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Therefore, when I say that the sovereignty of God is the foundation of His happiness, I do not ignore or minimize the anger and grief God can express against evil. But neither do I infer from this wrath and sorrow that God is a frustrated God who cannot keep His creation under control. He has designed from all eternity, and is infallibly forming with every event, a magnificent mosaic of redemptive history.6 The contemplation of this mosaic (with both its dark and bright tiles) fills His heart with joy.
And if our Father’s heart is full of deep and unshakable happiness, we may be sure that when we seek our happiness in Him, we will not find Him “out of sorts” when we come. We will not find a frustrated, gloomy, irritable Father who wants to be left alone, but a Father whose heart is so full of joy that it spills over onto all those (Christian Hedonists) who are thirsty.
6. The term redemptive history simply refers to the history of God’s acts recorded in the Bible. It is called redemptive history not because it isn’t real history, but because it is history viewed from the perspective of God’s redeeming purpose.
What we have seen so far is that God is absolutely sovereign over the world, that He can therefore do anything He pleases, and that He is therefore not a frustrated God, but a deeply happy God, rejoicing in all His works (Psalm 104:31) when He considers them in relation to redemptive history.
What we have not yet seen is how this unshakable happiness of God is indeed a happiness in Himself. We have seen that God has the sovereign power to do whatever He pleases, but we have not yet seen specifically what it is that pleases Him.
Why is it that contemplating the mosaic of redemptive history delights the heart of God? Is this not idolatry—for God to delight in something other than Himself?
So now we must ask: What does make God happy? What is it about redemptive history that delights the heart of God? The way to answer this question is to survey what God pursues in all His works. If we could discover what one thing God pursues in everything He does, we would know what He delights in most. We would know what is uppermost in His affections.
7. Reprinted in its entirety in John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1998).
In everything He does, His purpose is to preserve and display that glory. To say that His own glory is uppermost in His own affections means that He puts a greater value on it than on anything else. He delights in His glory above all things.
Glory is not easy to define. It is like beauty. How would you define beauty? Some things we have to point at rather than define. But let me try.
God’s glory is the beauty of His manifold perfections. It can refer to the bright and awesome radiance that sometimes breaks forth in visible manifestations.
Or it can refer to the infinite moral excellence of His character. In either case it signifies a reality of infinite greatness and worth. C. S. Lewis helps us with his
own effort to point at it:
Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one. I do not see how the “fear” of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential efforts to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags.8 God’s ultimate goal therefore is to preserve and display His infinite and awesome greatness and worth, that is, His glory.
God has many other goals in what He does. But none of them is more ultimate than this. They are all subordinate. God’s overwhelming passion is to exalt the value of His glory. To that end, He seeks to display it, to oppose those who belittle it, and to vindicate it from all contempt. It is clearly the uppermost reality in His affections. He loves His glory infinitely.
This is the same as saying: He loves himself infinitely. Or: He Himself is uppermost in His own affections. A moment’s reflection reveals the inexorable justice of this fact. God would be unrighteous (just as we would) if He valued anything more than what is supremely valuable. But He Himself is supremely
8. Quoted from The Four Loves, in A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis, ed. Clyde Kilby (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 202.
valuable. If He did not take infinite delight in the worth of His own glory, He would be unrighteous. For it is right to take delight in a person in proportion to the excellence of that person’s glory.
GOD DELIGHTS GLORY HIS SONIN THE OF Another moment’s reflection reminds us that this is exactly what we affirm when we affirm the eternal divinity of God’s Son. We stand at the foothills of mystery in all these things. But the Scriptures have given us some glimpses of the heights. They teach us that the Son of God is Himself God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
Therefore, when the Father beheld the Son from all eternity, He was beholding the exact representation of Himself. As Hebrews 1:3 (RSV) says, the Son “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature.” And 2 Corinthians 4:4 (RSV) speaks of “the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.” From these texts we learn that through all eternity God the Father has beheld the image of His own glory perfectly represented in the person of His Son. Therefore, one of the best ways to think about God’s infinite enjoyment of His own glory is to think of it as the delight He has in His Son, who is the perfect reflection of that glory (John 17:24–26).
When Christ entered the world and proceeded to fulfill all righteousness, God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). As God the Father contemplates the image of His own glory in the person of His Son, He is infinitely happy. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (Isaiah 42:1).
Within the triune Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), God has been uppermost in His own affections for all eternity. This belongs to His very nature, for He has begotten and loved the Son from all eternity. Therefore, God has been supremely and eternally happy in the fellowship of the Trinity.9
GOD DELIGHTS GLORY HIS WORKIN THE OF In creation, God “went public”10 with the glory that reverberates joyfully between the Father and the Son. There is something about the fullness of God’s joy that inclines it to overflow. There is an expansive quality to His joy. It wants to share itself. The impulse to create the world was not from weakness, as though God were lacking in some perfection that creation could supply. “It is no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain, that it is inclined to overflow.”11 God loves to behold His glory reflected in His works. So the eternal happiness of the triune God spilled over in the work of creation and redemption. And since this original happiness was God’s delight in His own glory, therefore the happiness that He has in all His works of creation and redemption is nothing other than a delight in His own glory. This is why God has done all things, from creation to consummation, for the preservation and display of His glory. All His works are simply the spillover of His infinite exuberance for His own excellence.
IS GOD US HIMSELF?
FOR OR FOR But now the question arises: If God is so utterly enamored of His own glory, how can He be a God of love? If He unwaveringly does all things for His
9. If one should ask what place the Holy Spirit has in this understanding of the Trinity, I would direct attention to two works of Jonathan Edwards: “Treatise on Grace” and “An Essay on the Trinity.” He
sums up his understanding of the Trinity in these words:
And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence. The Son is the deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct persons.
Jonathan Edwards, “An Essay on the Trinity,” in Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writings, ed. Paul Helm (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1971), 118.
In other words, the Holy Spirit is the delight that the Father and the Son have in each other, and He carries in Himself so fully all the essence of the Father and the Son that He Himself stands forth as a third Person in His own right.
Jonathan Edwards, “Treatise on Grace,” in Treatise on Grace, 63.
10. I borrow this phrase from Daniel Fuller’s book The Unity of the Bible: Unfolding God’s Plan for Humanity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992). See especially chapters 8 and 9.
11. Edwards, “Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 102. This “Dissertation” is of immense value in handling the whole question of God’s goal in history. For the complete text, as well as footnotes to aid your study, see Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory.
THE HAPPINESS OF GOD
own sake, how then can we have any hope that He will do anything for our sake? Does not the apostle say, “[Love] does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NASB)?
Now we begin to see how the issue of God’s happiness can make or break the philosophy of Christian Hedonism. If God were so self-centered that He had no inclination to love His creatures, then Christian Hedonism would be dead. Christian Hedonism depends on the open arms of God. It depends on the readiness of God to accept and save and satisfy the heart of all who seek their joy in Him. But if God is on an ego trip and out of reach, then it is in vain that we pursue our happiness in Him.
Is God for us or for Himself? It is precisely in answering this question that we will discover the great foundation for Christian Hedonism.
IS HE VAIN LOVING COMMAND OUR PRAISE?
OR TO The Bible is replete with commands to praise God. God commands it because this is the ultimate goal of all He does—“to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). Three times in Ephesians 1 this great aim is proclaimed: “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons…to the praise of the glory of His grace” (vv. 4–6, NASB); we have been predestined and appointed to “be to the praise of His glory” (v. 12, NASB);
the Holy Spirit “is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (v. 14).
All the different ways God has chosen to display His glory in creation and redemption seem to reach their culmination in the praises of His redeemed people. God governs the world with glory precisely that He might be admired, marveled at, exalted, and praised. The climax of His happiness is the delight He takes in the echoes of His excellence in the praises of the saints.
But again and again I have found that people stumble over this truth.
People do not like to hear that God is uppermost in His own affections, or that He does all things for His own glory, or that He exalts Himself and seeks the praise of men.
Why? There are at least two reasons. One is that we just don’t like people
who are like that. The other is that the Bible teaches us not to be like that. Let’s examine these objections and see if they can apply to God.
IS GOD SECOND-HANDER?
A First, we just don’t like people who seem to be enamored with their own intelligence or strength or skill or good looks or wealth. We don’t like scholars who try to show off their specialized knowledge or recite for us all their recent publications. We don’t like businessmen who talk about how shrewdly they have invested their money and how they stayed right on top of the market to get in low and out high. We don’t like children to play one-upmanship (Mine’s bigger!
Mine’s faster! Mine’s prettier!). And unless we are one of them, we disapprove of men and women who dress not functionally and simply, but to attract attention with the latest style.
Why don’t we like all that? I think at root it’s because such people are inauthentic. They are what Ayn Rand calls “second-handers.” They don’t live from the joy that comes through achieving what they value for its own sake. Instead, they live secondhand from the compliments of others. They have one eye on their action and one on their audience. We simply do not admire second-handers. We admire people who are secure and composed enough that they don’t need to shore up their weaknesses and compensate for their deficiencies by trying to get compliments.
It stands to reason, then, that any teaching that puts God in the category of a second-hander will be unacceptable to Christians. And for many, the teaching that God seeks to show off His glory and get the praise of men does in fact put Him in the category of a second-hander. But should it?
One thing is certain: God is not weak and has no deficiencies: “From him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). He is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Everything that exists owes its existence to Him, and no one can add anything to Him that is not already flowing from Him. Therefore, God’s zeal to seek His own glory and to be praised by men cannot be owing to His need to shore up some weakness or compensate for