November 23, 2012

Happy and Holy

by Mike Riccardi

The End for which God Created the WorldOn Wednesday, Jesse highlighted John Piper’s book, God’s Passion for His Glory, half of which is written by Piper, and the other half of which consists of Jonathan Edwards’ Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World. As I mentioned in the thread on Wednesday, this book from Edwards—along with very helpful explanatory notes from Piper along the way—changed my life as well as Jesse’s, though neither of us knew the other existed at the times we read it. While studying this gem from Edwards through a summer with my closest brothers and sisters in the Lord, we discovered that a great majority of our “God-centeredness” (i.e., our desire for God to be glorified in all things) stemmed from a more foundational man-centeredness. We were happy to be God-centered as long as He was man-centered. We were happy to be all about Him—as long as He was all about us.

The point that this insightful book drives home, for those who have ears to hear, is that it is not only Christians who are to be God-centered, but that God Himself is God-centered. He is uppermost in His own affections, not us. And the genius of the book hinges on explaining why that fact is more loving and beneficial to us than if it were false.

As you read Wednesday’s post, you’ll notice that many of the 15 implications of God’s God-centeredness which Piper listed are based upon a premise. Piper states that premise in Implication #1: “God’s passion for his own glory and his passion for my joy in him are not at odds.” He goes on to base Implications #2, 4, 8, 11, and 15 on this reiterated premise: that “the exhibition of God’s glory and the deepest joy of human souls are one thing.” And on that premise hang some of the most glorious gifts of God to humanity. Read Wednesday’s post to see what they are.

Today, I thought it would be helpful to highlight the portion of the book in which Edwards proves that this premise is both biblical and reasonable. The book is truly brimming with Scripture passages that hammer this point home. The cumulative case is overwhelming, and won’t fit neatly into my blog post. Please do take the time to pick up the book and read it for yourself, slowly.

In the meantime, here’s Edwards’ reasoning, supporting the claim that, “God’s respect to the creature’s good, and His respect to Himself, is not a divided respect; but both are united in one;” or, as Piper puts it, that, “the exhibition of God’s glory and the deepest joy of human souls are one thing.” Take it in.

Edwards PortraitBecause [God] infinitely values his own glory, consisting in the knowledge of Himself, love to Himself, and complacence and joy in Himself, He therefore valued the image, communication, or participation of these in the creature.

And it is because He values Himself that He delights in the knowledge, and love, and joy of the creature; as being Himself the object of this knowledge, love and complacence.

Thus it is easy to conceive how God should seek the good of the creature, consisting in the creature’s knowledge and holiness, and even his happiness, from a supreme regard to Himself; as his happiness arises from that which is an image and participation of God’s own beauty. …

[Thus] God’s respect to the creature’s good, and His respect to Himself, is not a divided respect; but both are united in one, as the happiness of the creature aimed at, is happiness in union with Himself.

If that’s hard to follow, here’s my best attempt at an updated and expanded version, which will, unfortunately, probably also be hard to follow:

Because God infinitely values his own glory (which glory consists in the knowledge of Himself, love to Himself, and satisfaction and joy in Himself), He therefore desired that the creature value His glory—i.e., that we would know Him, love Him, and find satisfaction and joy in Him.

And it is because God values Himself that He delights that we should grow in knowledge, love in truth, and experience joy—because He Himself is the object of this knowledge, love, and joy. In other words, God loves it when His creatures experience the happiness that comes with increased knowledge, with the wonder and mystery of love, and with the experience of true joy. But He loves it because knowing Him is what knowledge is all about, loving Him is where all love begins, and enjoying Him is the fountain of all joy.

And so it is easy to conceive how God can seek our good—our increased knowledge, increased holiness, and even our increased happiness—not for the sake of our own good per se, but from a supreme regard to Himself. Because: our knowledge, holiness, and happiness all arise only from that which is an image and participation of God’s own beauty. When our knowledge, holiness, or happiness increase, we are only thereby increasing our appreciation of God’s beauty.

So God’s pursuit of our good (or happiness), and His pursuit of His own glory, are not two separate pursuits. They’re the same. Because it is the manifestation of His glory that is our good, and He is most glorified when we are happiest (or, most satisfied) in Him.

You’ve heard people say things like, “God doesn’t want you happy, He wants you holy.” Well, if we grasp what Edwards is saying here, we understand that not only is that a false dichotomy, it’s impossible. It’s impossible for us to be holy without being happy in the right things. Part of what it means for us to be holy (i.e., to glorify God) is to be happy (or joyful, or satisfied) in Him. God wants us happy and holy, and so He pursues His glory. For it is His glory alone that will make us happy and holy. He glorifies Himself, and satisfies us, in the same pursuit.

These are some of the loftiest truths that have been given to mankind to ponder. As we’re all well aware of by now, I don’t say it nearly as well as Edwards or Piper. But that’s why you should read the book and ponder these realities yourselves.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Excellent post, Mike.

  • Marco Scouvert

    This is delightful. The argument makes Romans 8:29 explode with new wonder: “For those whom He forknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” God’s entire purpose for creating the elect was to conform us to the image of His Son, “[His] Beloved Son, in [whom He] is well-pleased” (Mark 1:11). This takes the attention off of self and points it to acknowledge that God’s salvation is about loving and enjoying Himself in His creation. And amazingly, we get to receive the overflow benefits of enjoying Him now and forever in heaven!

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