It’s a blunt question. It’s a personal question. It’s a question from the UK, from a listener named Tim, who asks: “Pastor John, my question is simply this: Is John Piper happy? You are clearly convinced biblically by Christian Hedonism and have shown so helpfully over many years how pursing enjoyment in God brings him great glory, but how has this worked out in your life experience? How much of your Christian Hedonism rests on the hope of the future and being glorified with Christ? Bottom line: Are you happy right now?”
I have asked this question to myself many, many times, not only because I have written so much about the importance, indeed, indispensability of being happy in God, but also because the Bible simply says to John Piper, “Rejoice in the Lord” — John Piper — “again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). It’s not a matter of mere personality, as Tim points out. It is a command of Scripture. So, I take up the question not because I feel any external constraint coming from one of our listeners, but because I live with the question all the time — because I live with the Bible all the time.
“All the failures of my life can probably be laid at the feet of failures to be happy in God.”
Before I answer it — I will give a straight-out answer to the question, “Is John Piper happy now — ever?” — but before I answer the question specifically, let me mention the biblical factors that make the question more complex than a simple yes or no would indicate, even though I’ll try to give one.
1. First, there is the biblical reality that Christians are not only obligated to rejoice, but obligated to be sad. Obligated to be sad. We are commanded to “weep with those who weep,” and I presume we’re not supposed to be hypocrites when we do it. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Therefore, Paul says in Romans 9:2–3 that he has constant anguish, that he’s weeping all the time, in some sense, in his heart, because of the lostness of his fellow Jews. Peter says in 1 Peter 1:6 that we are to rejoice even while being “grieved by various trials.” Not just threatened by trials, but really grieved — feeling them as grievous — yet rejoicing. Second Corinthians 6:10 says Christians are “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
The first thing to be said about being happy in God is that in the Christian heart that is sensitive to the sorrows of the world, happiness will always be intermingled with sorrow. How this looks will probably vary from personality to personality, but in this fallen world, true spiritual happiness — that is, Holy Spirit-given happiness — will always be experienced as conflicted and not perfectly harmonious. That’s certainly true for me, anyway.
2. Here’s the second thing that I need to say before I give my answer. This tension between sorrow and joy is not merely a tension, but a design by God to make our happiness deeper and purer. It’s not like they’re just in competition, but one of them is serving the other. Paul makes that so plain in Romans 5:3–4. Tribulation is serving our hope and our joy. It doesn’t just combat our joy, though it does that. It deepens it and strengthens it.
3. The third thing to say is that Paul talks about a fight of faith, and since joy and faith are interwoven inextricably, the fight for faith is always a fight for joy. That means for the apostle and all the rest of us, there will be ups and downs as the warfare advances and recedes.
“Since joy and faith are interwoven inextricably, the fight for faith is always a fight for joy.”
4. Fourth, Paul teaches us that the ministry of the apostles, and I think by implication then the ministry of pastors and the ministry of churches, is, “We work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). Or Philippians 1:25, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.” In other words, joy is a dynamic thing that not only requires our personal encounter with hope-giving promises in the Bible, but also requires our involvement with the church, and with the ministry of the word that is designed by God to help us fight the fight for joy — and that goes up and down.
Here’s my answer to the question, “Is John Piper happy?” Yes, I am happy, and yes, a huge component of this happiness is what Paul calls in Romans 5:2, “Rejoicing in hope.” In other words, looking beyond the present reasons for sadness — and they are sometimes overwhelming, which is why we have to do this — looking beyond the reasons for sadness now to the future reasons for joy, where all the sad things will be set right, God intends for the promises of that future joy to penetrate back into the present, and sustain us with measures of joy now in the midst of sorrow.
I would say also that all the failures of my life, I think, can probably be laid at the feet of failures to be happy in God. I think all my failures of fear — like when I have copped out on not bearing witness the way I should — all the failures of fear are owing to a failure to rejoice in the promises of God and his care for me and his promise to work with me and through me. All my failures of anger, which have probably cost me more than I know, are owing to failures to rejoice in the providence and grace and goodness of God. All my failures of lust are owing to failures of joy that come through the pure-eyed sight of God’s all-satisfying glory. Of course, the list could just go on and on. Yes, I am happy. I am happy in God both because of what I experience of him in his word and in his world, all of it by the Holy Spirit.
“Being happy in God is indispensable. God commands it.”
God is the loadstar of my sky. He’s the true north of my life compass. He is the blazing sun at the center of my emotional solar system, and he is the unerasable home setting on the GPS of my life. Which means that by his grace, when my heart begins to wander toward another competing satisfaction besides God, God has always — it’s been seventy years and I pray that he will be faithful; I believe he will be faithful — he has always exerted a Holy Spirit gravitational pull on me that has brought the planets of my life back into their God-treasuring orbits around his glory.
I very much look forward to the day when I will be free — the day when I’m with Jesus — when I will be free from warfare and free from sinning. I think if you ask me the same question in fifty years, I will answer from heaven a simple, “Yes.”