We close the week with an important question from a listener named Anthony in San Diego about whether God’s happiness is contingent on our happiness. It will make sense in a moment. Here’s the email. “Hello, Pastor John, thank you for taking my question! I am very curious to get your thoughts on the following quote I found in J.I. Packer’s classic book, ‘Knowing God.’ There Packer writes this: ‘God was happy without humans before they were made; he would have continued happy had he simply destroyed them after they had sinned; but as it is he has set his love upon particular sinners, and this means that, by his own free voluntary choice, he will not know perfect and unmixed happiness again till he has brought every one of them to heaven. He has in effect resolved that henceforth, for all eternity, his happiness shall be conditional upon ours.’ Okay, so that last line — ‘his happiness shall be conditional upon ours’ — is tough for me to swallow. I think I understand what he is saying, but I would love to hear your take. How would you take this line, Pastor John?”
That quote from Packer is found on page 125 in my edition of Knowing God. I mention that because I’d like every one of our listeners to read Knowing God. I think it’s a classic. It sold way over a million copies, and it’s so foundational. It’s chock-full of good sentences like that.
The sentence that Anthony is having a hard time swallowing says, “God has in effect resolved that henceforth, for all eternity, his happiness shall be conditional upon ours.” Here’s why I think that sentence sticks in our craw.
“God is not waiting to see if we will become happy by our self-determining powers so that he can then be happy.”
If you didn’t know J.I. Packer, if you didn’t know the wider context of the book or his theology, the word conditional might imply to you that Packer has made God’s joy dependent on our self-determining achievement of joy. The achievement of it appears uncertain and, therefore, God’s joy appears uncertain. If that’s true, he’s not God. This is the big deal.
A God who is making his happiness dependent on his creatures and then crossing his fingers in the hope that their happiness will be achieved decisively by them is not God. So, he’s raising an important question. Therefore, in addition to (not instead of) saying that God’s happiness is conditional upon ours, we need to say also that God’s happiness is the invincible pursuit of ours.
Or to put it another way, God’s joy is not only a response to our joy in him. God’s joy is also the cause of our joy in him. Or to put it yet another way, the entire plan and history of salvation is the overflow of God’s joy bringing into being, through Jesus Christ, a glorious family of believers who share in his joy. God is not waiting to see if we will become happy by the use of our self-determining powers so that he can then be happy in response to our happiness.
No, no, no. God is not waiting to see. God is eternally happy in the Trinity. His happiness is overflowing into creation and redemption and the whole process of bringing us to the point where we have fullness of joy in his presence and pleasures at his right hand.
The way to think about God’s joy being conditional upon our joy is that he takes pleasure in the pleasure that we have in him — which he himself brought about in us. So, yes. Yes, his joy is conditional upon ours, but not with any degree of uncertainty that our joy will come about and that our joy in him will be full.
That’s certain because that’s what he’s pursuing with omnipotent resolve. He has not just resolved, like Packer says, to make our happiness the condition of his. He has also resolved to make our happiness the creation of his.
God’s Good Pleasure
Jesus says, for example, in Luke 12:32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” In other words, God’s not pictured here as standing by watching, wondering whether we get happily into the kingdom, and then rejoicing that we’re in. Instead, the picture is God’s great joy, his good pleasure. Jesus calls it “his good pleasure to give us the kingdom” — to get us into the joy of the kingdom. So, yes, by all means.
According to Luke 15:7, there will be more joy in heaven, including God’s joy over one sinner who repents, than over 99 persons who don’t need any repentance. Yes indeed — that’s true. But the very repentance that brought about God’s joy in heaven was the gift of God. He didn’t give it begrudgingly. He gave it joyfully. This is good pleasure. It is his good pleasure to get us into the kingdom by repentance.
The Master’s Joy
How do we get in? How do we get into the covenant where our sins are forgiven? How do we get into the covenant where the law is written on our hearts and we delight to do the will of God, so that God delights in our happy obedience? How do we get in there? Here’s the answer in Jeremiah 32:40–41 (one of my favorite passages in all the Bible).
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.
“God has made our joy in him the condition of his joy in us, and our joy in him the creation of his joy in us.”
So, yes, God’s joy is driving him in total freedom to bring his people into the covenant and keep them in the covenant and make them glad in the covenant with the very gladness of God. Just like Jesus says in Matthew 25:23: “Enter into the joy of your master.”
We enter into the joy of Jesus and then, as J.I. Packer says, “God himself rejoices over us and our joy in Jesus becomes a constituent part of God’s joy in us.” As it says in Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” What a great verse!
Three cheers for J.I. Packer and three thousand cheers for God, who not only has made our joy in him the condition of his joy in us, but has also made our joy in him the creation of his joy in us.