Desiring God by John Piper
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, that 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 know this 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
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that 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 that 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 nothing; he frustrates
the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the
plans 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, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where
there is no water” (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, or 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 all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). 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 FOR GOD’S SOVEREIGN HAPPINESS1
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 naught, 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:
1. For a much fuller defense of God’s sovereignty in all that He does, see John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 2000), 47–75, 121–55 and The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1–23 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1993). See also Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan), 315–54; John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, Theology of Lordship Series (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2002), 47–79, 274–88, 313–39, and the relevant chapters in Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000).
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 among the host
of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay
his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (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 all that 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 stomach churns; my bile is poured
out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my
people, because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city.
But when he looked to God, he could not deny the truth:
Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded
it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?
“SHALL WE RECEIVE GOOD FROM GOD AND NOT EVIL?”
If God reigns as sovereign over the world, then the evil of the world is not outside
His design: “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?”
This was the reverent saying of God’s servant Job when he was afflicted with
boils: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).
He said this even though the text says plainly that “Satan went out from the presence
of the LORD and struck 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 your holy servant
Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with
the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and
your 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 that are sin,2 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 “hand over their
power and authority to the beast…[and] make war on the Lamb” (vv. 13–14).
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 into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and
handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are 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, brothers: a partial
hardening has come upon Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come
in. And in this way all Israel will be saved.” Who is governing the coming and
2. For an explanation and defense of this statement, see appendix 3, “Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained That Evil Be? Jonathan Edwards on the Divine Decrees.”
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] too have
now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you [Gentiles] they also
may now receive mercy.” When Paul says that 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 its every decision is from the LORD”
(Proverbs 16:33). Not one sparrow “will fall to the ground without your Father’s
will” (Matthew 10:29, RSV).
THE STRUGGLE AND SOLUTION OF JONATHAN EDWARDS
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.3
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.4
3. The most accessible version of Edwards’s works is The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2 vols., published both by Banner of Truth and Hendrickson. The complete works are being published in individual volumes by Yale University Press.
4. Jonathan Edwards, “Personal Narrative,” in Jonathan Edwards: Representative Selections, ed. C. H. Faust and T. H. Johnson (New York: Hill & Wang, 1962), 58–9.
It is not surprising, then, that Jonathan Edwards struggled earnestly and
deeply with the problem that stands before us now. How can we affirm the
happiness of God on the basis of His sovereignty when much of what God
permits in the world is contrary to His own commands in Scripture? How
can we say God is happy when there is so much sin and misery in the world?
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 Scriptures. To put it in my own words, he said that the infinite complexity
of the divine mind is such that God has the capacity to look at the world
through two lenses. He can look through a narrow lens or through a wideangle
When God looks at a painful or wicked event through His narrow lens, He
sees the tragedy of the sin for what it is in itself, and He is angered and grieved: “I
have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 18:32).
But when God looks at a painful or wicked event through His wide-angle
lens, He sees the tragedy of the sin in relation to everything leading up to it and
everything flowing out from it. He sees it in relation to all the connections and
effects that form a pattern, or mosaic, stretching into eternity. This mosaic in all
its parts—good and evil—brings Him delight.5
5. Edwards treats this problem by distinguishing two kinds of willing in God (which is implied in what I have said). God’s “will of command” (or revealed will) is what He commands in Scripture (Thou shalt not kill, etc.). His “will of decree” (or secret will, or sovereign will) is what He infallibly brings to pass in the world. Edwards’s words are complex, but they are worth the effort if you love the deep things of God:
When a distinction is made between God’s revealed will and his secret will, or his will of command and decree, “will” is certainly in that distinction taken in two senses. His will of decree, is not his will in the same sense as his will of command is. Therefore, it is no difficulty at all to suppose, that the one may be otherwise than the other: his will in both senses is his inclination. But when we say he wills virtue, or loves virtue, or the happiness of his creature; thereby is intended, that virtue, or the creature’s happiness, absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature. His will of decree is his inclination to a thing, not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with respect to the universality of things, that have been, are, or shall be. So God, though he hates a thing as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things. Though he hates sin in itself, yet he may will to permit it, for the greater promotion of holiness in this universality, including all things, and at all times. So, though he has no inclination to a creature’s misery, considered absolutely, yet he may will it, for the greater promotion of happiness in this universality.
Jonathan Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 527–8.
“IT WAS THE WILL OF THE LORD TO CRUSH HIM”
For example, the death of Christ was the will and work of God the Father.
Isaiah writes, “We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God.… It was the will of
the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (53:4, 10). Yet surely, as God
the Father saw the agony of His beloved Son and the wickedness that brought
Him to the cross, He did not delight in those things in themselves (viewed
through the narrow lens). Sin in itself, and the suffering of the innocent, is
abhorrent to God.
Nevertheless, according to Hebrews 2:10, God the Father thought it was
fitting to perfect the Pioneer of our salvation through suffering. God willed
what He abhorred. He abhorred it in the narrow-lens view, but not in the
wide-angle view of eternity. When the universality of things was considered, the
death of the Son of God was seen by the Father as a magnificent way to
demonstrate His righteousness (Romans 3:25–26) and bring His people to
glory (Hebrews 2:10) and keep the angels praising Him forever and ever
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.
GOD’S HAPPINESS IS IN HIMSELF
I began this chapter by saying that 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.
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.
GOD DELIGHTS IN HIS GLORY
In appendix 1, I present a brief survey of the high points of redemptive history
in order to discover God’s ultimate goal in all He does. Jonathan Edwards has
written the best book on the subject, The End for Which God Created the World.7
If what follows seems out of sync with Scripture, I urge you to examine the supporting
evidence in appendix 1 or in Edwards’s book.
My conclusion is that God’s own glory is uppermost in His own 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
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 IN THE GLORY OF HIS SON
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”
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
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 IN THE GLORY OF HIS WORK
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 FOR US OR FOR HIMSELF?
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.
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
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 OR LOVING TO COMMAND OUR PRAISE?
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 A SECOND-HANDER?
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
some deficiency. He may look, at first glance, like one of the second-handers,
but He is not like them, and the superficial similarity must be explained another
“LOVE SEEKS NOT ITS OWN”—EXCEPT IN THE JOY OF OTHERS
The second reason people stumble over the teaching that God exalts His own
glory and seeks to be praised by His people is that the Bible teaches us not to be
like that. For example, the Bible says that love “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians
13:5, NASB). How can God be loving and yet be utterly devoted to “seeking
His own” glory and praise and joy? How can God be for us if He is so
utterly for Himself?
The answer I propose is this: Because God is unique as an all-glorious,
totally self-sufficient Being, He must be for Himself if He is to be for us. The
rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its
Creator. If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He
would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He
would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would
This would be no gain for us. For where can we go when our God has
become unrighteous? Where will we find a Rock of integrity in the universe
when the heart of God has ceased to value supremely the supremely valuable?
Where shall we turn with our adoration when God Himself has forsaken the
claims of infinite worth and beauty?
No, we do not turn God’s self-exaltation into love by demanding that God
cease to be God. Instead, we must come to see that God is love precisely because
He relentlessly pursues the praises of His name in the hearts of His people.
DELIGHT IS INCOMPLETE UNTIL IT IS EXPRESSED
Consider this question: In view of God’s infinite power and wisdom and beauty,
what would His love for a human being involve? Or to put it another way:
What could God give us to enjoy that would prove Him most loving? There is
only one possible answer: Himself! If He withholds Himself from our contemplation
and companionship, no matter what else He gives us, He is not loving.
Now we are on the brink of what for me was a life-changing discovery.
What do we all do when we are given or shown something beautiful or excellent?
We praise it! We praise new little babies: “Oh, look at that nice round head!
And all that hair! And her hands! Aren’t they perfect?” We praise a lover after a
long absence: “Your eyes are like a cloudless sky! Your hair like forest silk!” We
praise a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth when we are down by three. We
praise the October trees along the banks of the St. Croix.
But the great discovery for me, as I said, came while I was reading “A Word
about Praise” in C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms. His recorded thoughts—
born from wrestling with the idea that God not only wants our praise, but commands
it—bear looking at again, in fuller form:
But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or any
thing—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment,
approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment
spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if ) shyness
or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The
world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their
favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their
favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses,
colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains,
rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had
not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced
and capacious, minds praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise
whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in
praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that
magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing
what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole,
more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my
absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we
delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not
merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.
It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one
another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is
There is the solution! We praise what we enjoy because the delight is
incomplete until it is expressed in praise. If we were not allowed to speak of
what we value and celebrate what we love and praise what we admire, our joy
would not be full. So if God loves us enough to make our joy full, He must not
only give us Himself; He must also win from us the praise of our hearts—not
because He needs to shore up some weakness in Himself or compensate for
some deficiency, but because He loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that
can be found only in knowing and praising Him, the most magnificent of all
Beings. If He is truly for us, He must be for Himself!
God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking His own praise is
the ultimately loving act. For Him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When
He does all things “for the praise of His glory,” He preserves for us and offers to
us the only thing in all the world that can satisfy our longings. God is for us!
And the foundation of this love is that God has been, is now, and always will be
God is absolutely sovereign. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he
pleases” (Psalm 115:3). Therefore He is not frustrated. He rejoices in all His
works when He contemplates them as colors of the magnificent mosaic of
12. C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958), 93–5.
redemptive history. He is an unshakably happy God.
His happiness is the delight He has in Himself. Before creation, He rejoiced
in the image of His glory in the person of His Son. Then the joy of God “went
public” in the works of creation and redemption. These works delight the heart
of God because they reflect His glory. He does everything He does to preserve
and display that glory, for in this His soul rejoices.
All the works of God culminate in the praises of His redeemed people. The
climax of His happiness is the delight He takes in the echoes of His excellence in
the praises of the saints. This praise is the consummation of our own joy in
God. Therefore, God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in
Him are the same pursuit. This is the great gospel! This is the foundation of
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,
which a man found and covered up.
Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has
and buys that field.”
If I were to ask you why you have believed in Christ,
why you have become Christians, every man will answer truly,
“For the sake of happiness.”