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DESIRING GODMEDITATIONS OF A CHRISTIAN HEDONIST
By JOHN PIPER
MULTNOMAH BOOKSCopyright © 1996 John Piper
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Happiness of God
Foundation for Christian Hedonism
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The ultimate ground of Christian Hedonism is the fact that God is uppermost in his own affections:
The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever.
The reason this may sound strange is that we are more accustomed to think about our duty than God's design. And when we do ask about God's design we are too prone to describe it with ourselves at the center of God's affections. We may say, for example, his design is to redeem the world. Or to save sinners. Or to restore creation. Or the like.
But God's saving designs are penultimate, not ultimate. Redemption, salvation, and restoration are not God's ultimate goal. These he performs for the sake of something greater: namely, the enjoyment he has in glorifying himself. The bedrock foundation of Christian Hedonism is not God's allegiance to us, but to himself.
If God were not infinitely devoted to the preservation, display, and enjoyment of his own glory, we could have no hope of finding happiness in him. But if he does in fact employ all his sovereign power and infinite wisdom to maximize the enjoyment of his own glory, then we have a foundation on which to stand and rejoice.
I knowthis is perplexing at first glance. So I will try to take it apart a piece at a time, and then put it back together at the end of the chapter.
God's Sovereignty: The Foundation of His Happiness and Ours
God has the right and power and wisdom to do whatever makes him happy. None of his purposes can be frustrated. Therefore, he is never deficient or needy. He is never gloomy or discouraged. He is always full and overflowingly energetic for the sake of his people who seek their happiness in him.
"Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases" (Psalm 115:3). The implication of this text is that God has the right and power to do whatever makes him happy. That is what it means to say God is sovereign.
Think about it for a moment: If God is sovereign and can do anything he pleases, then none of his purposes can be frustrated.
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nought; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. (Psalm 33:10-11)
And if none of his purposes can be frustrated, then he must be the happiest of all beings. This infinite, divine happiness is the fountain from which the Christian Hedonist drinks and longs to drink more deeply.
Can you imagine what it would be like if the God who ruled the world were not happy? What if God were given to grumbling and pouting and depression like some Jack-and-the-beanstalk giant in the sky? What if God were frustrated and despondent and gloomy and dismal and discontented and dejected? Could we join David and say, "O God, thou art my God, I seek thee; my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is" (Psalm 63:1)?
I don't think so. We would all relate to God like little children who have a frustrated, gloomy, dismal, discontented father. They can't enjoy him. They can only try not to bother him, and maybe try to work for him to earn some little favor.
Therefore if God is not a happy God, Christian Hedonism has no foundation. For the aim of the Christian Hedonist is to be happy in God to delight in God, to cherish and enjoy his fellowship and favor. But children cannot enjoy the fellowship of their father if he is unhappy. Therefore the foundation of Christian Hedonism is the happiness of God.
But the foundation of the happiness of God is the sovereignty of God: "Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases." If God were not sovereign if the world he made were out of control, frustrating his design again and again-God would not be happy.
Just as our joy is based on the promise that God is strong enough and wise enough to make all things work together for our good, so God's joy is based on that same sovereign control: He makes all things work together for his glory.
If so much hangs on God's sovereignty we should make sure the biblical basis for it is secure.
The Biblical Basis of God's Sovereign Happiness
God says, "My counsel will stand and I will accomplish all my purpose." Therefore Job says, "No purpose of yours can be thwarted." His purposes encompass all things, including sin. Thus the crucifixion of Christ was the will of God, even though it was the greatest sin ever committed. "The lot is cast in the lap, but every decision is from the Lord."
The sheer fact that God is God implies that his purposes cannot be Thwarted-so says the prophet Isaiah:
"I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'" (Isaiah 46:9-10)
The purposes of God cannot be frustrated; there is none like God. If a purpose of God came to nought it would imply that there is a power greater than God's. It would imply that someone could stay his hand when he designs to do a thing. But "none can stay his hand"-as Nebuchadnezzar says:
His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing; and he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What are you doing?" (Daniel 4:34-35)
His Sovereignty Covers Calamities
This was also Job's final confession after God had spoken to him out of the whirlwind: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). "Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases."
This raises the question whether the evil and calamitous events in the world are also part of God's sovereign design. Jeremiah looks over the carnage of Jerusalem after its destruction and cries,
My eyes are spent with weeping; my soul is in tumult; my heart is poured out in grief because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city. (Lamentations 2:11)
But when he looked to God he could not deny the truth:
Who has commanded and it came to pass, unless the Lord has ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come? (Lamentations 3:37-38)
"Shall We Receive Good at the Hand of the Lord and Not Evil?"
If God reigns as sovereign over the world, then the evil of the world is not outside his design. "Does evil befall a city, unless the Lord has done it?" (Amos 3:6).
This was the reverent saying of God's servant Job when he was afflicted with boils: "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). He said this even though the text says plainly that "Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and afflicted Job with loathsome sores" (Job 2:7). Was Job wrong to attribute to God what came from Satan? No, because the writer tells us immediately after Job's words, "In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:10).
The evil Satan causes is only by the permission of God. Therefore Job is not wrong to see it as ultimately from the hand of God. It would be unbiblical and irreverent to attribute to Satan (or to sinful man) the power to frustrate the designs of God.
Who Planned the Murder of Christ?
The clearest example that even moral evil fits into the designs of God is the crucifixion of Christ. Who would deny that the betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act?
Yet in Acts 2:23, Peter says, "This, Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." The betrayal was sin, but it was part of God's ordained plan. Sin did not thwart his plan or stay his hand.
Or who would say that Herod's contempt (Luke 23:11) or Pilate's spineless expediency (Luke 23:24) or the Jews' "Crucify! Crucify him!" (Luke 23:21) or the Gentile soldiers' mockery (Luke 23:36)-who would say that these were not sin? Yet Luke in Acts 4:27-28 records the prayer of the saints:
"Truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place."
People lift their hand to rebel against the Most High only to find that their rebellion is unwitting service in the wonderful designs of God. Even sin cannot frustrate the purposes of the Almighty. He himself does not commit sin, but he has decreed that there be acts which are sin-for the acts of Pilate and Herod were predestined by God's plan.
God Turns It Wherever He Will
Similarly, when we come to the end of the New Testament and to the end of history in the Revelation of John, we find God in complete control of all the evil kings who wage war. In Revelation 17, John speaks of a harlot sitting on a beast with ten horns. The harlot is Rome, drunk with the blood of the saints; the beast is the antichrist and the ten horns are ten kings "who give over their power and authority to the beast ... [and] make war on the Lamb."
But are these evil kings outside God's control? Are they frustrating God's designs? Far from it. They are unwittingly doing his bidding. "For God has put it in their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled" (Revelation 17:17). No one on earth can escape the sovereign control of God: "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (Proverbs 21:1; cf. Ezra 6:22).
The evil intentions of men cannot frustrate the decrees of God. This is the point of the story of Joseph's fall and rise in Egypt. His brothers sold him into slavery. Potiphar's wife slandered him into the dungeon. Pharaoh's butler forgot him in prison for two years. Where was God in all this sin and misery? Joseph answers in Genesis 50:20. He says to his guilty brothers, "As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today."
The hardened disobedience of men's hearts leads not to the frustration of God's plans, but to their fruition.
Consider the hardness of heart in Romans 11:25-26. "Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: A hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved." Who is governing the coming and going of this hardness of heart so that it has a particular limit and then gives way at the appointed time to the certain salvation of "all Israel"?
Or consider the disobedience in Romans 11:31. Paul speaks to his Gentile readers about Israel's disobedience in rejecting their Messiah: "So they [Israel] have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you [Gentiles] they also may receive mercy." When Paul says Israel was disobedient in order that Gentiles might get the benefits of the gospel, whose purpose does he have in mind?
It could only be God's. For Israel certainly did not conceive of their disobedience as a way of blessing the Gentiles or winning mercy for themselves in such a roundabout fashion! Is not then the point of Romans 11:31 that God rules over the disobedience of Israel and turns it precisely to the purposes he has planned?
There Is No Such Thing As Mere Coincidence
God's sovereignty over men's affairs is not compromised even by the reality of sin and evil in the world. It is not limited to the good acts of men or the pleasant events of nature. The wind belongs to God whether it comforts or whether it kills.
For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses. (Psalm 135:5-7)
In the end, one must finally come to see that if there is a God in heaven, there is no such thing as mere coincidence, not even in the smallest affairs of life: "The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord" (Proverbs 16:33). Not one sparrow "will fall to the ground without your Father's will" (Matthew 10:29).
The Struggle and Solution of Jonathan Edwards
How can God be happy and decree calamity? Consider that he has the capacity to view the world through two lenses. Through the narrow one he is grieved and angered at sin and pain. Through the wide one he sees evil in relation to its eternal purposes. Reality is like a mosaic. The parts may be ugly in themselves, But the whole is beautiful.
Many of us have gone through a period of deep struggle with the doctrine of God's sovereignty. If we take our doctrines into our hearts where they belong, they can cause upheavals of emotion and sleepless nights. This is far better than toying with academic ideas that never touch real life. The possibility at least exists that out of the upheavals will come a new era of calm and confidence.
It has happened for many of us the way it did for Jonathan Edwards. Edwards was a pastor and a profound theologian in New England in the early 1700s. He was a leader in the First Great Awakening. His major works still challenge great minds of our day. His extraordinary combination of logic and love make him a deeply moving writer. Again and again when I am dry and weak, I pull down my collection of Edwards's works and stir myself up with one of his sermons.
He recounts the struggle he had with the doctrine of God's sovereignty:
From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God's sovereignty.... It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God....
But never could I give an account, how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God's Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections.
And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God's sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense.... I have often since had not only a conviction but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.
Excerpted from DESIRING GOD by JOHN PIPER Copyright © 1996 by John Piper
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.