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This does not diminish the reality and greatness of his love for us, because the joy in which he hoped was the joy of leading many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10). His joy is in our redemption, which redounds to God’s glory. To abandon the cross and thus to abandon us and the Father’s will was a prospect so horrible in Christ’s mind that he repulsed it and embraced death.
But my essay on “Dissatisfied Contentment” [this is what Ronn was responding to; its content has been incorporated into this chapter] suggests even more: namely, that in some profound sense there must be joy in the very act of love, if it is to be pleasing to God.
You have shown clearly that if this is true in the case of Jesus’ LOV E death, there must be a radical difference between joy and “fun.” But we all know that there is.
It is not fair when you shift from saying there is no “fun way” in Gethsemane, to saying “Joy is nowhere to be found.” I know that at those times in my life when I have chosen to do the most costly good deeds, I have (with and under the hurts) felt a very deep joy at doing good.
I think that when Jesus rose from his final prayer in Gethsemane with the resolve to die, there flowed through his soul a glorious sense of triumph over the night’s temptation. Did he not say, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34)?
Jesus cherished his Father’s will like we cherish food. To finish his Father’s work was what he fed upon; to abandon it would be to choose starvation. I think there was joy in Gethsemane as Jesus was led away— not fun, not sensual pleasure, not laughter, in fact not anything that this world can offer. But there was a good feeling deep in Jesus’ heart that his action was pleasing to his Father, and that the reward to come would outweigh all the pain. This profoundly good feeling is the joy that enabled Jesus to do for us what he did.
(2) You say of Dorothy Day: “Her experience of loving [the poor,
displaced, downtrodden] when there was no joy has led her to say this:
‘Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.’” I will try to respond in two ways.
First, don’t jump to the conclusion that there is no joy in things that are “harsh and dreadful.” There are mountain climbers who have spent sleepless nights on the faces of cliffs, have lost fingers and toes in sub-zero temperatures, and have gone through horrible misery to reach a peak. They say, “It was harsh and dreadful.” But if you ask them why they do it, the answer will come back in various forms: “There is an exhilaration in the soul that feels so good it is worth all the pain.” If this is how it is with mountain climbing, cannot the same be true of love? Is it not rather an indictment of our own worldliness that
we are more inclined to sense exhilaration at mountain climbing than at conquering the precipices of un-love in our own lives and in society?
Yes, love is often a “harsh and dreadful” thing, but I do not see how a person who cherishes what is good and admires Jesus can help but sense a joyful exhilaration when (by grace) he is able to love another person.
Now let me approach Dorothy Day’s situation in another way.
Let’s pretend that I am one of the poor that she is trying to help at great
cost to herself. I think a conversation might go like this:
Piper: Why are you doing this for me, Miss Day?
Day: Because I love you.
Piper: What do you mean, you love me? I don’t have anything to offer. I’m not worth loving.
Day: Perhaps. But there are no application forms for my love. I learned that from Jesus. What I mean is, I want to help you because Jesus has helped me so much.
Piper: So you are trying to satisfy your “wants”?
Day: I suppose so, if you want to put it like that. One of my deepest wants is to make you a happy and purposeful person.
Piper: Does it upset you that I am happier and that I feel more purposeful since you’ve come?
Day: Heavens, no! What could make me happier?
Piper: So you really spend all those sleepless nights here for what makes you happy, don’t you?
Day: If I say yes, someone might misunderstand me. They might think I don’t care for you at all, but only for myself.
Piper: But won’t you say it at least for me?
Day: Yes, I’ll say it for you: I work for what brings me the greatest joy: your joy.
Piper: Thank you. Now I know that you love me.
LOVE’S DEED AND REWARD
ARE ORGANICALLY RELATEDOne thing touched on briefly in this letter that might need some elaboration is the question concerning the relationship between the joy that comes in the actual deed of love and the joy that comes from the reward promised in the more distant future. The reason I think this question is important is that the motivation of receiving a future reward could turn love into a mercenary affair (as we have seen) if the hoped-for reward were not somehow organically related to the act one is doing to get the reward.
If the nature of the deed did not partake of the nature of the reward, you could do things you thought were stupid or evil to get the reward you considered wise or good. But it would be stretching the word love beyond biblical limits to say that one is loving when he does a thing he thinks is stupid or evil. A loving act (even if very painful) must be approved by our conscience.
So to say that it is right and good to be motivated by the hope of reward (as Moses and the early Christians and Jesus were, according to Hebrews 11:26 and 10:34 and 12:2) does not mean that this view to the future nullifies the need to choose acts that in their nature are organically related to the hoped-for reward.
What I mean by “organically related” is this: Any act of love we choose for the sake of a holy reward must compel us because we see in that act the moral traits of that promised reward. Or to put it the other way around, the only fitting reward for an act of love is the experience of divine glory whose moral dimension is what made the chosen act attractive.
The reward to which we look as Christian Hedonists for all the good we are commanded to do is distilled for us in Romans 8:29: “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” There are two goals of our predestination mentioned here: one highlighting our glory and one highlighting Christ’s.
The first goal of our predestination is to be like Christ. This includes new resurrection bodies of glory like His (Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:49).
But most importantly, it includes spiritual and moral qualities and capacities like Christ’s (1 John 3:2–3).
The second and more ultimate goal of our predestination is “that Christ might be the firstborn among many brothers.” In other words, God aims to surround His Son with living images of Himself so that the preeminent excellency of the original will shine the more brightly in His images. The goals of predestination are (1) our delight in becoming holy as He is holy and (2) His delight in being exalted as preeminent over all in the midst of a transformed, joyful people.
But if the reward we long for is to behold and be like the preeminent Christ, then it would be a contradiction if the actions we choose were not morally consistent with the character of Christ. If we really are being attracted by the reward of being made holy as He is holy, then we will be attracted to those acts that partake of His holiness. If we delight in the prospect of knowing Christ even as we are known, we will delight in the sorts of acts and attitudes that reflect His moral character.
So in true Christian Hedonism there is an organic relationship between the love Christ commands and the reward He promises. It is never a mercenary affair in which we do what we despise to get what we enjoy. Jesus illustrates this
connection between act and reward in Luke 6:35:
“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Even though we should not care about human reward (“expecting nothing in return”), the Lord Himself gives us an incentive to love by promising His reward, namely, that we will be sons of the Most High. This sonship implies likeness (“for he is kind to the ungrateful”). So the command and the reward are one piece of fabric. The command is to love. The reward is to become like one who loves.
So it is important to emphasize, on the one hand, that the reward a Christian Hedonist pursues is the incomparable delight of being like God and LOV E loving what He loves with an intensity approaching His own (John 17:26). And it is important to emphasize, on the other hand, that the acts of love a Christian Hedonist performs are themselves therefore delightful in measure because they have about them the aroma of this final reward. This, as we saw, was also C. S.
Lewis’s point when he spoke of an activity’s “proper rewards,” which “are the activity in itself in consummation.”
LOVE LONGS POWER GRACEFOR THE OF One last question belongs to this chapter. I have defined love as the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. It will be practically helpful in conclusion to ask how this actually works in experience. What is the psychological process that moves us from joy in God to the actual deed of love?
We start with a miracle; namely, that I, a sinner, should delight in God! Not just in His material rewards, but in Him, in all His manifold excellencies! This conversion experience, as we saw, is the “creation” of a Christian Hedonist. Now how does practical love emerge from this heart of joy in God?
When the object of our delight is moral beauty, the longing to behold is inseparable from the longing to be. When the Holy Spirit awakens the heart of a person to delight in the holiness of God, an insatiable desire is born not only to behold that holiness, but also to be holy as God is holy. Our joy is incomplete if we can only stand outside beholding the glory of God, but are not allowed to share it. It is one thing for a little boy to cheer in the grandstands at a football game. But his joy is complete if he can go home and get a team together and actually play the game.
We don’t want to just see the grace of God in all its beauty, saving sinners and sanctifying saints. We want to share the power of that grace. We want to feel it saving.
We want to feel it conquer temptation in our lives. We want to feel it using us to save others. But why? Because our joy in God is insatiably greedy. The more we have, the more we want. The more we see, the more we want to see.
The more we feel, the more we want to feel.
This means that the holy greed for joy in God that wants to see and feel
more and more manifestations of His glory will push a person into love. My desire to feel the power of God’s grace conquering the pride and selfishness in my life inclines me to behavior that demonstrates the victory of grace, namely, love. Genuine love is so contrary to human nature that its presence bears witness to an extraordinary power. The Christian Hedonist pursues love because he is addicted to the experience of that power. He wants to feel more and more of the grace of God reigning in his life.
CONQUERING INTERNAL MOUNTAIN PRIDETHE OF There is an analogy here to a powerful motive that exists in unbelieving hearts as well. Virtually all people outside Christ are possessed by the desire to find happiness by overcoming some limitation in their lives and having the sensation of power. Heinrich Harrer, a member of the first team to climb the north wall of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps, confessed that his reason for attempting such a climb was to overcome a sense of insecurity. “Self-confidence,” he said, “is the most valuable gift a man can possess…but to possess this true confidence it is necessary to have learned to know oneself at moments when one was standing at the very frontier of things.… On the ‘Spider’ in the Eiger’s North Face, I experienced such borderline situations, while the avalanches were roaring down over us, endlessly.”10 The all-important difference between the non-Christian and the Christian Hedonist in this pursuit of joy is that the Christian Hedonist has discovered that self-confidence will never satisfy the longing of his heart to overcome finitude.
He has learned that what we are really made for is not the thrill of feeling our own power increase, but the thrill of feeling God’s power increase, conquering the precipices of un-love in our sinful hearts.
As I said in the letter to my friend Ronn, it is an indictment of our own worldliness that we feel more exhilaration when we conquer an external mountain of granite in our own strength than when we conquer the internal mountain of pride in God’s strength. The miracle of Christian Hedonism is that overQuoted in Daniel P. Fuller, Hermeneutics (Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1969), 7:4–5.
coming obstacles to love by the grace of God has become more enticing than every form of self-confidence. The joy of experiencing the power of God’s grace defeating selfishness is an insatiable addiction.