportunity arises take it—because it may not come around again. However, another popular interpretation of this phrase can be to live for the moment and have as much fun as you can now, because you only live once. Since you won’t be young forever, and tomorrow is promised to no one, get it now.

In this thinking it’s not just a pursuit of the moment, it is a pursuit of the pleasure of the moment.

As you can see there are both pitfalls and potential in this catchphrase "carpe diem." This idea can have both a positive and negative connotation. So, let’s look at both sides of this thought. Let’s get a biblical view of "carpe diem" to see if God is a fan or not. Because God's opinion should matter most, anyway.

3 Dangers in the ‘Carpe Diem’ Perspective on Pleasure

If you consider ‘carpe diem’ from the perspective of a pursuit of pleasure, then you have a problem. In fact, you have three problems:

1. Pleasure Is Short-Sighted

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now." Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?" Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. – Genesis 25:29-34 (ESV)

One of the pitfalls of seizing pleasure in the moment is that it can cause you to overlook the longer-term consequences. In Esau’s case, he was hungry in the moment, so he 'seized the day,' having no regard for his birthright. What a tragedy it is to trade the short-term moments of pleasure for consequences that usually far outweigh them. Think of every decision you have ever made in the moment because it felt good...and the price you paid after it. ‘Carpe diem’ might have felt good in that instant, but some pleasures cost things you can’t get back. If you ever need a reminder, just remember Esau.

…that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. – Hebrews 12:16-17

2. Pleasure Is Misguided

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. – Genesis 3:6

Pleasure often makes promises that it can’t keep and is therefore misguided. In Eve’s case, she thought the fruit would give her something she didn’t have. It did give her something she didn’t have but it wasn’t in the way she thought. This is how the pursuit of pleasure or ‘carpe diem’ can misguide or mislead you. It might look good. It might even taste good. Ultimately, it was not good. And, it did not live up to the promise it made.

3. Pleasure Is Manipulative

You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. – Genesis 3:4-5

There is another lesson from the story of Adam and Eve: pleasure can manipulate. It's why we've coined the term 'FOMO' in today's world; theFear of Missing Out. Adam and Eve fell victim to FOMO because they were manipulated by the serpent into believing that God was holding out on them.

How often have you heard people who reject Jesus say things like “you Christians can’t do anything or have any fun?"

Unfortunately, this thinking has crept into the church in some circles and many have become manipulated by the pursuit of pleasure. However, just as God was not holding out on Adam and Eve—he is not holding out on you. He wants the absolute best for you. And he knows that you can’t find that if you simply pursue the pleasure of the moment.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes

3 Ways Christians Can Embrace 'Carpe Diem' and Follow Christ

At this point, you might think there are only pitfalls and no potential in this ‘carpe diem’ catchphrase, but that is not true. If you view this from the correct perspective, you can actually use this as a motivator in following Christ. Here are three motivations you can embrace:

1. Carpe Diem As Motivation for Salvation

For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6:2

If there ever was an opportunity to seize the day then compelling people to receive salvation is one of those moments. We should never assume that a person will get another opportunity to hear the gospel, it may never happen. No one knows what lies around the corner of life and the truth is life is very fragile. Every person is one breath away from eternity and we should recognize that and use this as motivation to share the gospel with people. This is not meant to scare you but to make you aware and hopefully put a greater urgency to share the love of Jesus with those around you.

2. Carpe Diem As Motivation for Ministry

As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. – John 9:4

When you consider this verse in John, you could actually make the case that Jesus is saying to seize the day. It’s as if he is saying do all you can, for as long as you can because there will come a day when you can’t do it anymore. Give when you can give. Serve when you can serve. Work when you can work. Eventually, there will come a day when you may want to, but won’t be able to, do these things anymore. So while it is day make the most of these opportunities...for night is coming.

3. Carpe Diem As Motivation for Love

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. – 1 Peter 4:8

If there is one way that "carpe diem" has great potential it is in the opportunities you have to show love to those you indeed love. Don’t just tell them you love them, show them in this day. Show them by spending time with them. Show them by listening. Show them by writing a letter or caring about the things they care about. Find a way to show them you love them and seize the moment by pouring out love. If they have hurt you, forgive them. And don’t miss the opportunity to show them love. I promise you, this is something you will never regret.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you can see the pitfalls and potential in the catchphrase "carpe diem." So if you hear or say this phrase, you might ask: what am I seizing, and who am I seizing it for? Is it for my pleasure or God’s purpose? Chances are you'll find your motive, and it will help you decide whether to seize it or let it go. That's how you'll discover the difference between the pitfall and the potential of "carpe diem."

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Grafner


Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com

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