God Is the Gospel, Session 2

Desiring God 2006 Regional Conference

God Is the Gospel

What I mean by “God is the gospel” is that the highest, best, final, decisive good that comes to us in the good news — and which all the other elements of the good news are intended to lead to, and without which all the other elements of the good news would not be good news — is the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ for your everlasting enjoyment. Everything is means except God.

In the last session, we moved from our wedding almost 38 years ago. We moved through Oscar Cullmann and the class in Germany. We moved through signs and wonders struggles and wrestlings in the eighties. We moved through Stanford University and an illuminating moment there in the early eighties. We moved through wrestling with the meaning of prayer and how not to use it to make a cuckold out of God, but rather to make prayer a means of praying, “Hallowed be thy name” — in every prayer that we pray, that being the goal of it. We moved through how you use stuff and creation and all the good things that God has made in the world so as not to compete with him and so on.

When Dying is Gain

And now we’ve come to this little rhyming couplet: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And that sums up most of what Desiring God Ministries and my life and Bethlehem Baptist Church are about: God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him.

Christ Magnified

Where does that come from? I mean, it’s an inference from a lot of things. But is there a text you can put underneath it? We won’t take long on this because I’ve done this in so many places and so many times that I don’t want to be too repetitive in case you have seen it done so many times. But there are enough of you who are newer here to make it worth doing one more time here. I want to show you a text that you can put under that little rhyming couplet.

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored [or magnified, glorified] in my body, whether by life or by death.

Christ will be made to seem as he really is big in my body, whether by life or by death. Paul’s passion is that his bodily life and death would make Jesus look good. Now ask yourself the question: How would you die in a way that would make Jesus look good? Because he mentions death. How do you die in a way that makes Jesus look magnificent? And he answers in the next verse. There’s a life and death pair in verse 20, and a life and death pair in verse 21. And they parallel each other. So verse 20 ends: “in my body, whether by life or by death.”

And then he gives the explanation and ground in verse 21: “For to me to live is Christ.” And that corresponds with “life” in verse 20. We could talk about that. We can talk for half an hour about that by going over to Philippians 3:7–9, where he counts everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ now; to live is Christ. But let’s just leave that aside and just talk about the death pair and “to die is gain.” So now let’s go back and just do the death pair: “It’s my desire that Christ would be honored, made much of, magnified in my body in dying for to die is gain.”

No Ultimate Loss

How is Christ made magnificent, as you breathe your last breath — to breathe it with the confidence and the manifestation of joy that this moment is gain? That’s amazing, because, at that moment, you’re losing everything on earth: health is gone, family’s disappearing, the hoped-for retirement is not going to happen, the grandchildren you will never see. Gain — how could that be? Verse 23 gives the answer:

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

The reason it’s gain to die is because I get Jesus completely. No more through a glass darkly, but face to face, intimate, full, and that’s gain. Though I lose everything I thought was pleasurable — no more sex, no more physical eating in this in-between time in heaven, no body (the body’s lying in the grave) — we have amazing intimacy and closeness and clarity with the greatest person in the universe. That’s all. And he counts it gain.

So Paul must think that when you are satisfied in Jesus, it magnifies Jesus. Isn’t that the assumption here? Because he’s arguing: I want to magnify Jesus in dying, and the way I magnify Jesus in dying is to be satisfied in Jesus as I die. I don’t need anything on earth anymore. It’s all gone. Everything I live my life for is gone on earth, and I get one thing in place of everything. I get Jesus. And when I weigh it, everything on earth versus Jesus, I say Gain. And at that moment, Jesus is magnified. And I just put that into a rhyming couplet: Jesus is most magnified in me when I am most satisfied in him — especially at the moment of death, or at any other moment of loss in your life.

So the best way to sum up “God is the gospel” or Christian Hedonism or my life or the meaning of the universe is: God is most glorified in his human creatures when they are most satisfied in him at the moments when every other satisfaction is being stripped away. Some of you will not live out the year. And I hope when the moment comes, you will remember this. And the Holy Spirit will come, and he will illumine your heart in such a way that Christ will be gain in the moment with tubes everywhere.

Steadfast Love

The next point is simply a drawing out of how we talk about the greatness of the love of God and the greatness of the salvation of God. Consider verses in the Psalms.

May those who love your salvation
     say evermore, “God is great!” (Psalm 70:4)

You might have expected them to say, “Your salvation is great,” not “God is great.” But that’s not what it says. So learn to talk like this. Either that means a saving God saves in order that we might see his greatness in his saving — saving is a display of his greatness; or it means he is saving us from the inability of seeing him as great. Either way he is the gospel.

Salvation is not mainly about getting well from a disease. It’s not mainly about prospering in your business. It’s not mainly about a fixed-up marriage. It’s not mainly about escaping hell. It’s not mainly about reunion with Mom in heaven. It’s mainly about seeing, savoring, and saying, “God is great.” That’s what it says in Psalm 70:4. Here’s another one:

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
     my lips will praise you. (Psalm 63:3)

Now that’s a lot like Philippians 1:21. Now you might think that it would say, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise your steadfast love.” That’s not what it says. There’s nothing wrong with praising God’s steadfast love — totally nothing wrong with that. It’s just not what it says. It’s teaching us something else. It’s teaching us what this little conference is about. “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”

And either that means that in your steadfast love, I see a kind of person whom I love, and it isn’t what he does. What he does is pointing to his character, and his character thrills me. I praise him! Or it means that his steadfast love is the means by which he liberates me from my inability to see how worthy he is. Either way, he’s the gospel, and his steadfast love is taking us there. So that’s bullet point number twelve: teaching us how to take this truth and see it in the Psalms and see it in the Bible where we maybe didn’t know it was found.

Truest Love

Now this brought me to bullet point number thirteen. I’ve been doing this now for about five years. I want to understand the nature of the love of God for me, because here I am going around the country and writing stuff, arguing that God, in all that he does, exalts himself for your enjoyment. And there are folks who don’t like that picture of God. It feels like he’s a megalomaniac.

Tearing Away Obstacles

So I have asked myself: What is it to be loved? What does it mean biblically to be loved? And I think right at this point, we hit our culture about as broadside as we can hit it. Because what the culture means by being loved, at least at the surface level, is the opposite of what the Bible means by being loved. So let me tell you what I think those two are and then take you to John 11 This is the place where I have found, in recent years, the most illuminating support for what I’m about to say.

The world, I think, by and large, feels loved. And when I say “the world,” I mean unregenerate human beings. They have not been born again. They are natural. They think without God at the center. Their affections have not been awakened. They are dead spiritually according to Ephesians 2:5. And being dead spiritually, the spiritual things of God, are foolishness to them, and they have no categories for handling much biblical truth, especially this one.

So for the unregenerate American, or any other human being, to be loved is to be made much of. “I feel really loved by you if you make much of me: praise me, thank me, applaud me, compliment me. Just build up my ego. Help me with my self-esteem.” That would be the language of our last forty years or so. I’m, frankly, quite sick of it. And I think a lot of secular people are sick of it also. I don’t hear quite as much of it now as I did fifteen or twenty years ago.

But it’s still there. If you go to the bottom of school curricula, if you go to the bottom of how to manage an office, if you look at what the world has for wisdom, for how to make things work in corporate situations, it’s: Work on people’s self-esteem. Everybody likes it. And so it works; it works. That’s what it means to be loved. To love people means to make them feel significant.

Now when you try to add that or use that as the means by which God loves us, it won’t work. Biblical love from God to us keeps God at the center, not us. So here’s my definition of the way God loves us: God loves us by doing everything he has to do, at great cost to himself, to remove every obstacle from inside of us and inside of him to bring us to the place where we enjoy him, which makes much of him. That’s like we saw in Philippians 1:20–21. When you enjoy him, you magnify him. And God’s way of loving you is to strip you, if he must, of every substitute satisfaction so that you can have the best one: himself.

And if you remember in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace had to be stripped of his skin. It’s a good image of being stripped of every vain satisfaction. And in Eustace’s case, as a dragon, having his skin ripped off was painful. And so it is for us. But when it’s done and you see God as the magnificent soul-satisfier that he is, you know, “I have been loved.” If God were to come to you and play the world game of stoking your ego, stroking you, making you feel loved like you already know how to feel loved, he would be so cruel. He would be preserving the very obstacles that keep you from everlasting and full satisfaction in him. You have to have your eyes opened. Things have to be gotten out of the way.

Led to See and Savor

God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the essential way to love. If I were to walk in here and say, “I came to love you folks. Now the way I love you is by displaying to you my greatness, my glory, my beauty, my all-satisfying perfections. And so what I would really like is for you to see me for who I, and be so caught up in me, that you praise me everlastingly.” And you would respond by saying I’m sick and I’m evil. And you would be absolutely right. But if God showed up here, or Jesus the Son of God showed up here, that’s exactly what love would do. He has no other way that he can love you fully but to say, “I’m here and I’m infinitely glorious. You were made to see me, savor me, speak of me, be with me forever.”

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.

This means the relationship is precious between Mary and Martha and Jesus and Lazarus

So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

Now mark that word love because that’s what I’m after here. What does love mean? And her thought, of course, is: “You’ve got to come fix this quick!”

But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now mark that word glory because I want to know how love and glory relate to each other. That’s what I’m after.

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

And then I hope the version of the Bible that you have in your lap begins verse 6 with something like the word therefore or so. If it says but, you need a new version. Because the word is oun in Greek. And ever first-year Greek student knows it means therefore or so.

So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

John’s always doing things to break our brain. And here Jesus says, “I love them. I love Martha. I love Mary. I love Lazarus. Lazarus is very sick at the point of death, so I’m not going to go.” “Therefore, I’m not going to go.” Now, how do you make sense of the therefore in verse 6? And the answer is verse 4. If this were a seminar, I’d have you take a test and say, “Explain from verse 4 the therefore of verse 6. Because verse 4 says, “This illness that I’m going to let kill him — I’m staying here two days longer to make sure he’s dead when I get there.” That’s what he’s saying. “This illness is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God — that’s me — may be glorified through it.”

Now how would you paraphrase this? I would paraphrase it like this: to love is to do whatever you have to do, even at the cost of your brother’s life, to reveal to you the glory of God. That’s just what it says. What else can you do with it? “I’m not going to go heal him; I’m going to let him die, so that you will see the glory of God because I love you. I will not spare you one of the most horrible things in life. [This poor guy has got to die twice.] And you’re going to be grieving for three or four days, weeping your eyes out. And I know all that; I’m causing all of that by not going now.” Why? Verse 5 says, “Because I love you. Because I love you. And a spared brother is not what love is about here. Love is about you’re seeing my glory.

That’s bullet point number thirteen: a textual foundation for this definition of being loved. Being loved is not being spared from dying. Being loved is not mainly being healed. Being loved is not mainly the marriage being fixed. Those can be acts of love. God does those things. Being loved is mainly God doing whatever he has to do, whether it’s Lazarus’s death or his death, so that I will see and savor and be satisfied by the glory of Jesus. That’s love. Any other act that leaves me short of that may feel like love to a million unregenerate people. And it isn’t. Love is when God gets you to God.

Edwards’s Influence

I want to go back a couple hundred years, two hundred and fifty or so, to my mentor. My main mentors are all dead. There are a few living ones. My dad is still alive. Dan Fuller is still alive. Colleagues around me refine and sharpen my thinking. But most of my most influential mentors are dead. Most of them wrote this book, the Bible. A few of them, after the Bible, wrote things that were so profoundly shaping in my life. I will thank God through eternity for them. And the main one is Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards had an effect on me, especially in his books The End for Which God Created the World and Religious Affections and Freedom of the Will. Those three books were the main power houses in my life about thirty years ago. So here is the situation: Jonathan Edwards was a pastor in New England. He was born in 1703 and died 1758. And he was the main human spark plug of the First Great Awakening. And so he saw phenomenal conversions and signs and wonders and terrible abuses of all of that. And therefore, he struggled with sorting his way through the chaff and the wheat of what was real and what was not real in the Great Awakening.

Anytime God does a great work Satan really messes it up. And Edwards was so wise, unlike Charles Chauncy in Boston, in not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Some of the Boston clergy, who had their buttoned-up positions just right, could not take the wild enthusiasm that was spreading through the churches. They just said, “This cannot be of God. This is enthusiasm” — which was a very bad word in those days. And Edwards applied one of the greatest minds in history to sort it out and not throw it away. And his analysis in Religious Affections of the human heart is devastating.

There were no evening services in Munich from 1971–1974, when Noël and I and our little baby Karsten were in Munich, Germany studying. So what I did on Sunday evenings was sit in a rocking chair (when my wife wasn’t using it with baby Karsten), and read Religious affections. It took me a year because I could only handle a page or two at a time. It was an absolutely devastating experience to read Jonathan Edwards’s analysis of my heart. So here are just a couple of paragraphs from God Is the Gospel that engage with Edwards.

It is amazing that this same idolatry is sometimes even true when people thank God for sending Christ to die for them. Perhaps you have heard people say how thankful we should be for the death of Christ because it shows how much value God puts upon us. In other words, they are thankful for the cross as an echo of our worth. What is the foundation of this gratitude?

Jonathan Edwards calls it the gratitude of hypocrites. Why? Because “they first rejoice, and are elevated with the fact that they are made much of by God; and then on that ground, [God] seems in a sort, lovely to them. . . . They are pleased in the highest degree, in hearing how much God and Christ make of them. So that their joy is really a joy in themselves, and not in God.” (137)

That I fear is in many churches today. That sounds so up to date I cannot believe it. Here’s another section from God Is the Gospel.

Jonathan Edwards learned this to his own heartache as he studied the permutations of hypocrisy in the fallout of the Great Awakening.

This is . . . the . . . difference between the joy of the hypocrite, and the joy of the true saint. The [hypocrite] rejoices in himself; self is the first foundation of his joy: the [true saint] rejoices in God. . . . True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures. . . . But the dependence of the affections of hypocrites is in a contrary order: they first rejoice . . . that they are made so much of by God; and then on that ground, he seems in a sort, lovely to them.

There are many evangelistic church growth strategies today that are playing right into that hypocrisy. They simply take fallen people where they are, who love to be made much of, and they find ways of making God and the cross, the means of affirming what they already are. So they don’t have to be born again for spiritual delights. We’re telling them that the delights they already have with themselves at the bottom and themselves at the center is what God came to affirm; the cross is an affirmation of that. That’s deadly. And I would urge you to kill it in your own heart, put it to death.

Rather, what we offer to people is not a satisfaction of their own unregenerate desires to be at the bottom of their joy, but a call to recognize that’s idolatry and that’s suicidal. And by the way, we have something so much better. You can’t even imagine it, it’s so much better. And I will get this afternoon to some practical ways you can help people see that, even when they’re not yet born again. We need to help people catch a glimpse of that. So bullet point number fourteen was Jonathan Edwards.

God’s True Love for Us

So here’s the issue. You keep saying, Piper, that to be loved by God is not to be made much of by him, at bottom, but his making us able to enjoy making much of him. That’s what you keep saying. And that’s exactly what I keep saying, and I still believe it after last night. However, clearly there are texts in the Bible where God makes much of us. So maybe you’ve been sitting here thinking, “Doesn’t he know what’s in the Bible? He keeps saying ‘not that, but this,’ and really isn’t it both? Or how do they fit together? So let me read you some of those texts.

  • Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness.” God rejoices over us.

  • Psalm 147:11: “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” God takes pleasure in us. That can take your breath away. And it makes you wonder how that fits with our being created to take pleasure in him.

  • 1 Peter 1:6–7: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I do think that means praise toward us, glory toward us, honor toward us because of our faith. It is breathless that there will be praise not just toward God, but toward sinners.

  • 1 Corinthians 4:5: “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” Now the word commendation there, epainos in Greek is translated *praise almost everywhere else. Each one will receive his praise from God. Well done. Good and faithful servant.

  • Romans 2:29: “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise [epainos] is not from man but from God.

So there is a sampling of texts in which the Bible uses the most lavish language of God rejoicing over us, praising us, commending us, and thus, making much of us.

Does He Love Me for Me?

So the question then becomes: What does that mean? How does he do that? And how does it fit together with everything I’ve said so far? Now I can think of two possible meanings, and the first is so obviously wrong. But I’ll mention it anyway, just so we get it out of the way. It might mean that he takes pleasure in our physical body. That is part who you are. You have a body. And so God looks at the intricacy of the eyeball and he says, “That’s great; that’s awesome.” He looks at the circulatory system and he says, “Magnificent.” Of course, he’s talking about his handiwork. He made the eyeball and he made this. He made it all work and he could mean that. But I don’t think he means that because those texts talked about persons doing certain things and having certain character.

He means me as a person, not my body. He’s not impressed with my body. I mean, he may be. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). The human eyeball is telling the glory of God, and anything that tells the glory of God pleases God. But that’s not what he’s talking about in these texts. He’s talking about persons with personalities. So the question becomes: How does he praise those personalities? And they’re not in the abstract — like, I’m a person without any reference to what I feel or think or do. No, personality is always a given with some kind of feelings coming from it, some kind of deeds coming from it, some kind of thinking coming from it. So when God sees us as a personality, uniquely you — when he sees you as a thinking, feeling, doing being — he has to decide whether he likes it or not, or loves it or not.

So when you ask, Does he love me, my personality? to answer that question, you have to ask what you mean by love. And there are two possible meanings. One is an agape kind of unconditional pursuing your good kind of love. And the answer to that is yes because he elected you unconditionally, he regenerated you unconditionally. You didn’t even have to do anything for those. He put Christ forward to die for you before you were born. So you didn’t meet any conditions for that. And he exercises his sovereign keeping power on the basis of, rooted in, that unconditional election. He’s going to keep you. He will overcome every backsliding that you ever do and keep you for himself. So yes, the personality that you are, God pursues, for his glory and for your good.

What Pleases God in Us?

But that’s not what most people mean when they say, Does he love me? I’ve talked to a lot of people who say something like this: “I understand what you’re saying. I was elected unconditionally. He’s pursuing my good. But I want to know: Does he like me? I just want to know: Does he like me?

Now that’s the second kind of love. Love is used this way in the Bible and in your language. The first kind of love is: I’m sticking up for this kid, whether he’s good or bad. I’m moving on this kid. If you have a kid, you’re going after him. You might think he’s an absolute jerk at this stage in his life — your own kid. And he’s not doing anything to win your love. You’re just doing it. It’s free. You’re going after him. That’s the first kind of love. The second kind of love is what Edwards called love of complacence: the love of liking, approving, delighting. And that’s what these texts are saying. God does that.

And the question is: On what basis? What does he like about us? Because the Bible is very clear: sometimes he likes us more, and sometimes he likes us less. Otherwise, Paul wouldn’t be able to talk about pleasing God in everything he does. “I want to please him, please, please let me.” Sometimes you’re not pleasing him, and sometimes you are pleasing him. And my question is simply: What’s he pleased by? And my answer is: He’s pleased by our being pleased by him. He delights in our delighting in him. He takes joy in us because of our taking joy in him. That’s the bottom line.

If I try to find any other answer to the question of why he likes me, it resolves into that. I have to push it to that. Maybe you want to say he likes me because I’m good, or he likes me because I do right things. Well, what does good mean and what does right mean? And my answer is: ultimately, being a good person means doing everything you do out of delight in God, out of satisfaction in God, keeping God central in your life.

So I have no problem affirming all of these texts that God rejoices over me, God commends me, God praises me — provided I ask the question why and I answer it biblically. When he looks upon this servant, he says, “I see one who has despaired of his own sinfulness, who has forfeited all of his merit with me. And he has cast himself on my mercy, and he is treasuring my love, and myself. And I look at that, and I say, ‘I like that. I like that a lot.’”

The question last night that pushed a lot farther was: Is there anything else about us that he likes? And my answer is: everything you do with your mind in thinking, with your heart in feeling, and with your hands in doing and making, God may delight in, provided it’s flowing from and expressing a satisfaction in him. So the answer is yes, yes. If you’re a writer and you write a poem for your daughter on her birthday, if you’re a carpenter and you get the angle exactly right, or you lay tile. I am a real stickler on grout between tiles in bathrooms, public bathrooms and motel bathrooms. Some if it is done so well, and some of it looks like I could have done it. God can look at a beautiful seamstress’s hem or a beautiful grout from a tile worker and love it — if it is coming from a heart that rests in him, delights in him, wants to display him. It’s all about him. He made the world with tile. He made the world with cloth and thread and needle, for the display of his glory, as we enjoy him and all of his reflections in his world. So I’m not going to back away from the centrality of God in God’s love for me.

He loves me in that he does everything he does to remove obstacles to my enjoyment of him. And he delights in me, praises me, commends me, says “Well done” to me if and when my heart has broken free from the idolatry of needing to be at the bottom of my own joy, and is willing to get out of the way so that God becomes the bottom of my joy, and then out of that fountain of delight in God, do all the things that I do in my life. Then God will say, “Well done. Well done.” That will be a reflection of his own worth.

Enjoying Our Delight in Him

And maybe before we leave this point, I should ask the question: Why does God tell us that? Why does he tell us that he delights in us? What are we supposed to think? Now the only reason I mention this as we transition is because I have the fear that when some people read these texts that God delights in us, rejoices over us, commends us, praises us, that feels so good to them — “Oh, finally, I found a text that I like — that their joy in God shifts onto joy in God’s joy in them. And there’s a very subtle difference here. Because the reason the joy is coming from God to them, the reason God is rejoicing in them, is because they’re enjoying God.

If they now see this joy coming to them, which is supposed to affirm that, and they replace that with this — “I’m now no longer rejoicing in God as God; I’m rejoicing in how good I feel when he tells me he likes me” — then they’re no longer doing what God likes, and they’ve lost it. By making it an idol, it goes away. The reason God tells us in the Bible that he rejoices over us is to affirm us in what we are and our being that he likes — not to lure us away from that into liking his liking us. The reason you like being liked biblically is because the liking affirms you’re liking him.

You can see how Edwards blew me away. I mean, you read enough of that day after day and you feel like your heart is just being peeled back like an onion. Is there any core to this thing? Is there any place where there’s no hypocrisy in John Piper? Is there any place where there’s no sin? Is there any place where there’s no self-exaltation? And the answer is no. I am completely selfish and a sinner until I’m born again. And God puts his own seed in me, out of which he becomes my joy. And it really is my joy. What a deliverance new birth is.

Why God Works for His Glory

What we’ve just said in defining love as God’s doing whatever he has to do to maximize our satisfaction in him answers the objection raised by this author named Michael Prowse in the London Financial Times several years ago. He speaks for millions. He’s not a believer. I don’t even think he believes in God. I wrote to him, by the way. I got his email address. I wrote a long letter in response to this, pleading with him that there’s another way to see this. I never heard back, so you can still pray for Michael Prowse.

Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. Suppose we postulate an omnipotent being who, for reasons inscrutable to us, decided to create something other than himself. Why should he . . . expect us to worship him? We didn’t ask to be created. Our lives are often troubled. We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?

Isn’t that amazing? His only way to understand what he’s heard about God seeking worship (which is what John 4:23 says: that he is seeking worshipers) is that he’s a megalomaniac. He’s got character defects. He has no way to understand a God who is self-exalting. He doesn’t have any other category other than that we don’t like people like that. And that’s true: we don’t.

So my point is that everything we have seen up until now in this conference is I think a magnificent answer to that objection, because what it says is: “Michael Prowse, the problem is you don’t have an understanding of love that will work with God. The understanding of love is that God wants us all to be maximally happy. We cannot be maximally happy if we are at the bottom of our happiness, but only if God is that the bottom of our happiness. If that is what will make us happy — to see and savor and display God — then God, in order to love us, must offer himself to us as the most beautiful, attractive, all-satisfying being in the universe. He must do that for us, which means God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving thing and the highest virtue.”

“Michael, you’ve got to get this. You’ve got to open your eyes to see that you can’t put God in a human box and say that we’ve got to relate to God the way we relate to everybody else. And since everybody else would be a megalomaniac if they offered themselves to us for our satisfaction, then God can’t be that way. But God must be that way. Or he can’t be loving.”

That’s what I wrote to him. I just pleaded. I said, “You’re so close. I feel the force of your argument. It would work if God were not really God and the all-satisfying treasure of the universe offered us at the expense of his own Son for our everlasting enjoyment.” Can you see this?