Two of your major themes, Pastor John, are God’s sovereignty and the centrality of joy in God. How do these two topics relate? How is Calvinism connected to joy in God?
I love that question, Tony, I really do. I mean, these are two of the most precious and glorious things in my life. I could talk about these all day long, which created a problem when I went to answer this with you.
I am going to need to break this into two if I am not mistaken. So you decide whether you want to make this two or not. But there are two ways to answer this. One is foundational about the very nature of God himself and how his God-ness — his free and independent sovereignty — relates to our joy. That is the first one that I will answer. And the second one that may need a second podcast episode is how God’s sovereignty in this fallen world actually helps us fight for our joy in the face of enormous suffering and sorrow.
God’s Joy Upholds His Sovereignty
Let me tackle the first one, and then we will see how long it takes, and we can go for our second if you want to. Here is how they relate. God’s sovereignty is owing to his completeness as God. He has no needs. He depends on no one and nothing. All that he needs he has in and of himself. And, therefore, he is infinitely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. So the love that the Father has for the Son and the Son has for the Father — this love is essentially joy, because they are not lovingly enduring each other. There is no longsuffering in the Trinity like there is for recalcitrant sinners outside the Trinity. They have an infinite pleasure in each other’s perfections. And, therefore, joy — and this is what just blows my mind, and I love it — is the essence of God’s God-ness. It is the foundation of his sovereignty.
“There is no longsuffering in the Trinity. They have an infinite pleasure in each other’s perfections.”
The reason God is free and independent and powerful outside God is that he is completely happy inside God. He has no needs. And he is sovereignly independent because he is happy at the core of his being in his all-sufficiency, his self-sufficiency. And, therefore, when he creates the world, it is not owing to any deficiency in him. He didn’t create out of need. He didn’t create because he hoped that his creation would supply something that he was lacking. It was motivated by giving, not needing. And, therefore — and this is the greatest news in all the world — he spills over with his own joy in God.
God’s creating the world is God’s intention to share with creatures in his own image the very joy that he has in himself. That is what he wanted to share. So when you read the prayer of Jesus in John 17, what he desires for us at the end of that prayer is that we would be with him where he is to see his glory that God had given him, and that we would love him with the very love that the Father has for the Son, which is, I think, what the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is really all about. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father loving the Son, and the Son loving the Father.
Sharing in God’s Delight
And, oh for the day when we will be done with sinning and the joy that we have in God will be the kind of joy that he really designed for us to have. And, therefore, our joy is not marginal to the reason for the universe. This is what is so mind-boggling when people say, “Oh, I think joy is just icing on the cake of Christianity and really it is all about commitment and obedience, and if joy comes that is nice. If it doesn’t, that is okay.” That is just crazy. It is right at the heart of who God is and who we are. We were created to share in God’s joy in God, and he made us to do this.
“Because God is perfectly happy, he is independent and free and needs nothing and sovereignly works on behalf of others.”
Here is the last piece of this big answer: He made us to do this in such a way that when we are most satisfied in him, he is most glorified in us. So you can see why I am a Christian hedonist, why I have spent all of my adult life trying to think through the meaning of joy in a world like this. When we are thrilled — when we are most satisfied — in all the perfections of God, we show those perfections to be precious to us, to be our treasure. We highlight them and lift them up and magnify them. And that is why the universe was made.
So if you ask me, Tony, what is the relationship in the big picture between the sovereignty of God and joy, I would say, in God, joy is the ground of his sovereignty and the overflow of his sovereignty. Because he is perfectly happy, he is independent and free and needs nothing and sovereignly works on behalf of others. And when he does that, what he is working for is our joy in him. And so, there is this great circle of enjoying God and glorifying God.