Is Jesus an Egomaniac?

University of Idaho

Moscow, ID

Thank you all for coming. My title that I asked to speak on is, “Is Jesus An Egomaniac?” It’s not a catchy title designed to get you here to hear something else. It’s born out of encountering that objection over and over again. I’m going to give you maybe five illustrations of real-life people, three of which you’ll probably know about, who have stumbled over the apparent egomania in the words of Jesus and in the word of God if you believe he inspired the Psalms.

The Alleged Egomania of Jesus

For example, Eric Reece, the Writer in Residence at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, who teaches Environmental Journalism and Writing and Literature, published a book in 2009 called An American Gospel: On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God. The only reason I know about this is because he did an interview on NPR, and that’s my default station in Minneapolis. Terry Gross has a program on that station called “Fresh Air.” Thank you. My wife listened to it also, and he did an interview there about the book.

Now, before I tell you what he said, this is what struck me and made me say, “I’m preaching about that.” He grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home, just like I did. The difference between him and me is that he rebelled against everything in that home and went another way, trying to find a Christianity he could live with, and I rebelled against virtually nothing in that home because my father was the happiest man I ever knew, and why would I want anything different? So we had very different futures in front of us, coming from evidently similar theological pasts.

He wrote this book about that pilgrimage in which he talked about how Thomas Jefferson and Walt Whitman and others helped him find a kind of Christian faith that he could live with. And Terry Gross spotted on page 28 of his book a quote about Jesus and asked him about it. I’ll give you the quote, then I’ll give you what he said about it. It’s a quote from Jesus, who said in Matthew 10:37–39:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

That’s Jesus talking. And Terry Gross read Reece’s words from his book to him in the studio. She said:

You wrote, “Who is the egomaniac speaking these words?” Would you please elaborate on that? You’re calling Jesus an egomaniac?

And this is what he said. You can find it too. I think it’s probably still in their archives. Just go there and look it up like I did at NPR. Here’s what he said:

Well, it just struck me as, “Who is this person speaking 2,000 years ago, a complete historical stranger, saying that we should love him — who we can’t really love emotionally — more than we should love our own fathers and sons.” It just seemed incredibly egomaniacal to make a claim like that.

Here’s a responsible college teacher writing books from a Christian background. Now he just reads the Gospels as they stand, hears Jesus saying, “You have to love me more than you love your mom or your dad or your kids, and if you don’t, you’re not worthy of me,” and he says, “That’s just an egomaniac talking. Nobody can talk like that and have my respect.” I listen to that and say, “Okay, that’s serious.” I’ve never heard anybody use the term egomaniac. I thought I used that term, because I had already given a lot of thought years ago to the question, “Is God a megalomaniac?” That was my favorite term. I’ll tell you about that in a minute, but I started bumping into people who really have a problem with this.

Is God Seeking Compliments?

Here’s another one. Many of you know C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a teacher of English Literature at Oxford and then Cambridge, converted when he was about 30. In his book, Reflections on the Psalms, after he was converted, gave some explanations why it took him so long and what he was stumbling over on the way to his faith in Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah who died for sinners and rose again. What hindered him from going there? He was writing a whole book on the Psalms, and he said that as he read the Psalms he knew that Christians claimed this was the church’s prayer book and that God inspired these people to write it this way and pray back to him this way. Thinking about that, he said:

It sounded like God was demanding worship like a vain woman who wants compliments.

That’s almost the same stumbling block, isn’t it? He’s just an egomaniac. He’s all into the ego. He’s like a person who’s craving, “Praise me, praise me, praise me, praise me, praise me.” If I stood up here and said, “My main reason for being here tonight is to get you to praise me,” you should leave. You should think, “He’s sick. He came all the way out here to Idaho to express his dysfunction.” And God all over the Bible is saying, “Praise me, praise me, praise me.” And people make the connection and say, “I don’t think that’s healthy and I don’t think that’s admirable, so I’m not going to be one of those Bible-believing Christians.”

An Objection to Worship

Here’s a third example. I think this was about 10 years ago. Michael Prowse, in the “London Times,” was reviewing a book and he wrote the following statement. And by the way, everything I’m going to say to you tonight, I wrote it out boiled down into two single-spaced pages to Eric Reese. It was not hard to get his address. He teaches in Lexington. And I wrote to Michael Prowse at the London Times. Because I don’t want to just talk to you and point my finger and say, “I don’t think those guys are right.” I want them to hear there’s really another way to look at this. I didn’t hear back from either one of them. I don’t know if they got the letter or not. I hope they did. But here’s what he wrote:

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?

That’s in the London “Financial Times.” We didn’t do any singing here. This is not that kind of event. But if I were to go to Passion, there were 60,000 students last January, passion, and three-fourths of them have their hands in the air jumping up and down to David Crowder and Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman. I think if Michael Prowse was standing there, he’d look around and say, “What in the world? Why are all these intelligent, young college students caving into this egomaniac in the sky who desires to have his ego fixed with human praise?” That’s what he would feel.

Oprah and the Jealousy of God

Now, you’ve also heard of Oprah Winfrey. Noël and I were eating with a friend at Passion, and I was telling him these things. I was trying to think through this objection, and was asking, “Why is this a problem for so many people?” And it’s not hard to see why. He said, “Well, you know Oprah left the faith for that reason, don’t you?” I said, “No, I don’t know anything about it.” He gave me a YouTube address. So I went back to the hotel room and went onto YouTube to listen to her tell her testimony, and I’ll read it to you. I wrote that down as well. I’m thankful for the internet. You can just stop, start, stop, start, and write things down. She was 27 or 28 years old, and here’s what she said:

The preacher said, “The Lord thy God is a jealous God.” I was into his omnipotence and omnipresence. I was caught up in the rapture of that moment until he said jealous, and something struck me. I was 27 or 28 and I was thinking, “God is all. God is omnipresent. God is also jealous? A jealous God is jealous of me?” And something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit because I believe that God is love and that God is in all things.”

Now, the Bible does say, in the Old Testament:

You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14).

And he means he doesn’t share your worship with anybody. He gets angry if you give to another what belongs to him. If your heart was made for him and you give it to another, it makes God jealous, and that’s true. And she didn’t like it. So if you think through it now, why wouldn’t she like that? It’s almost the same objection, isn’t it? Here’s a God who, in heaven, demands all my heart and he gets really jealous, like a husband who has got a wife playing around on the side with another man. He’s angry, which he should be, and Oprah doesn’t like that. She doesn’t want a God who’s that demanding of all our affection, so she’s gone from traditional Christianity.

A Distaste for Divine Admiration

I’ll give maybe one more illustration. You’ve heard of Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt grew up in a Southern Baptist home like I did, and for a while, this is all written up in the “Sunday Parade Magazine.” For a while, it satisfied him. Here’s what he wrote:

Religion works. I know there’s comfort there, a crash pad. It’s something to explain the world and tell you there is something bigger than you and it’s going to be all right in the end. It works because it’s comforting. I grew up believing in it and it worked for me in whatever my little personal high school crisis was, but it didn’t last for me.

And why not? His answer points to the ego problem of God. Here’s what he said:

I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, “You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get in. You don’t get it.” It seemed to me about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.

That’s why I chose the title. It’s not imaginary to me and it’s a story that I had to walk through myself. It’s not a small thing. It’s not tricky. It’s not trendy. These illustrations were from Eric Reece, C.S. Lewis, Michael Prowse, Oprah Winfrey, and Brad Pitt, and there are others.

Don Carson, who teaches at Trinity and is the foremost New Testament scholar in the world, perhaps, said to me that he’s done missions on university campuses that would be like what we’re doing here. He calls them missions. He said, “I’ve done these for 30 years and the questions have changed dramatically over the years.” I said, “Like what?” He said, “Well, people used to ask questions like, ‘How do you know Jesus rose from the dead?’ They wanted historical evidence. But you almost never get that question anymore. You get questions like, ‘Why does God have such a big head?’” That’s what he said. So I felt like maybe then this issue is not just a stumbling block for those folks or me, but it’s also an issue for relevance in this room as well perhaps.

I think we’re dealing with something right at the center of the Christian faith here. And if you have any experience with Christianity at all, you might say, “I thought that the cross, Jesus, the Son of God, living a perfect life, dying on the cross, and rising again so that those who believe in him have their sins forgiven was the center? And you’re saying this issue of God’s ego and how you respond to it is the center?” I’m not going to argue that the cross is not the center. I’m saying that when you try to understand the nature of Christianity at its center, that cross event is where this issue comes to its greatest head, where God’s passion for God shines most brightly, and God’s love for you shines most brightly, and the two cease to be at odds.

That’s where we’re going to go, which is why I don’t think I’m contradicting the Bible when I say we are onto something very, very central with this issue.

A Jarring Experience of God-Centeredness

But before we go there, let me give you my little story. I didn’t hear anything like “God’s passion for God” until I was 23 years old. I’m 67 now, so we’re talking about 44 years ago. I grew up in a home where my dad, like I said, was just totally into the glory of God, loving people, trying to win as many to Christ as he could, praying with all of his heart, and loving missionaries, and he was always reciting to me, “Whatever you do, Johnny, in word or deed, do everything to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). But I never heard him say, “Do that because God does everything to the glory of God.”

So at age 23, when I began to bump into those kinds of statements outside and inside the Bible, it was very jarring. It was like Prowse, Winfrey, Pitt, and the others. It was very, very jarring. And the person who jarred me most was Jonathan Edwards, the fiery, Puritan, American preacher from the 1700s who wrote a book that almost nobody reads, and it’s probably the most important one he wrote. It’s called The End For Which God Created the World. In it, he develops a long philosophical argument for the fact that God created the world for himself and for his glory and for his admiration. And I said, “Well, that’s impressive,” but the second half of the book is text after text after text from the Bible to that effect. And I’m a Bible guy.

I grew up in this Christian home and I said, “Whoa, if it’s in the Bible, I have to take it seriously.” And there they were, over and over and over again. So I had to come to terms with this in my mid-twenties or so. What I came to see is that this is like a litmus test, and that’s what it is for you right now. God’s God-centeredness is a litmus test. That’s my little short phrase for this problem. God’s self-exaltation is a litmus test for your God-exaltation. If you are at home with God’s self-exaltation, then probably your God-exaltation is real. If you are not at home with God’s self-exaltation, it may be that your relation to God is a cloak for self-exaltation. At least that’s what I found to be true for me. I realized that what I was dealing with in my heart as I encountered God’s exaltation of God — God’s lifting up God, God’s calling for me to praise God all over the Bible — was that he was asking to be what I wanted to be.

So I had to really seriously deal with whether my claim to be God-centered was really using God-centeredness as a cloak for John Piper centeredness, and I think it functions that way all over the place, and I hope it functions that way for you before we’re done. Reading the Bible through this lens, a lens that tries to take this as a litmus test, we want to see if God is claiming to be the self-exalting God these folks say he is, and if that’s true, what are you going to do with God? That’s where we’re going now.

God’s Radical Commitment to God

I’m just going to read some passages to you. I assume you don’t have Bibles with you, but it’s really important to see how radically committed God is to God. These people are not making up the problem. Eric Reece, when he hears Jesus say, “You got to love me more than you love anybody,” is not making up a problem. Jesus really said that.

Created for God’s Glory

God created us for his glory. Isaiah the prophet says:

Bring my sons from afar
     and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
     whom I created for my glory,
     whom I formed and made (Isaiah 43:6–7).

God says, “I made you for my glory,” which I think doesn’t mean, “I made you to increase my glory,” but rather it means to display his glory, to know his glory, to enjoy his glory, and to show his glory. Or you could call it “beauty.” I think glory is a fancy word for God’s greatness and his beauty. So we were all made and God did that. Genesis says:

So God created man in his own image,
     in the image of God he created him;
     male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

So he created you in his image, which means that you are a little statue of God. Images image. That’s what images are for. They image. If you put an image of yourself up in a town square, it’s because you want people to think about you. That’s why you put an image up. If you put an image of Napoleon up in some town, you want people to think about Napoleon. If you put an image of God up, then you want people to think about God, and you are that. And there happens to be 7 billion of you all over the world.

Now, what would it mean if a God put 7 billion statues of himself all over the world? It means that he really wants people to be into God. God is totally into God here. He’s totally into getting attention for himself. Otherwise, Genesis 1:26–27 doesn’t make any sense. Why would you create us in your image and spread 7 billion of us strategically all over the world, in every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have little miniature pointers to God everywhere?

Israel’s Election and Redemption for God’s Glory

God chooses Israel for his glory. Jeremiah 13:11 says:

For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.

So he chose Israel for himself to deal with them for these 2,000 years before he broadened his focus on the nations, and he did it to make them a praise for his name. That’s what he says.

And he saved them in Egypt. When he brought them out of slavery in Egypt. It says in Psalm 106:7–8:

Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
     did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
     but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
     that he might make known his mighty power.

So he’s rescuing Israel for his name’s sake. Or go forward hundreds of years, and now all Israel has been taken into captivity in Babylon. God says in Isaiah 48:

For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
     for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
     that I may not cut you off . . .
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
     for how should my name be profaned?
     My glory I will not give to another.

He’s restraining his anger and not wiping out Israel for its idolatry completely. He’s restraining his anger, and the reason he’s restraining it, he says, is for his name’s sake. He says, “For my own glory I’m restraining my anger.”

Christ’s Return for God’s Glory

Let’s just jump all the way to the end of history when Jesus comes back. Here’s what Paul the apostle said was the reason he’s coming back. Second Thessalonians 1:9 says:

He comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed . . .

What would Eric Reece do with that? If you say, “Jesus, why are you coming back?” he says, “I’m coming back to be marveled at.” That’s what he said — “I’m coming back to be glorified.”

John PiperThat’s what He said, “I’m coming back to be glorified. I’m coming back to be worshiped. I’m coming back so every knee will bow to me.” I think Eric Reece would say, “There it is again. I’m not going to deal with that.” That would be an understandable response, wouldn’t it? Because if I said, “I came here so every knee would bow to me,” you wouldn’t like that. So why wouldn’t you get upset with Jesus? They do and maybe you do, too.

Biblical Answers to the Dilemma

Those few texts (and there are hundreds like that) bookend history. We are created for the glory of God and history comes to its climax with the second coming here with Jesus coming to be glorified, and then there’s this central event called the incarnation where the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, takes on human form, lives a perfect life, dies for sinners, rises again, and I’m going to argue that becomes the heart of the solution to this problem. And it is a problem. I’m trying to solve the problem of Jesus’s egomania and God the Father’s megalomania in demanding your worship and insisting that you fall down and praise them as the supreme being who is most beautiful, most glorious, most wise, most loving, most just, and most eternal.

The rest of this talk is built around three passages of Scripture. One talks about God’s predestination and planning for his exaltation, another talks about the end of history when God brings that to accomplishment, and then there is one in the middle, and that’s where we’ll bring it all together. So here we go, these are the three passages.

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace

This one is from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:4–6. He says:

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (here comes the key purpose), to the praise of his glorious grace . . .

Just collapse that down. From all eternity, God has chosen a people for himself and he destined them to be adopted through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ, for this purpose: the praise of the glory of the grace that was shown to them in his choosing them and his dying for them and his bringing them to himself. God is saying, “I created the world so that my predestining purpose of being praised for my grace would come to pass.” So God is all into God, and the reason that he creates the world and he adopts people into his family is that he wants praise.

But here it says he wants praise for grace, and this starts to sound hopeful, like, “Oh, so it may not be that the issue of demanding praise is a weak ego that needs to be shored up with lots of praise,” which would be true if I asked for your praise. I would be weak and needy and your praise would help me cope. God doesn’t need any help to cope. He’s God. So there might be another motive going on here and it might be gracious toward me. He might have my good at heart in demanding that I praise him for the glory of his grace. I think God’s grace — that is, treating you infinitely better than you deserve — is the capstone of his glory. God is glorious because he’s so full that he doesn’t need your praises. He flows over in kindness toward you to rescue you for his praise because it’s good for you.

We Praise What We Enjoy

Now, here’s C.S. Lewis rescuing C.S. Lewis from his error. This page of Lewis that I’m going to read that I printed out over at the Best Western this afternoon is one of the most important pages I’ve ever read in any book anywhere, and I’ll read it to you. This made all the lights go on for me for how God could be so into God’s praise and still be a good, loving, gracious, just, wise, admirable God when all these people have written him off as any egomaniac. Here’s what Lewis said:

But the most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it.

The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest (this sentence really gripped me because I hate being a belly-acher), and at the same time most balanced and capacious (large-hearted) minds praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least.

I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed cannot help doing about everything else we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.

That was one of the most important sentences I ever read. I’ll read it again and continue the quote:

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment. It is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are. The delight is incomplete until it is expressed.

Egomania or Love?

Now, do you see where that’s going? Could you finish this talk? I mean, if you’re really smart, I think you could. You could put the pieces together. That piece puts all the pieces together for me because here what it says is at least the possibility is open, that when God goes all through the Bible and all through the world saying, “Praise me, praise me, praise me. I’m infinitely worthy of praise. I am more worthy of praise than any waterfall you’ve seen, any person you’ve seen, any artwork you’ve seen. I am infinitely more worthy,” he might be saying, “I want your happiness to be complete.”

If praising God is not just meeting his ego need but his spilling over onto you with his fullness, so that not only do you see him as the most magnificent being more than all the virtues of any being you’ve ever admired — and not only that, but he’s also saying to you, “And I will have that joy that you’re having right now come to consummation in completeness because I know it happens in praise to me, and I won’t let you stop until you are as happy as you can be” — then it might mean that God’s egomania wouldn’t be egomania; it would be love.

That’s text number one — Ephesians. Christians are adopted, chosen, died for, and redeemed, all unto the praise of the glory of the grace of God, and if Lewis is right, that’s for your consummate happiness.

This is a corny illustration, but its corniness just might make it stick. As I was bumping into these things between the ages of 22 and 25 at Fuller Seminary, I would be thinking, “That’s right. That’s right.” I was standing there in the library and I had “The New Yorker” magazine open in front of me. I only went to “The New Yorker” magazine for the cartoons because they were so clever. I would just flip through them, and if there was one that was really good, it was a library. You’re not allowed to laugh, and I wanted to laugh with someone. As soon as this really, really funny cartoon was there, I would want to say, “Look at this with me!” And not being able to do that ruined it. I said, “You’re right, Lewis. You’re just right.” The delight in the cartoon is not complete until somebody is looking at it with me and I’m saying, “Praise this with me. Join me and laughing at this.”

I remember when I was a teenager with my mother. My dad was away all the time, but my mom was there. I was watching Jonathan Winters. Nobody knows who that is now. He’s a comedian from the 1950s. On the television, he was so funny. I was there all by myself wanting to laugh and I was always calling my mother, saying, “Come here, come here. Come look at this,” because I needed somebody else to join me and praise it. I wanted to say, “Isn’t that funny? That’s funny, right? You and I agree that’s funny.” And that did something to make the funniness of it complete. So God, in saying, “Come praise me,” just might be caring about me. It might be bringing me to consummate joy.

An Apparently Counterintuitive Truth

Now there’s something counterintuitive at this point, before I go on to the next two texts. There’s something counterintuitive about this because if this is right, and I think it is — and I’m going to try to show you some more evidences for it — then I’m saying it is possible for a human being to be lowly and humble and not the center of things and be supremely happy because they’re recognizing that there is another, their Creator and their Redeemer, who’s high and lifted up and holy over them, and it’s in whom their happiness consists.

Now what’s counterintuitive about that is that most of the people you know in this university probably don’t feel that way. They feel good when they’re the center, and if they’re invisible at a party that’s kind of like, “Shoot, nobody even knew I was there.” But if they’re central, then that feels good. So this feels odd. Someone might say, “You’re telling us that as you go down and God goes up, that could be really satisfying? How are we going to get anybody to believe that?”

Well, take them to the cartoon page of the newspaper, or to advertisements for granola bars in National Geographic. Now, I only mention those because I just got blown away by Arlo and Janis. This is a cartoon. You’ve never heard of Arlo and Janis probably, but there it is. They’re Swedes and they’re old like me, and I can just see me and Noël doing this. Here they are standing out in the snow at night. Here’s Arlo. He says, “It’s so quiet.” And here’s Janis. She says, “Yes.” They’re really old. The snow is coming down. It’s quiet. Arlo says, “Ever notice the best moments make you feel insignificant?” End of cartoon.

What was that? What in the world is that? I don’t even know this guy. Who writes this? What is this person into? Is he crazy? No, he’s not crazy. He must have thought that readers have stood in the woods on a snowy evening looking into the sky with total silence all around them and with someone very precious nearby, and that they would resonate with the statement, “Ever notice the best moments make you feel insignificant?” So here you have a cartoon testifying that being insignificant might be the best moment of your life.

Never More Alive, Never More Insignificant

Now this one’s even more amazing. I tore this out of National Geographic. This is the advertisement for Nature Valley Trail Mix granola bars. Now the advertisers were sitting in a room, probably in Minneapolis, discussing what they were going to pay $50,000 for in National Geographic and somebody got the idea, “I think we should appeal to people’s love of insignificance.” This is just not going to go down, but that’s what they did. This is a picture. I wish you could see this. You can come up afterwards and see it. This is Yosemite and maybe you’ve been there. There’s a big peak and there are two teeny little people up here, and one of them has his hand stretched out and a rope is hanging from his arm over there, and he just looks unbelievably precarious, like he could fall and he would be dead.

Okay, now that’s the picture. It’s supposed to fill you with a sense of tremors and make your legs go kind of cold. Now, what would you write at the top to sell granola bars? What would you write? I mean, this is really profound. It’s funny and it’s profound. Here’s what they wrote, referring to those two little people, I presume: “You’ve never felt more alive. You’ve never felt more insignificant.” What? Are you kidding me? You’re going to sell granola bars by tapping into everybody’s sense of really experiencing good insignificance? They say, “Yes, we are.” That’s pretty bold. What do they know that we don’t?

My point is that it may feel counterintuitive to be told that God is bringing me to my experience of deepest joy as I go down and he goes up and I spend all my eternity knowing him, loving him, admiring him, treasuring him, delighting in him, being satisfied in him, and sharing him, but evidently at a deeper level, it’s not counterintuitive. It sells granola bars. Why? Maybe there was a clandestine Christian in the committee. I don’t know. I don’t think so.

To Gaze Upon the Glory of Christ

Here’s the second text. This is Jesus praying in John 17 and he’s praying about the end. Ephesians 1:6 is about God predestining us to the praise of the glory of his grace. In John 17:24, this is Jesus praying about our final ultimate consummation. What is the ultimate end of your life? I don’t mean when it stops, I mean the goal that will just keep on going forever that is the best it can be and it keeps getting better forever. This is what I think Christians believe. Here’s what Jesus says in John 17:24. He’s praying to his Father:

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

So Jesus’s final prayer for you is that you might see his glory. Here’s Eric Reece looking over my shoulder saying, “There it is again. I just can’t believe this guy. He just can’t let it go. He is saying, ‘I want you all to be able to spend your eternity looking at my greatness.’ What an egomaniac.” That’s what Jesus is saying — “I want you to spend your eternity looking at my greatness, looking at my glory.”

Jesus loves us in this prayer, and therefore, I think he’s confirming what Lewis said, namely, that as you look at his glory, you will not only be satisfied the way you are when you look at whatever you consider your most favorite thing to look at, but you will be changed into the kind of person that has the capacity to enjoy that maximally. Well, this is just taking it just a step deeper here.

One of the responses you should have, if this is starting to sound at all plausible to you that God may be doing it just this way for you, is to say, “I don’t think I have the capacity to enjoy God or Jesus the way you’re talking. I hear the words. It’s sort of at the word level. If it were like chocolate, or sex. or pizza, or the Grand Canyon, or Yosemite, then yeah, maybe, but for a historical person I can’t see and a God I can’t see, I don’t think I have the emotional wherewithal to experience the joy you’re talking about, and therefore, the whole thing just kind of collapses like a house of cards for me. It just is not going to get anywhere because I know what makes me happy and it isn’t that.”

Caught Up into God’s Trinitarian Love

In the next two verses, here’s what Jesus prays for you. He prays for those who are willing to venture all upon this future. This is John 17:26, and it comes right after he said, “Father, I desire that they would be with me to see my glory.” He evidently believes that would be wonderful for us — and indeed it would be — to praise him, and that praise would be the consummation of our joy. We would spend eternity finding creative ways to do it and show it. Jesus prays:

[Father], I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Sometimes people take the Gospel of John as the simplest Gospel. We give it to an unbeliever and we think, “Maybe they’ll read it and understand.” The Gospel of John is not simple. It is just layer upon layer of profundity, and this is one of those. Let me read it again:

[Father], I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

So now picture this in eternity. This is very Trinitarian. If you want to ask me about the Trinity later, that’s fine. We are going to have a Q&A afterwards. You have God, three in one (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and the Father says to the Son, “You are my beloved Son. With you, I am well pleased,” and in the mouth of God, that’s infinitely powerful. The Father God has infinite energy in his love for the Son. There’s no moderate love between the Father and the Son for all eternity. This is the Son reflecting back to God everything that God is and the Father generating the Son imparting all that he is.

They are eternally one, and the love between them is infinite and glorious and it says here, “The love with which You have loved me, Father, will be in them,” which means that as you sit there and as I stand here and you fret that your broken personality and broken home background unfits you with the capacity to enjoy people — maybe you don’t love people, but you just love sensations like sex and food — if you feel that, this text says that’s going to change. The very love that God has for the Son is going to be in you, so that when Jesus says, “I’m going to show you myself so that you can be satisfied in me forever,” He’s not going to leave you to yourself. He’s not going to say, “Well, I guess you don’t have the energy to do that. I guess you don’t have the capacity to see me, or know me, or love me, or be satisfied in me, or treasure me. Sorry.” He’s not going to leave it there. He says, “I will put the love that the Father has for me in you so that you will love me with the very love that the Father loves me.” That is scary good.

The second text out of the three is that at the end of the age, the climax of my happiness is found in Jesus saying, “Father, show them my glory.” So every time Jesus talks like an egomaniac — like when he says, “You have to love me above all things,” and, “Before Abraham was, I am,” and, “I am the Messiah,” and, “I am the Son of God,” and, “I am superior to every other value in your life” — he’s offering himself to us as a treasure, which if we would treasure it and be satisfied in it, it would make us supremely satisfied. So his pursuit of his fame or his exaltation in us is the pursuit of our joy in him. And therefore, it’s not egomania, it’s love.

The Vindication of God’s Righteousness

Here is one more illustration of this. I said I would come back eventually to the cross, which is the center where Jesus dies. It’s the center of Christianity. This is one more passage. I’ll read it to you. If you put a gun to my head and said, “All right, tell me the most important paragraph in the Bible. If you’re wrong, you’re dead.” This is the one I would read. This is Romans 3:23–26:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift (sinners can be declared righteous), through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (a removal of wrath — by dying he absorbs the wrath of God) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness . . .

So, the cross, Jesus dying and shedding his blood to take away the wrath of God, is to demonstrate God’s righteousness. He’s going to vindicate God. The logic here is really important. He continues:

Because in his divine forbearance (patience) he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25–26).

I think that’s the most important paragraph in the Bible. Let me walk through it just briefly with you. In propitiation, Christ is sent into the world by the Father to bear and absorb the anger of the Father against us, because of our unwillingness to treasure the Father, delight in him, honor him, and worship him. We were choosing other things besides God, and thus bringing reproach upon the name of God and blackballing God and saying, “You’re not worthy, food is worthy. You’re not worthy, sex is worthy. You’re not worthy, money is worthy. You’re not worthy, fame is worthy.” And Jesus dies to absorb God’s wrath for me doing those things, and I have done it every day of my life.

You can ask me about that too, if you want. I still need to be died for, and I have been, every day of my life. Romans 8:3 says:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh . . .

What does it mean when it says, “God condemned sin in the flesh”? It means that sin needs to be condemned. It needs to be punished. He did it. He punished it. Where? In the flesh. Whose flesh? Not mine. I’m standing here. I’m not in hell. Why? Because Jesus’s flesh took it. Or listen to Galatians 3:13, which says:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . .

The law curses us. It says you’re going to die if you disobey God. Everybody disobeys God and everybody is under a death sentence. What hope is there? There’s one: Christ becomes a curse. So that’s what propitiation means.

Righteousness in Question

Why did he do it that way? Why go about it that way? The answer in the text is in Romans 3:25, which says, “This was to show God’s righteousness.” So why did you have to send your Son to die in order to remove your wrath from the people who trust Jesus, so that they could have eternal life and joy? Why did you do it that way? And he says, “To vindicate my righteousness.” Well, why was your righteousness in question?

What’s his answer to that? His answer to that is, “Because in his patience he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:25). Now, right here, you just have to ask, “Are you American, or are you reasonable?” A typical American response would look at that and say, “What? God needs to vindicate his righteousness because he passed over sins? Passing over sins is what God does.” I mean, Americans just assume God forgives. They think, “It’s not a problem. You don’t need to kill anybody. You don’t need to have your Son die. Just let it go. Let sin go. That’s what you do. You’re God, you’re gracious, you’re loving.” Americans believe that’s the way God is. They think, “God, you don’t need to prove anything, just forgive.” That’s American talk. But Paul’s biggest problem was that God forgives.

Now, this is counterintuitive, but it won’t be in just a minute. It says, “Because in his divine forbearance, he passed over former sins.”

An Outrageous Verdict

Let me give you an example. Consider David and Bathsheba. You all know the story, right? King David should have been out fighting with the troops. But while he was standing on his roof he saw a naked woman bathing and he wanted her. Kings get what they want. So he sleeps with her while her husband is out defending the kingdom, and he gets her pregnant. He thinks, “Oh my, I’m in trouble. Let’s get her husband home. I’ll get him to sleep with her and they won’t know it’s my baby.” That’s our great David, right?

But Uriah won’t do it. Bathsheba’s husband is too noble. He won’t go home and sleep with his wife while all of his comrades are out there in the field risking their lives. So David tells Joab, “Get him killed.” So you have adultery and you have murder. And Nathan the Prophet, is sent by God to confront David with what he did. He tells a little parable about the sheep that a rich man steals. And David gets all bent out of shape. Of course, Nathan is talking about David. And when he gets really angry at the man who represents himself in the prophet’s parable, Nathan says, “You’re the man. That’s what you did. You had all the women you wanted and you took this one woman from this one faithful man. You’re a rat.” David’s response was, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And out of Nathan’s mouth, come these words, “The Lord has taken away your sin.” And David goes right on ruling.

Now put yourself in the position of Uriah’s dad, or Bathsheba’s mom. They would think, “No, no, you cannot do that. You can’t just say, ‘Your sin is taken away.’” And on the Hennepin County Court bench, any judge that did what God did there would be impeached, and you know it. And he should be. David just raped a woman and killed her husband, and it’s like saying, “Not a problem. You’re free. I forgive you. Go about your ruling. No punishments.” There were some consequences, but David should have been in hell.

That’s what Romans 3:25 means when it says, “Because in his divine forbearance, he had passed over former sins.” He has to vindicate his righteousness in David’s forgiveness. Otherwise, he’s a stinking, rotten, no-count judge that should be off the bench. That’s what God would be.” And how does he vindicate his righteousness?

Never a Sin Unpunished

What is righteousness? Think through this with me. Righteousness is doing, thinking, and feeling what’s right. Well, what is right? Right would be valuing what is valuable, and devaluing what is not valuable. Well, what is valuable? God’s glory is infinitely valuable. Well, how did you just treat God’s glory, God, when you just let it go that David trampled your glory so badly? What are you saying about your glory, God, when you just said “You’re forgiven”? You’re saying it’s not very valuable. That’s what you’re saying.

And God says, “Yeah, it does look like that, doesn’t it? We’ll fix that in about a thousand years, because I’m going to pour out my wrath on David’s sin like you never dreamed, and I’m going to vindicate the value of my glory like you’ve never seen. I’m sending God Almighty into the world, and he will bear my wrath. And he will show the world I never, ever sweep sin under the rug of the universe, and I never belittle my glory. And anybody that thinks that they will get away with belittling my glory won’t. Every sin will be punished infinitely, either in hell or on the cross. You choose.”

So now I know that even though I have spent a lifetime falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) — I have spent a lifetime wanting to know him, love him, and treasure him above all things, and I know that every single day I fall short of valuing him the way I should, speaking with words that reflect his value, acting in ways towards my wife and my children and my friends in ways that reflect his supreme value, instead of the praise I want or the self-pity I feel, or some advantage I want to get — I can expect that I will join God and admire him, praise him, and be satisfied in him with infinite joy forever. And the answer for that is Christ. He covers the failure for me, which is the heart of Christianity.

So let me sum it up like this. God is the one being in all the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest virtue and the most beautiful act of love. You may not copy him in this because you’re not God. When he lifts up himself, he is lifting up the one thing that will make me happy. If he were to conceal himself, he would be taking from us the very thing in which we were made to be happy. The reason God seeks our praise is not because he won’t be fully God if we don’t praise him, but because we won’t be fully happy if we don’t praise him. And therefore, it’s not arrogance, it’s love. So my answer to the question is that Jesus is not an egomaniac. What looks like egomania is the way an infinitely beautiful person loves sinners.

Questions and Answers

Could the objection be raised that it is egomania to create us in such a way that the only way to be truly joyful and happy is to praise God?

It could be, but I think given that God is God, that is the only way. I’ve often said God is just stuck with being great. He can’t not be beautiful. He can’t not be wise. He can’t not be just. He can’t not be loving. He can’t not be all-satisfying. And therefore, as he contemplates a way in which to share himself with something that is not himself, he has these two ways: “They can praise me and they can be satisfied in me. Wouldn’t it be a great idea if those were the same?” I think that’s just the way it has to be, given his loving, just, wise, infinitely glorious nature. A person could call it egomania that he set it up that way. But I think my answer just goes all the way back to the beginning, and the answer would be the same.

I just have a quick question. What C. S. Lewis book was it that you quoted from? Because that was a really excellent quote.

It was moving, wasn’t it? It’s called Reflections on the Psalms, and it’s on Page 93 in my edition.

Hi John, I’m Eric. Thanks for being here.

Not Eric Reece, though?

No, he misrepresents the name. There are some good ones out there. This is more of a personal question. I was just wondering what was the most pivotal moment for you in becoming a Christian? You said you grew up in a Christian home and you obviously went to seminary, but what was your defining moment, so to speak?

Well, I’m going to say something that I hope is really encouraging. I don’t remember. Because my mother told me that I professed faith when I was six, and I don’t remember doing it. She said that in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I heard the gospel, again, got convicted of my sin and talked to her about it and knelt with her in a motel, and prayed to confess my sinful nature to God, and asked him to save me. But I don’t have any memory of that, which means that you don’t have to remember being born to know you’re alive. None of you remembers being born. If I were to ask you, “How do you know you’re alive?” you wouldn’t reach for your birth certificate, right? You wouldn’t say, “It says so right here. Chattanooga.” You would just breathe and say it’s obvious.

And that’s what you do spiritually. So, really, this is a profound point I’m trying to make to encourage the believers among you who have no memory of any big transition in your life. I certainly don’t. I don’t ever remember being an unbeliever. However, oh my, has God met me along the way, and slapped me up the side of the face to correct me, and shown me crazy things I had been believing. He put me on his word and more onto his grace. And it’s still happening today. I’m still discovering aspects of my own sinful heart that I need to be saved from. I’m getting saved every day. So I’m sorry, I don’t have any big pivotal moment to describe. But maybe that’ll encourage people who don’t have any either.

Is there any particular verse or piece of doctrine that you’ve come across that you feel is beneficial in seeing God’s glory played out most in our lives? If there’s any one nugget you would give for that, what would it be?

Well, at the imperative level, it would be 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” I think eating and drinking is chosen there because they’re so ordinary. I mean, if eating and drinking can and should be done to display the glory of God, then everything else should. Because surely, that’s about as ordinary as it gets.

But here’s another one: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Now, what does that mean, if sin is falling short of the glory of God? That means everything you do should be done in reliance upon God. And in relying upon God, the doing of it reflects his sufficiency, not yours.

Paul boasted in his weakness. Maybe that would be one last text to refer to. Second Corinthians 12:8–10 says:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So, what we should feel is, “Okay, if I’m supposed to live for his glory, that doesn’t mean I need to do great exploits.” That’s just not the way Paul thought. Rather, it’s in everything, including my most broken, insulted, weak moments, whatever that thorn was at that moment, as I rely upon God to be my sufficiency, he’s getting lots of glory right there.”

You said Brad Pitt and Oprah came out and said, “Ah, I used to be Christian, but now I’m not.” My question is, do you think that someone who was truly saved and trusted in Christ and later on came out and denied it, and said, “No, I’m done with this” is still saved?

I’m going to treat them as though they’re not if they say they don’t believe. But whether they are or not, is going to show by whether they repent. In other words, it is possible for there to be extended backsliding. That’s what Jeremiah calls it. It says, “I will save you from all your backsliding” (Jeremiah 3:22). That is a wonderful text. You could have come to the university here as a pretty zealous Christian and thrown it away. And you might think, “Well, did I or didn’t I?” And I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t think a person who is genuinely born again can be un-born again, can be lost. I say that largely because of Romans 8:32 and because of 1 John 2:19, which says:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

That’s John’s way of talking about how he distinguishes between the people who are truly born again and those who aren’t. I’m just going to add this complexifying factor, and say, “John, but you also believe that if they went out from us for two weeks and came back, it doesn’t mean they got born again, unborn again, and then born again.” Because what we are born into is eternal life. That’s what the new birth is. It is a birth into eternal life. It is not life that goes on, off, on, off. So in God’s sight, nobody is lost who was ever truly saved. From our perspective, we can’t be quite sure. We can’t be as sure as he is.

So my mode toward a person who is one of you, maybe, who are just saying, “I’m just done with this,” would be to take a warning mode. I would say, “You know that if you go on in this unbelief that you’re now experimenting with to the end of your life, throw it all away, and deny Jesus, you won’t be saved.” I would talk to them that way, not even knowing whether they are saved or not. I’d just say, “If you go on like that . . .” I think that’s the way the Bible talks. I think that’s the way Paul talks to people. He says, “If you do such things, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Galatians 5:21). He talks in warning language like that to the church.

I think the most disconcerting argument against Christianity is actually that Christ says that Christians will bear fruit if they follow him. Why is it that so many Christians that seem ardent about their belief do not bear fruit? Why and how can Christians stagnate?

When you say “bear fruit,” what do you have in mind? Things like love, joy, peace, and patience? That kind of fruit?

I would say continually being sanctified. What’s the balance between bearing fruit and their sins being covered?

You’re absolutely right that where there is no transformation, we have good reason to doubt the authentic nature of their faith. But you’re also right to say that a lot of Christians seem to stagnate. They don’t go very far. They don’t fight very hard. They don’t pursue very diligently and grow very much. And what are we to make of that? It seems to me that the New Testament knows that kind of person too. They’re called babes in Christ in 1 Corinthians 3:1, and it seems to me that the New Testament exhortation to keep on growing in faith and love implies we’re not there yet. When Paul talks to the elders in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 and says to bear with the weak and the lethargic, he has this categorization of Christians. You might say, “Well, they’re not even Christians if they’re like that.” He said, “Well, yes they are and we need to help them along.”

So if the question is, “Why is that?” the answer is that the flesh is not a non-entity after you become a Christian. My old nature is constantly trying to reassert itself and must be reckoned dead daily. The devil is against me and is shooting his fiery darts at me. Paul is saying, “Lift the shield. Lift the shield. If you don’t lift the shield, it’s going to hit you. And if it hits you, you’re into anger, you’re into self pity, you’re into temptation to steal and lust, or whatever.” So the devil is all over us in this world. And then we’re surrounded in Moscow, Idaho and every other city with a secular mindset that’s constantly preaching the wrong things to us. We have enemies. That’s why. They’re inside and they’re outside, and they’re making life really hard for us to grow.

I have a question going back to creation. Sometimes I tell myself it’s a stupid question, but if God created everything, who created God?

That’s a great question because it’s a two-year-old question. That’s not a criticism. Kids ask the best questions, right? We’re afraid to ask their questions.

Nobody created God. That’s the short answer. And if you say, “Why didn’t somebody have to, since we look at this world and say somebody had to, create it?” That’s the very nature of what it means to be God. When you contemplate ultimate reality, which everybody does. Scientists do that too. You can contemplate ultimate reality as a personal being, or as a gas, or a blob, or a substance, or an energy, or whatever you want. Whatever science in that century is calling it, it’s out there. At certain points in my life, I’ve tried to be an unbeliever, meaning I’ve tried to imagine as honestly as I could without getting too scary. Let’s just suppose I didn’t believe in a personal God, what would be back there to get to us being created? What would be back there?

I mean, words like “big bang” do nothing for me. What is that? How does that explain anything? On balance, if you had no subsequent evidence in the present of what was eternal and you just had to guess what eternal was and your two options were energy and matter and a personal being, it would be a toss up. It would be 50/50, right? Why not? Just leave out the evidence of the present and say it’s 50/50 that it’s either matter and energy or personal being. Who’s to say? Flip a coin. So what we have to do then, since that’s just a 50/50 draw, is to say, “Now we’ve got to deal with what’s come of that.” Now which is more likely? That all you people who will not believe that you are mere energy and matter. No, you won’t. You won’t live that way. You’ll write that on a test exam to say that’s what we are, but you won’t live that way — not if somebody cheats you on your bank account. You’re going to plead justice. You’re not going to plead, “The atoms went awry. The molecules are amiss here. Can’t do anything about that. I guess the bank got their molecules wrong this month.

This is no joke, none of you live that way and you’re a hypocrite if you put it on your test and don’t live it. And you don’t live it. The professors that might try to teach you don’t live it either. It’s a language game. So given what you see right here and the way you live your lives, you’re testifying to the fact, I think, that you believe ultimate reality that goes back forever and ever is a personal being. And then you just have to come to terms with, “Okay, what does that mean?” C.S. Lewis just followed that from atheism to idealism to theism to Christianity. And then he said, “Wow, now I have to deal with Christ and he’s not an idiot.”

I listen to a lot of Christian rap and a lot of your sermons come up in songs by Lecrae and Tedashii and Trip Lee, and I’ve always been curious what your connection and your relationship with them is, if any?

That’s what we should have talked about tonight, it sounds like it. This is just the most strange thing in my life. I don’t even understand rap. You’re absolutely right. I know these guys. I didn’t make that connection. I didn’t look for that connection. I mean, that’s just one of the mysteries of the internet. Everything I’ve ever said is on the internet. So when Tedashii goes and finds a sermon where I say, “Make war,” he uses it. What can I do? So when I do that and they say, “They’d like to meet you and they’re in Minneapolis,” I’m like, “Fine, let’s meet.” So I’ve gotten together with them and I love them.

Here’s the reason I’m willing to defend Christian hip hop or rap. It is a medium that is incredibly dense with words. There is no other medium that can pack so many words into one song. And if you are into truth like these guys are, that’s amazing. I really pray for Lecrae — who is remarkably influential right now and I think is going on B.E.T. — that truth remains and that it has a stunning effect in that world. The statistics are that it’s young white men who listen to hip hop around the world, mainly. It’s produced by blacks, and that’s a wonderful thing too, because maybe you’ll get saved.

Within the last few years it has been revealed what my purpose is for Christ and I don’t really want to pursue it and am terrified to pursue it. What would you suggest as a way to compel oneself to remedy that?

Well, that’s exactly where all of us are at one time or another. Nobody stays on a “I want to” high. Everybody is up and down, and some people are always down. And that’s the kind of situation it sounds like you’re talking about. The way God, it seems to me, awakens “want to” is with descriptions of beautiful things. It says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). He says things like that. Now why would he say that? He says that because he wants the person reading the Psalm to feel some quickening and awakening in their heart. You think, “Really? Pleasures forevermore? Fullness of joy? I’m not feeling that right now. You have that?” And that would lead to a cry, where you say with David, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 52:12).

Expose yourself to truth that is beautiful about God, and it’s all over the Bible. Secondly, plead with God to help you see that. Pray, “Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things out of your word,” and, “Unite my heart to fear your name,” and, “Cause me to rejoice like a deer pants for the flowing stream.” So you’re looking and praying.

Here’s one other example. Jesus said:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad . . .

But he didn’t just stop there and say, “I told you to, so do it.” That doesn’t work. A lot of parents make that mistake. They say, “I told you, do this. Period.” Authority matters, but the Bible never, never wants you to simply follow God for raw authority. The next phrase is, “For great is your reward in heaven.” At that point I would say to the person, “Explore what that is,” because Jesus just said that if you have this reward, you can rejoice even when you’re being spit on and laughed at and beaten up and put in jail like Pastor Saeed in Iran. What did Paul say in Romans 15:4?

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

And then he says later in that chapter:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).

So look at all the truths of the word concerning God and your future and your reward, and then plead with God to open your heart to desire it.

In your book The Dangerous Duty of Delight, you talked about how joy and the feeling of joy, not just the choice of joy, is a duty in our relationship to God, that we have to feel that joy for him. My question is, when you are walking through depression and deep sorrow how do you not walk in condemnation? You know that you’re in sin and not rejoicing in God. You feel like you’re doing all the duties. You’re reading the word, you’re with the body of Christ, you’re seeing the beauty of creation, you’re reading the Psalms, you’re seeing all these things and doing all these things, but it just isn’t happening in your soul. You are walking in condemnation of yourself because of that.

I don’t think the solution to feeling guilty about not feeling joy is to say it doesn’t matter that you don’t feel joy. A lot of people would go that route. That’s a quick fix that I don’t think is right. I think grace and the cross are the answer. In other words, I have said to you in the last hour that every day of my life, John Piper falls short of the kind of delight that God should get from me. Every day of my life I fall short of treasuring him with the intensity he merits, which means, to use your language, I could be walking every day under condemnation, because I fail every day. And you’re talking about the intensification of that when you’re depressed, or you’ve just lost a child and your world just crashed in around you, or your marriage broke up, or something horrible happened in your life.

This is not a “rah-rah” moment at all. But John Piper and the Bible say you’re supposed to rejoice in all things and give thanks for all things. But you’re not feeling joy in this right now, and therefore you’re multiplying your misery by hearing John Piper talk about the duty of delight in this moment. My answer to that is, that’s why Christ died. That’s why he died. In other words, yes, it would be better if our heart was breaking and tears were running our faces and we could say with 2 Corinthians 6:10, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” I’m not minimizing sorrow and I’m not minimizing pain and brokenness. I know how to cry. I’ve cried way more than 90 percent of you, I’m sure, and I don’t begrudge tears. I think we ought to be grieved, weep with those who weep, and be grieved over our sin. There are lots of things in the world that we should be grieved over.

But “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” is Paul’s mantra, which means Christians are called upon to do the miraculous thing that the world just can’t fathom. So I’ll just be really personal. When my mother was killed, I was 28 years old. My mother was far closer to me than my dad. When I got the phone call, Noël will remember this, I heard my brother-in-law say, “Mom and dad were in a bus accident in Israel. Your mom didn’t make it. Your dad is in the hospital. He may not make it. I’ll let you know when I know more.” It was that kind of phone call. I hung up the phone and said to my wife, “Mom is dead. Just let me be alone for a little bit.” I walked back, knelt down by my bed, and cried for two hours. And at every moment my heart was saying, “Thank you for her. You’ve been a good God to me. She was such a good mom. Thank you. Thank you.”

I have tasted what it means to be profoundly sorrowful and profoundly thankful and rejoicing. So I’m just going to take a person that’s depressed and I’m going to walk beside them as long as they’ll let me and pour as much truth about the goodness of God into them as I can until they’ll stand upright again.

And by the way, a book called When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. The last chapter is called When the Darkness Will Not Lift and it was published as a separate book because it was the chapter that helped most depressed people. It’s about depression. It’s a little paperback. You probably could go to Desiring God and get the pdf for free. Print it out tonight. It’s probably about 30 pages long.

I’m brand new to Christ. You said the second member of the Holy Trinity is Jesus Christ, but could you explain that more? I was also curious if you could just answer if it was the Holy Spirit that impregnated Mary. I don’t really know anything about the Holy Spirit, if you could kind of elaborate on that for me.

Let me just give you my little two-minute theology of the Trinity and relate it to the incarnation. This is Jonathan Edwards in brief. It is a conceptual picture that is, I think, implicit in the Bible, but not explicit. From all eternity you have God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And the way they relate is that God has an image of himself from all eternity. Jesus is called “the image of God” in 2 Corinthians 4:4. God has an image of himself, and he bears the exact representation of God and he has the full nature of God. So it seems that God knows himself fully and that knowledge of himself, as it were, stands forth so fully and carries so much of what the Father is of himself that he too is a person. He is the idea, or the Logos, or the reason, or the knowledge of the Father.

So now you have a Father and a Son because the Father knows himself so fully that it is a person. The energy and love between them carries back and forth all that the Son is to the Father, and all that the Father is to the Son, and he stands forth as a third person of the Trinity, namely the Holy Spirit. He is the embodiment of the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Father. That’s a way of conceptualizing and it helps me. It doesn’t help everybody, but it helps me.

Now, when the Father covenants with the Son and says, “Will you take on human flesh and die for a people that will be innumerable and will surround us forever and ever and praise us and be full of joy in us?” And the Son says, “I will.” And the Father says, “All right, here’s the way we’re going to do it. We’re going to choose a virgin. She will never have known a man, and I want you, Holy Spirit, to go down and cause there to be a conception in her. And that conception will be the divine nature of the Son taking on human nature.” Those are just words I know, but that would be as close as I can get to describing the way the three were involved in the coming of Christ into the world as the God-man.