The Happiness of God
(On Chapter 1 of John Piper’s Desiring God)
In lending commentary to someone else’s book there are three dangers. The first is misunderstanding. Pastor Piper has already warned us about this in his introduction (27). The second is overcomplicating what is being said. In working on this project I have tried to put myself in Pastor Piper’s shoes and pretend that there would be some possibility that he would read my posts. What if he read my posts and was frustrated by them? What if he was frustrated by the fact that I am trying to write a “laymen’s guide” when he felt his book was “laymen enough” as it stood on its own two feet? The third danger is worse than the first two. It is the danger of changing what is being said. Whether that be change from dumbing down the text, or change birthed from misunderstanding, or change birthed in disagreement, it is straying from the author’s intent; an offense of which I do not desire to be guilty.
Yet in reading chapter 1 of John Piper’s Desiring God, “The Happiness of God” I believe I am safe to say that I know exactly how you feel. Your mind is in knots, as is your soul. Your theological foundations are experiencing aftershocks. You are frustrated. You are afraid. You are seriously considering bouncing this book off the floor. Hang on.
One reason you may be frustrated is because we have come to believe that books are not supposed to make us think. Books are supposed to tell us what someone else thinks and we simply vote, “yea” or “nay.” But Piper is talking about someone infinitely important to us, God. Furthermore, he is dialoging with us on paper. His style is to walk us through all of our various mental roadblocks, fears, and frustrations. He forces us to think. Just at the moment we are about to “bounce the book”, he calls for us to think through our objections. For example, Piper shared with us the frustrations of Jonathan Edwards over the sovereignty of God. Your experience here is not unique. Contemplating the sovereignty of God from an autonomous soul is difficult. We believe we are autonomous, sovereigns of our own destiny, and that we provide the wind for our own sails. To hear that God is sovereign is the loss of autonomy and we become fearful. Like Edwards, our mind is “full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty (38).” From my own experience I did not understand worship, I did not trust in the security of my salvation, and my soul had no peace in such an evil world until I wrestled through and came to rest upon God’s sovereignty. Does this mean I, or Edwards, or even Piper fully understands it all without questions? It is naïve to think that anyone could exhaust all of the questions. We do not need to have all of our questions answered before we believe and trust certain things. We do it every day. Yet I think it is important that we at least get to the place Piper presses us toward, the place where Edwards found rest, “Edwards did not claim to exhaust the mystery here. But he does help us find a possible way of avoiding outright contradiction while being faithful to the Scripture (39).” Let’s agree to do the same.
It is critical, despite how we feel, to make sure that our faith does not rest in ideas that are in “outright contradiction” with Scripture. Last night, while listening to Christian radio, I heard a man say, “God needs you.” On the surface his statement sounds so evangelistic, inviting, and perhaps even Biblical, but it is an “outright contradiction” with Scripture. God does not need us. This is the point of Piper’s first chapter. God’s ultimate delight is not in us, but in Himself. He does not seek our glory, but His own. He does not need us. He does not exist because we believe and He is not glorious because we said so. Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 - as does the entirety of the Biblical corpses replete with the failures of man - proves God does not need us. Yet it is the ego-centric, humanistic, shallow, heretical theology that we cling to that helps us become so comfortable with making statements like, “God needs you,” without any fear of being in “outright contradiction” with Scripture.
So what are the meat and potatoes here?
1) With this chapter I believe Piper finds a better place to start. I would insert his opening refrain that, “God is uppermost in His own affections” as precept #1 back on page 28. For me, beginning the argument here helps to qualify and define the rest.
2) Everyone struggles with the sovereignty of God. We truly struggle with the idea of a prideful God. In seeking His own glory is God a “second-hander (46)?” God being selfish for seeking his own glory makes for a seemingly egotistical God; which for humans is very hard to stomach. Yet Piper dialogues with our troubled soul and walks us through the complaints and questions (45).
3) What if God did not seek His own glory? We would find no place for true joy and He would be unrighteous (47). This goes back to my argument from a negative that I discovered in Appendix 5. If I do not place God uppermost in my own affections then He is not my God. I have made a god out of whatever I take most pleasure in. If God did not seek His own glory, I would be more interested to know what it is He seeks, than I am in Him. I would then be given to pursue that which satisfies God – thus, He would no longer be God and I would not find a place for true joy in Him. What if God did need us and sought to delight Himself in man? If He sought the glory of man before His own, then I would worship man; that would be miserable, not joyful.
4) It is not as important for us to satisfy all of our questions as it is for us to make sure we are not in “outright contradiction” with Scripture. Even so, this is a tough pill to swallow, especially when you find that you enjoyed a phrase on the radio that sounded orthodox but was outright heretical. It is also a tough pill to swallow when you find that you cannot supply the wind for your own sails. Demoting the self and resting in the sovereignty of another is not initially delightful, but it is, in Piper’s argument the only path to the proper place of the soul.