Can God Really Be Happy?
Do you think of God as mainly happy or mad?
How you think about God will effect how you relate to him. If he’s mainly disappointed, you’ll avoid him because of shame and insecurity. If he’s too busy, you won’t want to bother him. If he’s angry, you’ll stay away because of fear. But what would happen in your life if you knew, truly knew, that God is profoundly happy?
John Piper believes God must be happy. In Desiring God, he writes,
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. (33)
Three Lies About God’s Happiness
In summary, if God ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Our only hope for deep and enduring happiness is that the God of the universe is happy. So why is it so hard for us to think of him that way? There are at least three major hurdles to seeing and believing the happiness of our heavenly Father: the flawed example of our fathers, evil and suffering in the world, and sin in our own lives.
1. Our Father is just like our fathers.
One reason we can’t imagine God always being happy is that we’ve never known anyone like that. The only examples of fathers we have in this life are fallible, so not only do their emotions fluctuate, but they’re often just plain bad. Our dads can be impatient, selfish, depressed, and temperamental. And as kids, if we’re honest, we often bring the worst out of them.
Our Father’s happiness, on the other hand, isn’t flawed and unpredictable like that. For sure, earthly fathers model aspects of God’s love — protection, provision, delight, and discipline. But there’s no instability in God’s fathering. His love for his children is perfectly righteous and reliable (Psalm 116:5), completely just and merciful (Romans 3:26). There’s no wavering in him whatsoever (James 1:17). We can learn some things about God’s love and happiness from our fathers, but in the end, his love is dramatically and wonderfully different.
2. God is not getting his way in the world.
It’s really hard to be happy in a world filled with so much brokenness and tragedy. A plane vanishes midflight with hundreds of innocent people, all with distraught families. Just last week, eight people died when two buildings collapsed in New York City after an explosion. And 33 Christians have been sentenced to death by Kim Jong-un in North Korea for their faith.
Anyone might reasonably get the impression that God’s not getting his way in the world. And when we don’t get our way, we’re rarely happy.
The problem with this is that there is a sense in which God always gets his way. Even when people oppose him directly, he is sovereignly working all things for his glory (Genesis 50:20; Isaiah 48:11) and the good of those whose love him (Romans 8:28). God abhors the taking of human life (Genesis 9:6), especially the lives of his chosen children (Revelation 6:9–11). He hates what’s happening in North Korea (Psalm 11:5). But if God does everything he pleases all of the time (Psalm 115:3), then even the worst, most awful things are ultimately serving him, not hurting him. Therefore, he can be completely, abidingly happy because he sees and rules the wider, pleasing picture of the world and history.
3. God is undone by our sin day after day.
Could a Father really be happy when we’re so guilty? This may be the most prevalent hurdle between us and the happiness of God. Because of shame over our own sin, day after day after day, we can hardly imagine a consistent, satisfied smile of God. How could he not be undone by our daily rebellion in heart and deed against his heart and will?
But God is not undone. He canceled our sin at the cross, and continues to orchestrate every sin — even the death of his Son — for his good and sovereign purposes. Yes, his righteous wrath burns against our sin (Micah 7:9). He hates it (Psalm 2:12). But he also paid for the sin of those who trust in him and turn in faith from their wickedness (Isaiah 53:4–6). Believers are united with the sinless Christ as God’s children (Galatians 4:4–7), and God rejoices over us in the happiness with which he delights in his Son (Zephaniah 3:17).
Be Happy As I Am Happy
Our God is a happy God. We know the Father and Son experience full and perfect joy in each other. Jesus prayed to the Father, “I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). And later in the same prayer, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26). The Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Father — the holy fellowship they have in the Holy Spirit — produces a pure, complete, divine joy into which Christ welcomes us.
Our God is happy in himself. And he does all that he pleases, and nothing happens that he has not chosen to happen. So at some level, he is always and only pleased with all of history. It is, after all, his story. This is really good news for sinners looking for hope and true happiness. Take heart that God adopts the humble into his family, and his holy hatred no longer rests on you. And be happy. God is happy in himself — who he is and what he’s accomplished — and through the saving work of Christ, he welcomes us all into his full and lasting happiness (Psalm 16:11).
Related resources from John Piper:
Desiring God (book)
Identity and Desire (Catalyst message)
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