This is the second article in my series examining John Piper’s book Desiring God. The first article was co-written by myself and Doug from Coffeeswirls and can be found here. Today I am examining the first chapter of this book which is entitled The Happiness of God: Foundation for Christian Hedonism. You will recall that Christian Hedonism is the term Piper has given to his teaching that Christians are to desire pleasure above all else. The pleasure they are to seek is the pleasure that can be found in God. So today we will see that the happiness of God is the foundation upon which Christian Hedonism is built.
God is uppermost in His own affections. This is the truth that Christian Hedonism is founded upon. It would not be a stretch to adapt the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to read “the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.” God’s ultimate purpose is the same as ours’ – to glorify God! If God were to do anything else, He would commit idolatry for it would mean that He values something else more highly than Himself.
The first chapter of Desiring God provides the foundation for Christian Hedonism and this foundation is the happiness of God. If God is sovereign, He is able to do anything He pleases and His plans are impossible to frustrate. Even the evil that occurs in this world is part of God’s plan and happens only with God’s permission. If all of His plans succeed exactly the way He intended them to, He must be the happiest of all beings. Because God is always completely happy, we are able to drink from this fountain of God’s contentment.
How is it possible that God can see all of the sin and evil in this world and remain happy? Piper explains this using a metaphor he learned from Jonathan Edwards. He explains that God has the ability to see the world through two different lenses. Through a narrow lens He sees the acts of men and is angered and saddened by sin and pain. However, he can also see events through the wide lens which shows the events in relation to their eternal purposes. Through this view he is able to delight in his own sovereignty. A mosaic may appear ugly when one can see only a few of the pieces, but when seen through the wide angle it comes into perspective and displays its beauty. So it is with God’s plans. Seen in isolation they may be confusing and even appear ugly, but when seen from the proper perspective they show His wisdom and sovereignty.
Perhaps the greatest example of this is in the crucifixion of Jesus. The Bible tells us several times that it was God’s plan that Jesus be murdered and suffer God’s wrath on the cross. Acts 4:27-28 describes the prayer of the earliest Christians: “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.” The characters involved in that act of terrible injustice were simply playing a part in the drama that God had foreordained must take place. While God committed no sin, He did decree that sin take place in order to further His plans.
God, then, delights in Himself and in His own glory. In all He does He seeks to further display His magnificence. Since His plans never fail, everything He does succeeds in bringing glory to Himself which in turn brings Him pleasure. God created humans so they could bring Him glory. “All of God’s works culminate in the praise of His redeemed people. The climax of God’s happiness is the delight He takes in the echoes of His excellence in the praise of His saints.” (page 50) So God’s greatest joy is in hearing His chosen people praise Him. At the same time, praise is our expression of the fullness of joy we find in Him. So when God pursues praise from us and we pursue pleasure in Him, we are, in reality, pursuing the same thing.
I hesitate to draw too much application from what I have learned so far, for I am sure that in the next 10 chapters Piper will explain more fully and help me to draw application from Scripture. I am intrigued by the logic he uses to reach the conclusion that God’s pursuit of praise from me and my pursuit of pleasure from Him are one in the same. It is awesome to think that God’s greatest delight is in my praise. How I wish I could say with all honesty that my greatest pleasure is in doing just that. Though I do love to praise God, I cannot say that it is always my greatest pleasure. I strive to love praising God and look forward to the time when I will stand before God’s throne and find my joy and purpose in praising Him perfectly for all of eternity!