Desiring God is your signature book, Pastor John, first published in 1986. Of course, Desiring God is the name of the ministry, but it’s also the title of this foundational, four-hundred-page book. And in the last podcast, you talked about how and why chapter ten on suffering came about as an added chapter to the second edition of the book, released in 1996. Explain that more — why did you add the chapter on suffering and sacrifice?
We were talking about how to prevent Christian Hedonism — which basically says, pursue your joy in God — from being our god instead of God being our God. And I gave about four or five or six ways that Christian Hedonism avoids that mistake. And I was talking there about an experience early on where I don’t think I felt as fully as I should how this would land on people, and here is the example I had.
Christian Hedonism and the Prosperity Gospel
I published the book, Desiring God, and a review of it was written by a missionary. Actually, it was a mission advocate, you might say. I can’t even remember his name now. But it was a pretty scathing review in a mission journal or somewhere. And basically, it said that Piper’s view is just warmed over, middle-class American. He didn’t use the term prosperity gospel, but, you know, “feel-good Christianity.” And I thought to myself, Did he read this? And I thought, in order to avoid that misunderstanding, I am going to have to hammer a lot more clearly on a robust doctrine of suffering and a robust doctrine of self-denial, because all he heard there was, “Be happy anyway, and if you are not happy you must be sinning.”
“You should always be crying, and you should always be rejoicing, and there is always reason to do both in your life.”
And he just heard it as so superficial, and in those days, I hadn’t used the term from 2 Corinthians 6:10, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” That has become a mantra for me now, because life, I think, lived by John Piper for forty years has taught me that while the book is titled “Desiring God,” it is not titled, “Having Arrived at Perfect, Constant Pleasure in God.” There is sorrow at every turn of the road in this fallen life, not only because things go hard for us, but now in this modern world we can watch people suffer everywhere all the time.
Reason to Rejoice and Weep
Any time anything happens in the world of a painful kind, it makes its way to our eyes. And therefore, if “we weep with those who weep,” like Paul said in Romans 12:15, there is always reason to weep. Which means that if Christian Hedonism can’t create a people who can cry and rejoice at the same time, let’s just close up shop, because you should always be crying, and you should always be rejoicing, and there is always reason to do both in your life. And so you will be oscillating in and out with what you present to the people in front of you, but inside there is always going to be this burden that you carry of pain for the people that you know or the people that you don’t know, and the joy that you have in God who is the triumphant lover of your soul and will work everything together for your good.
So the upshot of that discovery from that encounter back when I published the book is that I have tried to put a chapter on suffering or an article on suffering or a sermon on suffering or an illustration of suffering in almost every presentation I make about Christian Hedonism, lest anybody make that observation that, “Oh, this is just another one of those American, middle class, feel good theologies,” when in fact my whole purpose was to destroy and attack a comfortable settling in with the American way, which I think finds its pleasure in stuff, not God.