Theological Happiness

I am sharing with you what is now Chapter 7 of my book Biblical Ethics. This happens to be my favorite chapter because it’s chock-full of vivid explanations of God’s emotional life and flourishing. It’s also a topic that is not talked about much from the pulpit, which I believe needs to be discussed in order to make sense of our own desire to flourish.

A Flourishing God

As I have previously written, but extrapolate below, God is eternally happy. He lacks nothing good, including a loving nature, motives, freewill, and the enjoyment of his own being (i.e., the enjoyment of being in holy communion with his triune self) or, as John Piper puts it, “His happiness is the delight He has in Himself.”[1] Consequently, from his freedom to create, he also delights in his creation. And because he is a perfectly benevolent being—unchanging in his goodness to his creatures—he does not withhold anything good from them (cf. Rom 8:28).

But God is not merely a happy or flourishing God; he, himself, is happiness. As we have said before, God is the ultimate standard of goodness. That means that all his properties or attributes are coextensively good, such as love and happiness. Scripture tells us that all God’s ways are loving (see Ps 25:10) and he is love (see 1 Jn 4:8, 16).[2] And just as God is true love, he is also indistinguishable from true (objective) happiness, which is necessarily coupled with love. Alcorn sums up this comparison, nicely: “God is happiness in the same sense that God is love (see 1 John 4:8). He is the essence of love and happiness.”[3] (One could argue that we, qua humans, love because it makes us happy. And the same could be said of God.)[4] To be clear, true happiness entails living virtuously and experiencing positive feelings that result from virtuous living. As a perfect being, God is maximally great in all his virtues. And thus he experiences every positive emotion to the fullest capacity from all eternity. So, according to his benevolence, which he never ceases to dispense to all his creatures, God enjoys the fruit of providential goodness. In short, he loves to love; otherwise, his happiness is at stake (post creation).

For some theologians, this principle of divine flourishing means that God’s happiness can never be augmented or mitigated neither by his own volition nor by his own creation. Put broadly, although God experiences emotions, he cannot experience emotional changes or passions to his state of being in any way and for any reason. In this sense of discussing God’s experiential life, he is not a static deity, failing to experience emotions as some theologians have theorized. He is de facto dynamic.[5]

But this does entail that an eternal God cannot suffer; otherwise, he would undergo pathos (suffering), diminishing the traditional theistic notion of a perfect God. This apophasis describes the doctrine of divine impassibility.[6] However, in recent years there has been a vigorous pushback by contemporary theologians as to this notion of an emotionally immutable deity.

Divine passibilists tend to take up the gauntlet moving the fight from a theological schoolyard to a biblical boxing ring. That is, instead of arguing on theological grounds that God cannot suffer because of systematic inconsistencies and contradictions, divine passibilists argue for a literal interpretation of biblical passages that speak of the pathos of God (see Gn 6:5–6; Ps 78:40; Is 63:9–10; Hos 11:8; Eph 4:30). This, of course, is not true of all divine passibilists; some are content taking on their interlocutors on their own theological turf. But what unifies nearly all divine passibilists is that for God to qualify as being maximally great or perfect, he needs to suffer. More importantly, however, what unifies nearly all divine impassibilists and passibilists is the belief that God’s core moral and spiritual nature cannot change.[7] But I digress.

The point is that God is a dynamic deity, who lives virtuously, has emotions, and enjoys them eternally. In nuce, God is a flourishing God. And his flourishing never changes because his nature never changes. Listen to these divine words: “‘For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed’” (Mal 3:6, NASB).[8] This verse implies that God is necessarily faithful in keeping his covenant promise. In other words, it is impossible for God to experience vicissitudes to his omnibenevolent character.

The fact that God’s nature is immutable is what makes a proper morality of happiness objective moral truth. This means that the way God designed us to flourish is not arbitrary or relative. His kingdom, here and now, is purposed for prosperity—an objective or universal happiness that is built on virtuous living from divine commands. As we have seen, his omnibenevolent personhood and character is the core of his morality of happiness, and ours. His character is essentially good, which makes living the good life a biblically virtuous endeavor.

I will discuss the philosophical notion of the good life in the next chapter. For now, I want to biblically explore God’s emotional life for our sake. The divine emotions that I have in mind are desire and delight.           

God’s Emotional Life

God’s emotional life is such that he both desires and delights. We are told in Hosea 6:6 (cf. Mt 9:13; 12:7): “For I [the LORD] desire mercy, not sacrifice. . . .” (NIV);  “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice. . . .” (NASB). In this verse, the Hebrew verb חָפֵץ châphêts can be interpreted as both “desire” and “delight,” and thus it has been translated accordingly.[9] From Hosea, the prophet, we learn God’s covenant intentions for Israel and Judah: “mercy” (NIV), “loyalty” (NASB), or “love” (NLT), rather than sacrifice or the slaughter of an animal for burnt offerings.

In the NT, we learn from Paul’s epistle to his young protégé, Timothy, that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4, ESV). What is truth you might ask? Timothy explains: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tm 2:5–6, ESV). My focus here is not to give a detailed hermeneutical analysis of this pericope, save to discuss divine desires for us. Accordingly, God “desires” (θέλει from the root θέλω thĕlō). θέλω has a broad semantic range, from “wants” to “wills,” from “wishes” to “delights.”[10] Thus, God “wants,” “wills,” “wishes,” “desires,” and “delights” in the salvation of all humanity.  

In verses 1–3, of the same pericope, we learn that what is “good, and pleases God” (v. 3, NIV, NLT, HCSB) is the intercession and thanksgiving for all people—religious and political leaders and lay people alike—so that we may all live the good life—in peace (shalom) with godliness (vv. 1–2). The reason why I describe this lifestyle as the good life, which is built on a biblical worldview, is because the word good (καλός kalŏs) in verse 3 carries the denotation of “right” and “virtuous,” as well as the connotation of “delightful” and “beautiful.” For ancient and medieval philosophers, living the good life necessarily requires a moral component. Moreover, these “[c]lassical thinkers observed deep interconnections between goodness, truth, and beauty, conceiving them as ultimate values that properly draw one’s affections.” Horner adds that these values “are integrated in a flourishing life, and are ultimately grounded in the nature of God himself.”[11]

As a review, shalom entails happiness, and that happiness is the highest or greatest good necessary for living the good life. (More on this later.)

Moreover, the built-in bonus of living the good life “in all godliness” (v. 2, NIV) is that it “pleases God” (v. 3, NIV, NLT, HCSB). The psalmist confirms this when he says, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives (Ps 37:23, NLT, emphasis added).[12] The Hebrew verb for delights is derived from the familiar root word חָפֵץ châphêts (cf. Hs 6:6), which can also mean “to have pleasure.” This is precisely how the HCSB version interprets it: “A man’s steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way.” Taking pleasure or delighting in the way of the godly implies that God enjoys not only their righteousness, which stems from his character, but also from the fruit of their righteousness. Scripture confirms this: “Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore ‘Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare [literally shalom] of his servant!’” (Ps 35:27, ESV, emphasis added) The HCSB version translates it as follows: “Let those who want my vindication shout for joy and be glad; let them continually say, ‘The LORD be exalted. He takes pleasure in His servant’s well-being’” (emphasis added). No doubt, “God delights in our delight . . . [and] . . . takes pleasure in our pleasure.”[13] Perhaps no other story in the Bible conveys this notion of divine delight better than the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11–32).[14]  

In the familiar parable, when the lost son returns home after his debaucherous debacle, his father runs to him, wraps the best robe around him, and puts a signet ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet (see Lk 15:22–24; cf. Is 61:10). Both the robe and the ring are symbols of (royal) authority and privilege.[15] The sandals are also a symbol of authority and freedom.[16] Biblical scholar Craig S. Keener enlightens us as to the cultural significance of the father’s apparel in this parable: “Given the normal garb, the father would have to pull up his skirt to run. . . . It was a breech of an elderly Jewish man’s dignity to run. . . .”[17] We see that in the Hebraic honor-shame-based culture of the first century, it was shameful for a Jewish man to lift up his garments exposing his naked legs in public in order to run. [18] But we are awe-struck to discover that the father in the story, who represents our heavenly Father, gladly embodies this scandal as an act of love for us.

It is important to note that in the parable, the father’s love is manifested because of the lost son’s decision to humble himself by returning home, which signifies repentance. It is true that the father loves him unconditionally—even if the boy had chosen not to repent—but feeling his father’s love and pleasure (accompanied with familial reinstatement with the benefit of familial inheritance) could not have been possible unless the son chose wisely (viz. repentance).

Likewise, we feel our heavenly Father’s love and pleasure when we choose wisely. Wise living, which is a necessary condition for objective happiness, includes spiritual-moral repentance, as well as utilizing our natural abilities and spiritual gifts for our Father’s glory. One of my favorite examples of experiencing divine delight via wise living, particularly by using one’s natural ability, is the story of Eric Liddell, a devout Christian and Scottish Olympic runner in the historical drama Chariots of Fire.

In the 1981 British film, Eric, who is born to Scottish missionaries in China, sees running as a way to worship God. His sister, Jennie, on the other hand, sees it as a hindrance to his calling to be a missionary. He explains to her: “I believe God made me for a purpose. For China. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” He goes on to say, “To give it up would be to hold him in contempt. . . . To win is to honour him.”[19] For Eric, running is both a way to glorify God and experience his pleasure because when he runs he is fulfilling his God-given ability to run fast. To fail to use his natural ability would be to miss out on experiencing God’s delight, as well as to dishonor the Giver of all good things. One could argue that for Eric to run fast is for him to glorify God directly by enjoying him. His sister has a difficult time coming to grips with this reality. One likely reason is that she, along with the modern church, has bought into an unhelpful dichotomy—a cosmic dualism between the celestial and the terrestrial.

This dualism seeks to categorize the distinction between what has been termed sacred (of God) and secular (of the world).[20] Jenny sees running as something secular, and not sacred; something worldly, and not godly; something hedonistic, and not holy. But in the OT, there is no dichotomy between the sacred and secular, only the sacred and profane. The sacred and profane distinction is how the OT divides up the world. The sacred means that all reality is holy when God is recognized and worshipped, and the profane is when he is not recognized and worshipped.[21] (To read more about the mêlée between the sacred and secular, see Appendix B.)

The Chief End of Man

As discussed earlier, Eric Liddell ran as both a way to feel God’s pleasure and to glorify him. No doubt, he was influenced by the scriptures, both younger and older testaments. The psalmist writes, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives (Ps 37:23, NLT); and St. Paul tells the Corinthian church and Christians everywhere, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31, NIV).[22] Erwin Raphael McManus, Christian activist and pastor, is right: “God designed us to enjoy life; he created us for pleasure.” And as we enjoy life, taking pleasure in him and his creation, he in turn is glorified and takes pleasure in his own creation: “God created us so he could enjoy us and we could enjoy him and we could enjoy life. God created us in the perfect environment for pleasure, enjoyment, and desire. This is the story of creation.”[23] I want to add that not only is this the biblical narrative of creation, but also of creation restored after the Fall that has a purposeful and ultimate aim for humanity, as the first tenet of the Westminster Shorter Catechism describes: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”[24] Scripture says something similar. The psalmist writes, “You [God] satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy” (Ps 63:5, NLT) and “I can never stop praising you; I declare your glory all day long” (Ps 71:8, NLT).

Theologian Sam Storms insightfully adds to this anthropological principle by explaining exactly how God is best glorified: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”[25] So, practically speaking, when we enjoy God, or “feel his pleasure,” as Liddell describes, we are de facto bringing honor to his Majesty. Again, everything we think, say, and do should be to the best of our ability. And our best should be to glorify God.[26] I like how Oswald Chambers (1874–1917), Scottish Baptist evangelist, explains with precision his determined purpose in life: “my utmost for His highest—my best for His glory.”[27] Theologian John Piper writes, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”[28] This is the definition of what he calls Christian hedonism. This is not the hedonism of Epicureanism, however, in which pleasure is the greatest good. Piper continues to discuss Christian hedonism and the innate contradiction in starving oneself from its emotional and spiritual nectar:

I mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. But almost all Christians believe this. Christian Hedonism says more; namely, that we should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy, you cannot love man or please God. . . .[29]

I would add to this astute assessment that if you abandon your personal pursuit of happiness, then you also tragically fail to love yourself.[30] And healthy self-love is a direct command from God: “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39, NIV; emphases added; cf. Lv 19:18).[31] Even the golden rule of the NT[32]—“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Lk 6:31, NASB; cf. Mt 7:12)—appeals to one’s own self-interest.

In his Puritan prose, Jonathan Edwards says something similar to Piper’s statement of “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” I quote Edwards at length:

Now what is glorifying God, but a rejoicing at that glory he has displayed? An understanding of the perfections of God, merely, cannot be the end of the creation; for he had as good not understand it, as see it and not be at all moved with joy at the sight. Neither can the highest end of creation be the declaring God’s glory to others; for the declaring God’s glory is good for nothing otherwise than to raise joy in ourselves and others at what is declared.[33]

Our highest end—to glorify God—is not so much an intellectual pursuit as it is a joyous one. Storms comments, “Edwards’s point is that passionate and joyful admiration of God, and not merely intellectual apprehension, is the aim of our existence. If God is to be supremely glorified in us it’s critically essential that we be supremely glad in him and in what he has done for us in Jesus.”[34] The purpose of life for Edwards is wrapped up in both understanding God propositionally (e.g., understanding true statements about God the Father revealed through Christ) and experientially (e.g., feeling the joy of the Lord). That explains why we are hardwired the way we are: to know God emotionally and intellectually.

Storms discusses the philosophical question as to why we exist or why there is something rather than nothing. For him the answer is found in Edwards: “We exist to glorify God by enjoying him,” which is to say, “We exalt God when we exult in him.”[35] Exulting in God or delighting in him is an important spiritual discipline. The psalmist writes, “Take delight in the LORD. . . .” (Ps 37:4a, NIV).

Charles H. Spurgeon (1834–1892), English Baptist preacher, comments on this particular verse: “Every name, attribute, word, or deed of Jehovah should be delightful to us, and in meditating thereon our soul should be as glad as is the epicure who feeds delicately with a profound relish for his dainties.”[36] This is what I call glorifying God directly. (I want to take a moment to explain more fully the difference between direct and indirect glorification of the divine.)

We glorify God directly when we experience him both emotionally and spiritually. But we can also glorify God indirectly when we live morally, fulfilling the Yahweh criteria. The reason why the former is direct is because when we experience him emotionally and spiritually we feel his presence, immediately. But when we live morally, we do not always feel his presence. Sometimes there is a lapse of time between doing the right thing and feeling the associated pleasure; albeit, God is still glorified, indirectly.

Now I want to briefly discuss the difference between healthy and unhealthy pleasures.

Healthy and Unhealthy Pleasures

Created in God’s image and regenerated after the Fall by grace through faith in Christ alone, we have the spiritual DNA to desire the right kind of pleasures. Some pleasures are healthy, affirming life, while others are unhealthy, abolishing life. What I am talking about here is the difference between beneficial pleasures, and, what Thomas calls, “polluted pleasures.”[37] The book of Proverbs confirms such a distinction: “The prospect of the righteous is joy. . . .” (Prv 10:28a, NIV)[38] but “[t]hose who love pleasure become poor; those who love wine and luxury will never be rich” (Prv 21:17, NLT). Pleasure, itself, is not inherently evil; it is about what we consider pleasurable; it is about the object of desire that brings us pleasure. The NT makes a similar comparison.

The apostle Paul warns Timothy that, in the eschaton, “[p]eople will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. . . .” (1 Tm 3:2–4, NIV). Pleasure—enjoyment of desires—is not a given carte blanche to explore every emotional whimsy or to experience every fickle feeling imaginable, but a responsibility to fulfill our moral-spiritual nature and live according to the Yahweh criteria.

We have been created to desire (Ps 42:1; Mt 5:6) and to be in control of our desires (Gal 5:23). This enables us to thrive and it protects us from hurting ourselves, as well as preserving relationships with others (i.e., maintaining justice and righteousness), including our relationship with God,[39] so we can continue to enjoy him: the object of our desire.

C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory, explains from God’s perspective the importance of healthy pleasures: “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.”[40] Lewis continues, “We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[41] True, we are far too easily pleased with the wrong kinds of pleasure that offer fleeting rewards of pseudo power and instant gratification. In contrast, the promised rewards that Lewis talks about earlier are not, however, mercenary rewards.[42] This type of reward “has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things.”[43] Rather, the proper rewards of an activity are “the activity itself in consummation.”[44] Take for example, marriage, which is the proper reward for lovers, who desire it.[45] Money, however, is not the “natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money.”[46] But what about those rewards that appear mercenary but de facto are not? Lewis discusses this type of reward in the life of a believer who aspires to heavenly bliss by what might feel like drudging obedience. I quote him at length:

An enjoyment of Greek poetry is certainly a proper, and not a mercenary, reward for learning Greek; but only those who have reached the stage of enjoying Greek poetry can tell from their own experience that this is so. The schoolboy beginning Greek grammar cannot look forward to his adult enjoyment of Sophocles as a lover looks forward to marriage or a general victory. He has to begin by working for marks, or to escape punishment, or to please his parents, or, at best, in the hope of a future good which he cannot at present imagine or desire. His position, therefore, bears a certain resemblance to that of the mercenary; the reward he is going to get will, in actual fact, be a natural or proper reward, but he will not know that till he has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually; enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and the other began. But it is just insofar as he approaches the reward that he becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward.[47]

Lewis explains his analogy of the rewards of learning the Greek language vis-à-vis to the ultimate reward of Christian discipleship:   

The Christian, in relation to heaven, is in much the same position as this schoolboy. Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but we who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward.[48]       

Of course, what Lewis is implying is that there is a philosophical, as well as a spiritual relationship happening here with a means and an end: an activity of obedience as a means, and an ultimate reward of heaven as an end or, put differently, duty and desire.

In the following section, I want to continue discussing the relationship between duty and desire, which began in Chapter 1. Also, I will bring up the topic of spiritual (character) formation and its proper place in acts of obedience and enjoyment of ultimate rewards.

Duty, Desire, and Virtue

The New Testament has lots to say about [the duty of] self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ [see Mt 16:24]; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.[49]

The desire Lewis is referring to is for the pleasure or enjoyment of heavenly rewards as promised in the gospels. Indeed, a few verses later in the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (v. 27, NIV). Actions of altruism in the NT are rarely prescribed as an ethical end. They are done, rather, to follow Christ (cf. Mt 16:24) in order to become like him (cf. 1 Cor 11:1; Eph 5:1–2). This process of becoming like Christ is a spiritual formation of one’s character because it is “the process of establishing the character of Christ in the person.”[50] The beauty of a proper morality of happiness is that it involves character formation; and the beauty of the process of forming one’s character in discipleship is that it involves enjoyment of God and the good life or, in a word, human flourishing.

True happiness, which is necessary for living life to the fullest as the NT describes it (see Jn 10:10), or the good life as philosophers call it, is a way of life. Not only does it involve an act-oriented ethic—obedience done out of a sense of duty—but also a character-based ethic: obedience done out of a sense of virtue. The former emphasizes doing and the latter being.

Moral philosopher Scott B. Rae adds to our understanding of virtue ethics, which is “an emphasis on who a person should become more than what a person should do, the importance of following people with exemplary behavior instead of following moral rules, an emphasis on a person’s motive in place of action, and a stress on developing character more than simply obeying rules.”[51]

Rae also understands the necessity to embrace a deontological ethic of duty given the divine commands of scripture. But he equally sees the importance of espousing virtue ethics “given the emphasis in the New Testament on developing the character of Christ, which would seem to proceed action.”[52]

Philosopher Paul Copan sees “objective morality” composed of both duty and virtue: “objective morality . . . includes (a) obligation—a duty to comply with what we ought to do (right) and to avoid what is forbidden (wrong)—as well as (b) virtue or character.”[53] He goes on to say, “We ought to pursue the good, and that for its own sake. We are duty-bound to do certain things and refrain from others (the deontic [Greek: dei] = ‘it is necessary’), and we can’t forgo the cultivation of character (the aretaic [Greek: aretē] = ‘virtue’).”[54]

The cultivation of character via virtuous living is a necessary ingredient in a Hebraic pursuit of a morality of happiness.[55] But so is deontological ethics essential to this religiously motivated morality of happiness that necessitates duty-bound action.

St. Francis De Sales (1567–1622), Bishop of Geneva, reminds us that our outward duties emanate from inward pleasures or “heartfelt devotion”:

The world, looking on, sees that devout persons fast, watch and pray, endure injury patiently, minister to the sick and poor, restrain their temper, check and subdue their passions, deny themselves in all sensual indulgence, and do many other things which in themselves are hard and difficult. But the world sees nothing of that inward, heartfelt devotion which makes all these actions pleasant and easy.[56]

He conveys this message of pleasurable devotion with a sweet analogy of bees converting honey from bitter juices: “Watch a bee hovering over the mountain thyme;—the juices it gathers are bitter, but the bee turns them all to honey,—and so tells the worldling, that though the devout soul finds bitter herbs along its path of devotion, they are all turned to sweetness and pleasantness as it treads.”[57] Francis moves to remind us that even the suffering that martyrs endure as a willful act of devotion to God is a sweet smelling aroma: “and the martyrs have counted fire, sword, and rack but as perfumed flowers by reason of their devotion.” He continues with the martyrdom scenario, but employs an a fortiori argument that takes advantage of the phrase “all the more so” to show that the sweetness of our devotion to God is only magnified by virtuous actions: “And if devotion can sweeten such cruel torments, and even death itself, how much more will it give a charm to ordinary good deeds?”[58] 

Summarizing the seminal ideas in this section, there is a difference between doing virtuous things and being a virtuous person. The former is done out of a sense of duty or responsibility—an act-oriented ethic—and the latter as spiritual formation: a character-oriented ethic. At times, duty can feel like grudging work but, ultimately, it should be done for the sake of a virtue ethic. Moreover, this virtue ethic that is an end is also a means. A virtuous person upholds the Yahweh criteria of, say, justice and righteousness because the desire or enjoyment of happiness naturally follows from the virtuous action (see Is 32:17). Duty, desire, and virtue are purposefully intertwined like a tri-fold braid of beauty and goodness in a proper morality of happiness.  

The Problem of Religion

Duty separated from its biblical complement desire retains enough religiosity to pass as something godly. However, this is the problem of religion. Religion, in one sense, is the practice of moral rules and spiritual rituals[59] in order to appease the gods, rather than realizing that what God desires most is a reciprocal relationship, in which he enjoys us and we enjoy him or, one could even say, in which he enjoys us as we enjoy him. Two Christians, separated by time—one medieval and one modern—help explain this phenomenon.

Julian of Norwich (1342–1416), Benedictine English mystic, writes, “[I]t is most pleasing to our Lord that we enjoy in this joy which is in the blessed Trinity [in virtue] of our salvation.”[60] And Thomas explains that “a gospel that speaks only of duty and discipline robs God of pleasure,”[61] who created us to take pleasure in our pleasure.[62]

Moreover, we are to enjoy life, as well as God. In what can be considered a biblical mandate, Nehemiah, governor of Persian Judea, commanded the Israelites with these comforting words: “‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength’” (Neh 8:10, NASB). The Israelites were commanded to celebrate and weep no more on account of the sacred scriptures being discovered. It was a time for jubilee. No longer a time of weeping and fasting, but feasting. McManus thus rightly comments, “The Israelites not only found the lost parchments, but they discovered the principle to finding the strength to create a new and better future.”[63] McManus extrapolates on what it means for the joy of the LORD to be our strength. I quote him at length:

The strength of the living God becomes your strength when you enjoy God and he enjoys you. You increase in strength when you live in God’s pleasure. . . . Your strength is the joy of the Lord—not the truth of the Lord, or the knowledge of the Lord, or even the power of the Lord, but the joy. Your strength is not the rituals, not the religion, not the doctrine, and not the disciplines. The more you enjoy God and enjoy the life he calls you into, the stronger you will be.[64]

He closes his thoughts with a pithy prose: “To enjoy life is a sacred act of worship.”[65] In this sense, happiness is not the absence of holiness; rather, happiness is the fulfillment of holiness.

A question still arises: “How does one ground Christian hedonism?” The proceeding section should help us come to an answer.

The Chief End of God

For Piper, the foundation of Christian hedonism is divine hedonism: the delight God gets in glorifying himself. He writes, “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.[66] Piper admits that prima facie this sounds strange. But he goes on to say,

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.[67]

Just as the act of duty is done as a means to the end of desire for mankind, God’s “saving design,” or duty to save, is accomplished as a terrestrial means to desire’s celestial end: “the enjoyment He has in glorifying Himself.”[68]

The simple fact of the matter is that our happiness is founded on God’s happiness. Piper explains, “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.”[69] But many people fail to understand the connection between God’s glory and the pleasure he receives in glorifying himself, not to mention the link between God’s happiness and ours.

When people think of a god that glorifies himself, they erroneously, although understandably, reach the verdict that he is an egomaniac.[70] C. S. Lewis was among those people. In his book, Reflections on the Psalms, he talks about this pseudo stumbling block in the Psalms before his conversion to Christianity. Every time he read of God demanding praise, his mind would gravitate to the “miserable idea that God . . . crave[s] for our worship like a vain woman wanting compliments. . . .”[71] He explains why he was miserably mistaken:

But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. 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.[72]

He goes on to say,

The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside. . . . 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 praised least. . . . Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.[73]  

He adds that he “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 we value. 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 expressed.[74]   

As we can see, God is not craving worship for his own vanity; rather, he commands worship for his enjoyment and the enjoyment of the worshipper, whose delight is made complete by the act of audible praise.[75] Praising God is one way, and possibly the most effective way, to glorify him by enjoying him.

In sum, God is perfect and great in all his ways, including his morals and emotions. His happiness neither waxes nor wanes. Like his goodness, his flourishing is immutable. His rich emotional life enables him to delight in his creation. Enjoying the pleasure of God is one way we glorify him. And taking pleasure in God as we honor him for eternity is humanity’s ultimate goal.      

SUMMARY (Chs 6–7): A proper morality of happiness is predicated on biblical virtues, such as wisdom and humility, which, in turn, are predicated on divine command ethics. This proper morality of happiness, and, thus, virtuous living, as well as divine commands, are predicated on the benevolent nature of a flourishing God who is eternally happy. And what makes a proper morality of happiness objectively moral is the fact that it is grounded in God’s immutable nature. His loving nature is such that he has a rich emotional life that spills out into his actions that motivate us to participate in his enjoyment of himself. For us, this enjoyment as direct glorification is consummated by praising him.

In Chapter 8, I discuss the classical concept of happiness—eudaimonia—in the western world, and its place as the summum bonum (“the greatest good”) necessary for living the greatest life possible.


[1] John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, [1986] 2011), 50.

[2] If love is at its core relational, then one might be tempted to think that in order for God to love or to be loving he has to create sentient beings to love. But God is not dependent on others in order to be relational. He, himself, is love (i.e., he, himself, is relational within his triune self).

[3] Alcorn, 89 (emphasis in the original).

[4] But even if we disagree as to the cause-and-effect relationship between divine attributes, such as love and happiness, because, say, we happen to be staunch supporters of the doctrine of divine simplicity, God still experiences love and happiness; even if, say, we believe that divine essence and existence are indistinguishable from divine properties or, even if, God experiences his properties, simultaneously.

[5] Early church fathers, such as Tertullian, Novatian, Lactantius, Cyril of Alexandria, and Augustine, believed that God has emotions, yet he is impassible. See Paul L. Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought, eds. Gillian Clark and Andrew Louth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 58–60. That is, the emotional life of the divine does not negate that God is fully in control of his emotions. The type of emotion that these patristic theologians are referring to is the affections (or “voluntary movements of the rational soul.” Thomas Dixon, From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 243; quoted in Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 401) like kindness, and not the passions or the type of emotion affiliated with the sinful movements of the soul like lust. See Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 400–4.

[6] For contemporary arguments supporting the doctrine of divine impassibility, see Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [2010] 2012), 387–468; Thomas G. Weinandy, Does God Suffer? (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000); Paul L. Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought, eds. Gillian Clark and Andrew Louth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); and Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, and Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility, eds. Ronald S. Baines, Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, and James M. Renihan (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).

For contemporary arguments supporting the doctrine of divine passibility, see Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Suffering Love,” in Inquiring About God, ed. Terence Cuneo, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [2010] 2014), 182–222; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II. 1 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957), 370–1; Paul S. Fiddes, The Creative Suffering of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1988] 1992); Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, [1974] 1993); Terence E. Fretheim, The Suffering God (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984); Daniel Day Williams, The Spirit and the Forms of Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1968); Marcel Sarot, God, Passibility and Corporeality (Kampen, Netherlands: Kok Pharos, 1992); François Varillon, La Souffrance de Dieu (Paris: Le Centurion, 1975); John Sanders, The God Who Risks, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007); Charles Ohlrich, The Suffering God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1982); Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge (New York: SCM Press, 1977); Jung Young Lee, God Suffers For Us (Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974); and Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski, “Omnisubjectivity,” in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, ed. Jonathan L. Kvanvig, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). I have included Zagzebski to the list even though she does not argue for divine passibility, per se. I do believe her argument for divine omnisubjectivity makes divine passibility plausible.

For a text that debates the controversial question of God’s impassibility, see James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O. P., eds., Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009).  

[7] I have gone full swing from one side of the theological pendulum to the other, from divine impassibility to passibility. My point here is not to take sides but to introduce a controversial doctrine with epistemic humility.

I have written a paper, however, on divine passibilism, entitled “Omnisubjectivity and Passibility,” during my PhD coursework in systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Spring 2013. To read my paper on divine passibilism, visit my website at chesterdelagneau.com and click on the tab “Categories” and then “Papers.”    

[8] It is important to note that in the NASB version, verses 5 and 6 are connected into one paragraph. In the verse that precedes God talking about his immutable nature (v. 6), he warns of his swift judgment against those who are spiritually and morally corrupt (v. 5): “‘Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me’, says the LORD of hosts.” This verse clearly delineates God’s disdain for social injustice, as well as spiritual idolatry. Together, these verses demonstrate the deserved consequences (judgment) for violating universal moral and spiritual truths because of who God is: a good God who never changes.  

[9] The Amplified Bible translates Hos 6:6a using both “desire” and “delight” in the same verse: “For I desire and delight in dutiful steadfast love and goodness, not sacrifice. . . .” (AMPCE).

[10] Like חָפֵץ châphêts, θέλω thĕlō means both “desire” and “delight.”      

[11] Horner, “The Pursuit of Happiness: Why Christian Ethics Should be Eudaimonistic,” 7.

[12] The King James Version reads, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way” (emphasis added). Here are other OT verses that speak of God delighting in righteous prayers (Prv 15:8b), behaviors (1 Chr 29:17; Ps 51:19; Prv 11:20b), and faithful people (Prv 12:22b). According to the NT, God also delights in giving us the kingdom (see Lk 12:32).

[13] Thomas, 34, 36. In the NT, there are three chapters (Romans 12, Philippians 2, and Hebrew 11) that speak of divine pleasure. In his letter to the Roman church, the apostle Paul discusses explicitly what is pleasing to God: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” He moves to stipulate the pleasing will of God that starts with an imperative: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12:1–2, NIV). Paul also reminds us in the book of Philippians that God appeals to our desire to please him: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Phil 2:13, NLT). Lastly, the author of Hebrews talks about the relationship between human faith and divine pleasure, as well as the positive consequence of faith: “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6, HCSB).

[14] I am in agreement with New Testament scholar N. T. Wright when he says that the parable of the prodigal son is more about the forgiving father than the squandering son. He suggests the story be renamed “the parable of the Running Father.” N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, [2001] 2004), 187.

[15] According to Craig S. Keener, “The best robe in the house would belong to the father himself. The ring would probably be a family signet ring—hence would symbolize reinstatement to sonship in a well-to-do house.” Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, [1993] 2014), 222.

[16] I. Howard Marshall, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Luke, eds. I. Howard Marshall and W. Ward Gasque (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 610.

[17] Keener, 221.

[18] Darrell L. Bock, New Testament scholar, adds that it is culturally surprising that the father runs to embrace his son because “[n]ormally the father waits to be addressed by the son and to receive some indication of respect before responding. But God’s compassion is exceptional.” Darrell L. Bock, Luke: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 413.

Joel B. Green, New Testament scholar, confirms the point that (in that honor-shame culture) it was dishonorable for the father to run out to meet his younger son. See Joel B. Green, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 585.

[19] Nicholas Farrell, Ben Cross, and Ian Charleson, Chariots of Fire, DVD, directed by Hugh Hudson (Burbank, CA: Warner Bros., 1981), 59:08.

[20] Cosmic dualism (or cosmological dualism) is not to be confused with substance dualism and property dualism, which are “two different versions of a dualist solution to the mind-body problem.” J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003), 245. Substance dualism views the brain—a physical object that has physical properties—different from the mind or soul that is a “mental substance that has mental properties.” Property dualism, on the other hand, says that there are no mental substances. The brain would be considered a material substance “that has both physical and mental properties.” Ibid., 232.

[21] I want to thank my spiritual-academic mentor, Jeff H. McCrory, for bringing this important matter to my attention. Jeff H. McCrory, interview by author, Dana Point, CA, September 20, 2017.

[22] The glory of God is not like the glory of prideful humanity seeking to honor itself for its own achievements. The glory of God is eternal and everlasting, but the glory of man is temporal and transitory. I am thinking specifically of the glory of Rome during the height of the Roman Empire described by George C. Scott at the end of the movie Patton. He narrates, “For over a thousand years Roman conquerors, returning from the wars, enjoyed the honor of a triumph. . . . The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot. . . . A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear, a warning: ‘All glory is fleeting.’” The Latin phrase associated with this is “Sic transit Gloria mundi,” which means, “Thus passes the glory of the world.” It can be interpreted as “Worldly glory is fleeting.” George C. Scott, Karl Malden, and Michael Bates, Patton, DVD, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (Los Angeles, CA: Twentieth Century Fox, 1970), 2:49:24. I am grateful to my father-in-law, James H. Merritt, for bringing this matter to my attention.

[23] Erwin Raphael McManus, Wide Awake (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 192. The author of Ecclesiastes confirms this by saying, “I know that there is nothing better for [Creation] than to rejoice and enjoy the good life” (3:12, HCSB).

[24] Orthodox Presbyterian Church, “Shorter Catechism,” Question and Answer #1, https://www.opc.org/sc.html (accessed May 19, 2018). For a more in-depth explanation of what it means “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” see Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 302–6. 

[25] Sam Storms, The Life and Theology of Jonathan Edwards, DVD, Session 1 of 5 (Edmond, OK: Enjoying God Ministries), 17:53. Consequently, the attitude of thankfulness is one way we can practice enjoying God. Therefore, we glorify God by enjoying him, and we enjoy God by thanking him.

[26] But scripture also makes clear that it is by glorifying God that we rejoice. First Chronicles 16:10 says, “Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice” (NIV). Verse 11 goes on to say, “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always” (NIV). This is reminiscent of Mt 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (NIV). It is by putting God first that we get to enjoy the benefit of being fulfilled. St. John also writes that glorifying God—by bearing fruit that is evidence of being loving disciples—leads to complete joy: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:8–11, NIV).

[27] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, ed. James Reimann (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, [1935] 1995): January 1.

[28] John Piper, “God is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him,” Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/god-is-most-glorified-in-us-when-we-are-most-satisfied-in-him (accessed May 24, 2018).

[29] John Piper, “Christian Hedonism,” Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/christian-hedonism (accessed May 24, 2018; emphasis in the original).

[30] Just as happiness is more than an emotion, so love is more than an emotion. Love entails behaving the way we were morally designed. See 1 Cor 13:4–7 and Rom 12:9–21.

[31] In my experience, the common proscription of self-love in most modern evangelical churches applauds selflessness as the greatest virtue. Henri J. M. Nouwen (1932–1996), Dutch Catholic priest, in his timeless classic The Return of the Prodigal Son, writes about his lifetime struggle with self-love:

For a very long time I considered low self-esteem to be some kind of virtue. I had been warned so often against pride and conceit that I came to consider it a good thing to deprecate myself. But now I realize that the real sin is to deny God’s first love for me, to ignore my original goodness. Because without claiming that first love and that original goodness for myself, I lose touch with my true self and embark on the destructive search among the wrong people and in the wrong places for what can only be found in the house of my Father (Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (New York: Doubleday, [1992] 1994), 107).

[32] Christ’s golden rule is a derivation of the OT command to love one’s neighbor as oneself (see Lv 19:18). I highlight Christ because other world religions espouse a version of what has come to be called the golden rule.

[33] The Works of Jonathan Edwards: The “Miscellanies,” a-500, vol. 13, ed. Thomas A. Schafer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 200 (emphases added).

[34] Sam Storms, “The Life-Changing Discovery of Christian Hedonism,” Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-life-changing-discovery-of-christian-hedonism (accessed May 24, 2018; emphases in the original).

[35] Storms, The Life and Theology of Jonathan Edwards, DVD, Session 1 of 5, 9:20. According to the apostle Paul, to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:4) is the secret to living a morally excellent life (4:8). God wants us to enjoy a healthy emotional life with him, as he is the object of our desire.

[36] Charles H. Spurgeon, Psalms, eds. Alister McGrath and J. I. Packer, vol. 1 of The Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993), 145.

[37] Thomas, 50. Jürgen Moltmann distinguishes between healthy and unhealthy pleasures by calling them “joys of life and destructive addictions, which the New Testament also calls ‘the lust of the flesh.’” Moltmann, 92.

[38] The same Hebrew noun שִׂמְחָה simchah is translated as both “joy” and “pleasure.” Thus, one could translate Proverb 10:28a as “The prospect of the righteous is pleasure. . . .”  

[39] Frame is right to point out that “ethics is essentially a matter of personal relationships: relationships between people and other people, and between people and God.” Frame, 88.

[40] Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 26.

[41] Ibid.

[42] See Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 26–8.

[43] Ibid., 26.

[44] Ibid., 27.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid., 27–8 (emphases added).

[48] Ibid., 28 (emphases added).

[49] Ibid., 25–6.

[50] Richard J. Foster and Dallas Willard, “The Making of the Christian,” September 16, 2005. Interview by Agnieszka Tennant, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/october/9.42.html (accessed May 28, 2018).

[51] Rae, 93.

[52] Ibid., 92.

[53] Copan, 69 (emphases in the original).

[54] Ibid., (emphases in the original).

[55] Happiness, according to ancient philosophies, involves virtuous living. But what constitutes virtues has been hotly debated over the centuries. The advantage of a Hebraic pursuit of a morality of happiness is that God—through his word—has revealed integral, timeless virtues to follow, such as humility and wisdom, justice and righteousness.

[56] Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life I. 2. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/desales/devout_life.pdf (accessed May 28, 2018).

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] In and of itself, the practice of moral rules and spiritual rituals is not a bad thing. Together, they can prove beneficial to our relationship with God.  

[60] Juliana de Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter LV, trans. Grace Warrack. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/julian/revelations.pdf (accessed May 30, 2018).

[61] Thomas, 35.

[62] McManus goes a step farther and connects religion to the death of desires and squandering of creative output: “Religion focuses on the suppression of desires, the elimination of desires, the denial of desires. But God redirects our desires from destructive outlets to creative ones. Religion is an attempt to control people by controlling their desires and passions rather than awakening and unleashing them.” McManus, 193–4.

[63] Ibid., 205.

[64] Ibid., (emphasis in the original).

[65] Ibid.

[66] Piper, Desiring God, 31 (emphases in the original).

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Piper talks about famous people, such as Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, who have walked away from historic Christianity because they found the idea of God’s self-exaltation to be unloving and/or egocentric. To watch the video, log on to https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-oprah-and-brad-pitt-deserted-god-and-why-you-shouldnt.

I am recently reminded of the fantastical account of a ruthless, megalomaniacal deity named Ego, biological father of Peter Quill (“Star-Lord”) in the Marvel comic books Guardians of the Galaxy, and in the recent cinematic production of Marvel Studio’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). In the story, Ego temporarily manipulates his son, who’s inherited his divine DNA, to help him activate an omnicidal plan called the Expansion, in which Ego would terraform all life in the universe as extensions of himself by implanting his celestial genes into alien seedlings. Skeptics falsely attribute this type of egotism to the God of Judeo-Christianity. But what they fail to remember is that the true God created humanity in his image to glorify him by enjoying him. We are in fact blessed when we bless God. And God delights in us delighting in him. This relationship, which is pregnant with theological and anthropological happiness, eludes those who create god in their own image.        

[71] Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 108–9.

[72] Ibid., 109 (emphases added).

[73] Ibid., 109–10 (emphases added).

[74] Ibid., 110–11 (emphases added).

[75] If human happiness is grounded by divine delight, it begs the question, “What grounds God’s happiness?” The simple answer according to Piper is divine sovereignty. For a stimulating explanation of the foundation of divine and human happiness, see Piper, Desiring God, 32–50.

Chester Delagneau


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