What If God Were Happy?
We will be most satisfied in God when we know why God himself is most satisfied in God.
If the world is a mess (and it is), and if God is in charge of this mess (and he is), then how is it rational to be satisfied with a God who let things get so messy? If he’s ultimately responsible for all of this, how could we trust in him, much less delight in him?
Several answers come to mind. My own satisfaction with God springs from a number of places, including:
- His steadfast love in Christ.
- His drawing near to me instead of remaining far off.
- His personal acquaintance with my grief and sorrow — in every respect tempted as I am, yet without sin.
- His mercies, new every morning, triumphing over judgment and removing his just wrath upon sinners like me.
- His ability and willingness to fulfill all his promises, and his appetite for making really pleasant ones to me, despite how little I deserve.
While realities like that are unspeakably savory reasons to delight in God, they’re not the one I uncovered in the sentence above.
Seeing the Universe Through a Sentence
Years ago, I had already embraced the God-centeredness of God — that he does all he does for his glory — but the happiness of God was almost entirely off my radar. Until I read one sentence. I read it thirty years ago now, and I haven’t read the Bible the same ever since:
We will be most satisfied in God when we know why God himself is most satisfied in God. (John Piper, The Pleasures of God, 9)
Could it be true? Could the God I’ve believed in all these years possibly be happy? And not only happy, but the happiest of all?
A sentence like the one I read drives us to ask deeper, simpler questions, like “What is happiness?” It’s not mindless giddiness. God is not drunk or on LSD. Happiness — including God’s happiness — is pleasure in a desirable sense of well-being, a contented joy in all that’s fitting, a delight that seeks expression in pure, unsullied, unblemished, unpolluted, untarnished, unbounded, unrestrained rejoicing.
And if, as Piper claims, my satisfaction in him hinges upon his satisfaction in him, then there’s no more important question than this: “Is God happy?” By setting me on a quest to find what makes God happy, this sentence changed the way I read the Bible and the way I observe everything I observe in the universe. And there’s a lot to observe in this universe. There’s a lot that makes God happy, and his happiness fuels my satisfaction in him.
What Makes God Happy?
The Bible parades a number of God’s pleasures before us. For example (and this is only a small sampling):
- He delights in justice (Proverbs 11:1).
- He delights in the prayer of the upright (Proverbs 15:8).
- He delights in those who hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 147:11).
- He delights in choosing a people (Deuteronomy 10:14–15).
- He is pleased by all he does (Psalm 115:9).
- He is well pleased in his Son (Matthew 17:5).
It’s perfectly reasonable to supremely value the supremely valuable. God is reasonable, supremely so. He is also supremely valuable. So he is perfectly reasonable when he supremely values himself (and he does at all times). God is satisfying to me partly because he is reasonable — consummately reasonable — by supremely valuing the supremely valuable.
To supremely value something that is not supremely valuable is crazy. It is idolatry. But God is not an idolater. Or crazy. Henry Scougal famously wrote, “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” What God loves most is worth the most — namely, himself. All of this may lead us to ask, “What makes something more valuable than something else? What things are most valuable?”
“God is maximally happy, because he is maximally glorious — and maximally happy in that gloriousness.”
Deep down, we know good answers. Things with solidity and lasting endurance. Things that won’t evaporate and poof. Things that overcome other things, instead of being subject to factors and forces they cannot control. Things that are never self-contradictory. Things that are substantial, influencing all other things. The thing from which all other things are derived. Something that is so rare there is nothing like it anywhere, and yet it is profoundly and decisively useful in every context without exception. Something that is inexhaustibly self-replenishing.
God is that kind of valuable, gloriously so. God is maximally happy because he is maximally glorious — and maximally happy in that gloriousness.
If God Were Not Happy
What if God were all-powerful, but a grouch? What if the well-known children’s prayer — “God is great, God is good” — were instead “God is great, but he’s not so good, so ya better watch out!”? If so, he could use that almighty power to grind us all into powder and blow us away — far away, a kind of far away called outer darkness.
The God of the Bible, however, does something remarkable because he is something remarkable. Rather than grumble or rage, he delights. God relishes. His highest and deepest gladness is in being God, and so he delights in everything he does. He doesn’t do anything poorly or wrongly. His workmanship is without error, and therefore when he does something — anything — he can step back and say, “That’s good . . . really good. I like it. I’m rightly happy with myself for doing it that way.” Even his wrath ends up pleasing him, for it ultimately carries out perfect justice, thereby glorifying him in his righteousness.
“Each day, I want to move toward becoming as happy about God as God is happy about God.”
What does this happiness mean for me? As the infinitely wise, unchanging, always-happy God, he never regrets anything he does. Therefore, I shouldn’t regret anything he has done, but instead trust him that he is working all things, without exception, for the good of those who love him. And then, beyond trusting him, I thank him, love him, praise him, enjoy him. I delight in who he is and what he’s done, just as he delights in himself. His happiness is not secondary, but primary. Each day, I want to move toward becoming as happy about God as God is happy about God.
God’s Happiness with Messiness
How can the farmer end his long hot day and glance with satisfaction at the sod all torn up by plowing? Here’s how: he’s not done with that field, and he enjoys the plowing in anticipation of the glorious crop to come. It was a good day of dusty, sweaty plowing, though at the moment the land looks like a scarred mess.
Vicki and I experienced the death of two children. To shake the fist at God as though he has failed is to wrongly assume that he is done with those children — or with us. He is not done. Ever.
I took a ceramics class with my middle school daughter. Together we labored for hours over projects that made a dusty clay mess of the studio and our clothes. How could we be satisfied in the toil and trouble? Answer: even though our creations had not yet come out of the kiln, they were on the way to something attractive and useful. God can be pleased with mid-stream projects, because plowed fields, bodily ailments, entirely flooded planets, and this broken, groaning universe are well on their way to glorious outcomes.
God is happy with everything he does because he infallibly produces immeasurable good through everything he does. He never shrugs his shoulders and mutters, “I wish I could have done better.”
His Happiness and My Existence
What difference has it made to me whether God is happy to be who he is and do what he does?
His happiness has differentiated him from man-made gods who are cranky and temperamental, like the human race that invents them. From the capricious and cruel thunderbolts of Zeus, to the unpredictable anger of Poseidon, to the Artemis who demands human sacrifice during the Trojan War, to the abortion-promoting self-deified morality police of today’s cancel culture, man-made gods are unlike the happy God who promises pleasures at his right hand forever.
His happiness has injected all of history with purposefulness. The happy God is not wasting one single event but working all things together for the good of those who love him. That changes the way I read my current circumstances. Through them, God is taking me somewhere good, very good. The happiness of God has also changed the way I read the Bible. His delight in his being and his works is everywhere in the lines and between the lines.
This life-changing happiness of God is a kind of deep happiness without any regrets whatsoever. When the Bible says God regrets or repents (and it does say that, for instance in Genesis 6:6 and 1 Samuel 15:10), it means he laments over the sad belittlement of his glory. But if he had to start all over again, he would act exactly the same way. Everything is going according to his deep plan to bring maximum glory to his Son and maximum pleasure to his people in the end, and he’s happy about that. So am I.