The following is a transcript of the audio.
Anne from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, if Jesus is infinitely satisfied in the fellowship of the trinity with perfect joy, in what sense did He endure the cross for the joy set before him? How could His joy be increased if He was perfectly satisfied already?”
I don’t know if Ann realizes what a massive question she is asking.
I mean, there are philosophical names for this kind of question that she wouldn’t even recognize. So let me it is an excellent question. It is not quirky. It is not new. It is part of a bigger issue. For example, if God was perfectly happy in the fellowship of the trinity from all eternity what motive would there have been to create the world. That is one the ways this question is asked. Was there joy in creating the world? If so, was God deficient before he actualized that joy in creating the world? Or, if God can get angry at Israel—which he does—and threatens to wipe her out and Moses intervenes and God relents, was his joy in Israel constant through that? Or did it go up and down? And if his joy goes up and down, how can we talk about him being consistently and perfectly and all satisfyingly happy? Or what does it mean in Psalm 115 verse three: Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases Or Isaiah 46:9-10. I am God. There is no other. I am God and there is none like me saying my counsel will stand. I will accomplish all my good pleasure, the same word that was used up there in Psalm 115:3. He does all that he pleases. He accomplishes all his good pleasure. Well, if he does, in what sense can he be displeased? And the Bible clearly says we can displease him. Ephesians 5:10 says: Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord as though you sometimes do and you sometimes don’t. And that is right. We don’t always please the Lord. Therefore the Lord is sometimes displeased with us.
So, Ann, you have asked a huge, huge problem. And her problem, of course, was it says in Hebrews 12:2: For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, so, as, if, well, it is not fully there in his Gethsemane experience. He has just got it out in front of him and so how can he, as a member of the trinity, be fully and completely satisfied. So there is the question. Now here comes Piper’s little, puny effort to try to respond to this. And I thought a lot about it. So I have some thoughts. And I will throw them out for people to ponder.
Number one, God does not experience emotions—positive or negative—the way we do. We have very little control over how we feel. Things happen to us. And they have an effect on us. They sneak up on us or we don’t want them to happen and they happen and they make us feel a way and we wouldn’t have chosen to feel that way, but we feel that way, because it happened to us. God is not like that. Nothing sneaks up on God. Nothing overtakes God that he doesn't see coming and permit to come or not permit to come and, therefore, plan to respond to or not to respond to. And I think nothing is whimsical about God. He is not under the control of any of his emotions. They are all planned. God is never the victim of emotion. They are all part of his totally unified integrated, complete perfection rising and falling precisely the way he plans and wills. So whatever variation there appear to be in God, it is part of a much larger constancy and unity and coherence and stability. That is the first thing to say. God’s emotional life is not the same as ours.
Number two. Part of the issue with regard to Hebrews 12:2—the joy set before him—is owing to the mystery of Christ’s two natures. He is human and divine at once. His divine nature and his human nature do not have identical subjective responses to what Jesus goes through. Therefore, whatever his divine nature experienced—and I don’t know how to fully describe or discern that—whatever his divine nature experienced, we are surely supposed to think of Jesus’ human nature during his last hours as extremely oppressed and weighed down and sorrowful and in great agony at certain times of that night and next morning. And yet he was sustained by the hope of the total success of his mission, the joy set be-fore him. He could taste that and he could taste it enough of this joy to carry him through. I think that is the meaning of that text.
It doesn’t mean that his divine nature was any less in communion and fellowship with the Father and the Spirit as he always had been. But these things are very difficult to conceive and we just need to stir in the fact that the two natures always have to be in front of us when we ponder how to describe the experiences of Christ on earth.
Here is the last thing to say and probably the most important, at least from my effort to manage my own emotional response to these things in God. The two natures of Christ are not the solution to the larger issue of the joy God had in creation and the pleasure he has in the obedience of his children and so on. These are real joys that vary in God. So what sense does it have to speak of his joy in the fellowship of the trinity being full and perfect if there can be displeasures of God with our behavior or with Israel or joy in the repentance of one sinner who repents, more joy in heaven than 99 righteous person. And here are my two responses to that.
God can look at any event through two lenses, a narrow lens that focuses on the thing itself without reference to the totality of things and the broad lens, the wide lens that sees the thing in relation to the entirety of all that he does. So when he looks at an evil like my sin. I am his child. I sin and he is displeased with that. When he looks at my sin or just some evil in the world through the narrow lens he sees it as ugly and it displeases him in its ugliness. But when he sees it through the wide lens, he sees it in relation to all things like a thread, a dark thread or a tattered thread in a bright tapestry that, in relation to the whole, performs its perfect role though the thread itself may be imperfect. And he rejoices. He rejoices when he sees through the wide lens like that, over how my sin fits into the big picture. And the mystery is that God looks through these lenses simultaneously. And what appears to us as variableness in God as he is pleased or displeased is really part of the complexity of his glorious, unified, constant, stable, pure, coherent mind. That is the first thing to say.
Second thing, these are two pictures so the picture of the lenses and now here is a second picture of a fountain. Now I get this from Jonathan Edwards. When we say that God found joy in creating or redeeming the world, do we mean that this joy made up for a deficiency in God that wasn’t there? I mean the joy wasn’t there so he had a deficiency. First there was a deficiency and then he created. And now he has joy and the deficiency is compensated for. And the answer to that is: No, no, no, no, no. That is not the way to think about this. Edwards says: It is no sign of the deficiency of a fountain that it is prone to overflow. So it seems to me we want to retain two biblical truths. God experiences joy in doing things and God’s joy was full before he did them. And the way I would say this is: The joy God experiences in doing things does not make up for any deficiency of joy, but rather expresses a fullness of joy. God’s joys in relation to creation are not additions, but overflow.
So these are... Tony, these are weighty, weighty matters and that is my best effort to tackle Ann’s question.
Whew, yes, those are weighty matters—thank you, as always, for tackling it, Pastor John. And as a follow up, I commend an Ask Pastor John podcast episode we titled: “If God Is Happy, Why Does He Seem Angry?” That’s episode #133. Tomorrow we will return to talk about a very painful chapter from Pastor John’s ministry and church, and what he learned from the painful experience. I’m your host Tony Reinke, we’ll see you tomorrow.