The Pleasures of God Roundtable

Chapters 4–6

Bethlehem College and Seminary

So, day two on The Pleasures of God, and we’ll focus on “Pleasure of God in His Fame,” “Pleasure of God in Election,” and “The Pleasure of God in Bruising the Son.” I think it’s chapters 4, 5, and 6 in this, which you all have. And so, we’re going to spend 60 minutes and just do Q&A.

Let me give the premise though like I did last time. The premise was taken from Scougal, who said, “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” The worth and excellency of a soul is measured by the object of its love. He was talking about people. When I read it, I thought, “Would that also be true of God?”

And so, I looked up all the places where God takes pleasure in something and they fell into groups, and I preached a series of sermons and that became this book. The goal was if we focus on the worth and excellency of God in a fresh way, we’re always looking for fresh ways, then we would be changed by that. If we are changed into his likeness, people will see his glory more clearly and then the goal of the universe will be achieved more fully in our lives. So that’s the gist of it.

Pastor John, one of the things that I’m pretty much always struck by as I read your books is the questions that you ask. So I find myself asking, how did you learn to ask these great questions? So can you speak to that ability and how it was developed over time just to ask great questions and that stuff like that?

Thank you. I don’t want to put us under pressure that questions need to be great. Appreciate it, but most any question you have when you come to a text or an issue is useful, gets you started. When I finished teaching at Bethel in 1980, the guys in my class — I forget which class it was. I think it was a Greek class. Maybe not, maybe it was Romans. At any rate, it doesn’t matter. They gave me a T-shirt for inning. On the back of the T-shirt it said, “Asking questions is the key to understanding.” So that’s what they had picked up, just like you’re sensing it.

Dr. Fuller, one of my most influential teachers, quoted I think John Dewey and said, “Nobody thinks until he has a problem.” You’ve coast alone. But if you have a problem, you start to think. Your mind gets in gear, and what questions are is creating problems for yourself. If you’re wired a certain way, you can’t not ask questions. You read a verse and you say immediately, “What does the word mean?”

Second, “Has that fit together with the word down here? That word was just used up here.” I mean, that’s what happened on Sunday, right? Jesus is troubled in spirit. I saw that. I tapped on my little Accordance on terrazzo, I think, and got all the uses in John. Boom. Right down there was one in John 14:1 where he said, “Don’t be troubled.” Question, right? Problem. Immediately, that’s just the way I’m doing that pretty much all the time.

It can really mess up your devotions. I admit, it can really cause you to be excessively analytical. But if that starts to happen, if you’re wrecking your love affair with Jesus by asking too many questions as you go through your devotions, I forget who told me this one time. I forget, but then you say, “Keep a list, keep a pad by your Bible and jot the question down, then get back to Jesus.” Said, “I’ll figure it out later if I can’t figure it out now and keep moving,” because I don’t want my devotional life, my affectional communion with God to be belabored by, “I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I don’t get it.” There’s plenty to get if you’ll just save the I don’t get it until later.

So I think the answer to your question practically is, if you believe that meaning in Scripture comes from coming to terms with the meaning of words and the relationships of phrases and propositions to each other, you read by asking questions. You’ve just formed the habit that, what does the word mean? What does the phrase mean? How does the grammar work, and how do these verses hang together to make one point?

It’s what we do here, called arcing, and we’re just forcing ourselves with arcing to ask questions. It’s all we’re doing. Arcing doesn’t never give answers, it just forces questions. How did that relate to that? Well, you got to answer the question. Arcing won’t answer the question. So I would say probably the answer is, form a habit of reading with a view to relationships between words, phrases, clauses in order to see unity in a passage.

One more example from Sunday. I don’t think I did a very good job of it, but I did. Once I wrote down five things that I saw, which became those five landing places, I stepped back because I didn’t take them in any particular textual order and I said, “What do they have to do with each other?” That was a question, but that question would only emerge if you’re sort of habituated in relational thinking. Why would you even ask that question? My answer is I don’t think you understand a text until you can say it in one point and how the pieces of it fit the one. Long answer, but excellent question.

Pastor John, in chapter 6, it’s on the pleasure of God in bruising the Son. So on page 145, you ask, “Why did God bruise his Son and bring him to grief?” You say, “He did it to resolve the dissonance between his love for his glory and his love for sinners.” And later on you go and move towards Romans 3:21–26 there and what you call the most important paragraph in the Bible. And so, my question is how if at all does this relate to parenting with children? Because they need discipline too. I know there’s lots of differences. Christ was innocent and taking on sin, but children need punishment for their sins. How does parents and pleasure relate to that? So that’s my question.

Okay. Let me see if I restate the question, make sure I get it right because my mind is going off in a certain direction because something I’ve been thinking about recently, which may not be what you’re thinking about. I’ve been thinking about if somebody accuses penal substitution as divine child abuse, how should we feel about that? Of course, we should feel bad about that, but why? The answer is because of the differences. And then I thought, “What are they?” Okay. So I’ll put that aside for now unless you want go there. You’re saying, I argue that in putting his Son forward as a substitute for sinners, God did what delighted him and it was very painful for his Son and you’re wanting implications for parenting. Okay.

Let’s just start with the absolutely unique nature of this relationship. Our kids can and should never be asked to bear the punishment in order to atone for the sins of their brothers and sisters, and Jesus did. He had none of his own. All the punishment that fell upon him from his Father was because of me, not him. That’s never the case with your kid, ever. They do sin and therefore we as parents need to come to terms with how to relate to their sin and we should relate to it in justice and mercy because we are displaying God to them and God is a God of justice and mercy.

I think children should grow up with a strong sense of the justice of God in his dad and the mercy of God in his dad. I would just admit that from my imperfect experience, that’s one of the hardest things to do is to get that balance right and to delight more in showing mercy than you delight in punishing.

I think a lot of kids say, “Okay. My dad really knows how to punish and I can really make him mad and sometimes he’s nice and forgives me, but he seems to really get emotionally into the punishment and he doesn’t seem to get as emotionally into the mercy.” That’s not good news. I think our kid should feel, “My dad delights in mercy because God delights in mercy. He says so in the Bible. He delights in showing mercy and yet they need to know that when we spank them.”

I do believe in the difference between spanking and child abuse, they’re not the same. One’s measured. It’s loving. It’s healing. Kids know that. They recover quickly. They’re not damaged. There’s a lot of differences. So you spank and they should sense, “My dad believes he’s doing right and he’s doing it for my good and he’s glad about that.”

So somehow we should try to communicate, “I’m not glad that you’re crying. I’m very glad that you’re learning a lesson about God and about right and wrong and about what will help you be a successful human being.” So even in the punishment side, I think there’s a sense of a father’s settled, contented, I am doing right rather than I’m relishing hurting you. I can feel the difference. I know my boys felt the difference between that. Little Barnabas, he’s four years old. I discover an orange crayon mark on the wall at just his height. The evidence is clear that the bigger boys didn’t do this. They’re not writing like this.

So I go to Barnabas, I say, “Did you make that mark on the wall?” “Yes.” I said, “Why’d you do that?” “I don’t know.” “What should happen?” “Spanking.” I said, “Okay.” I gave him a pop on the thick behind that he had. Kids, if they’re tender, cry more because dad’s displeased and that hurt, and he cried. It lasted 30 seconds and I said, “Okay. Sorry, we’ll clean it off.” He’s totally happy. I’m going to get into the last thing I should have done was go take a 30-minute timeout, brooded in his room for 30 minutes for crayon on a wall. Let’s get this thing over with, get it clean, get it done and now you’re off to play. Daddy’s happy. You’re happy. It’s over. No go back there anymore. So I think he could feel at that moment displeasure, but in the displeasure, I got a lot of pleasure in you. I want to do you good here. I could just keep talking forever on that probably, but I should stop.

All right. So taking this out of the parenting world, press on that cosmic child abuse indictment, explain that a little bit more. Flesh that out. I didn’t see it in the chapter, but I think that’s really a critical point.

It’s not in the chapter. I got worked up about it after this book was written. That phrase wasn’t here, but it has been since then. Actually, it’s here implicitly in the footnote on Madeleine L’Engle and George MacDonald, but I don’t need to name names. There are those today who when you talk about what we call penal substitution, that is Christ in suffering was being condemned by his Father, being punished by his Father, I could give you three texts. One is the one we focused on here. It was the will of the Lord to bruise him. So God is bruising the Son, not just the Romans, not just the Jewish crowds, not just Pilate. God is bruising the Son.

Number two, Galatians 3:13, “He became a curse for us.” Well, whose curse was that? It’s the curse of the law. Who wrote the law? So to bear the curse of the law is to bear the curse and punishment of God. The third one, maybe the most important, is Romans 8:3: “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.” Whose flesh? Not mine, Christ’s. Whose sin is condemned in the flesh? Mine, not Christ’s.

So, here you have the Father functioning as a judge condemning the Son for my sin. So those are three texts that support what I call penal punishing substitution, and there are those who say we don’t believe that. That’s divine child abuse.

I was just sitting in my study yesterday and I didn’t write any of them down. I’ll just see how many come to my mind saying, “Okay. I can see where that’s coming from.” What are the differences? One difference is that the Son was consulted about this and he and the Father in the most profound covenant that was ever made agreed that they would do this together. The Son embraced the Father’s appointment, “We’re going to do this together.” It was totally voluntary. Nobody takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord. And so, there’s one huge difference between divine child abuse.

A second one is that God never ceased to delight in the Son when he was pouring out his wrath upon him. This is something that we don’t think about very often. We say, “Wasn’t there a point where God turned his face away from Jesus on the cross and he was utterly destitute?” The answer to that is in one sense, yes, but in another sense this was a sweet-smelling aroma to God (Ephesians 5:2) the whole way through, because God saw as he was pouring out his wrath on his Son, he saw a perfectly obedient Son saying, “Yes, Father, I agree. I receive this,” and that submission for the Father’s glory made the Father very glad. So a second difference is this Father is delighting in his Son.

Thirdly, God did this for our good. He’s pursuing a purpose of love in the suffering of his Son. Fourthly, he’s going to raise him from the dead in three days. He’s not doing this in any kind of long-term damage. In fact, he’s not only going to raise him from the dead, he’s going to say, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and given him a name.” So this is a means to the Son’s greater glory in the world. So that’s four that come to my mind and I’m sure if we just pulled our thoughts right now, we could think of three or four or five others probably. So whenever you hear somebody say that, realize.

I thought of an analogy. Okay, here’s an analogy, capital punishment and murder. What if somebody said capital punishment is just murder? This is a very close analogy. Every time you make a comparison between two things, it’s like this, this is one reality, this is another and the overlap. If you want to, you can pick out the overlapping pieces and say ugly things, like spanking is child abuse. That’s because spanking and child abuse have some commonalities. That would be the commonality. And then there’s these eight or ten big qualifying differences.

So whenever you ask a question, how is something like something? You say, “Okay. I acknowledge that here in this overlapping part is where you are getting your comment. Now do you realize all of this and do you realize all of this that’s not overlapping?” So that’s the way I was thinking about a lot of things. Go ahead.

Pastor John, one of the differences in chapter 4 in this version from the last one is where you talked about Paul-type missionaries and Timothy-type missionaries. So in the previous edition, you really hammered the need for Paul-type missionaries. Now you seem to want to say, “Well, maybe I was selling Timothy-types short a little bit.” So could you maybe speak to the role of Timothy-type missionaries in the Great Commission now and if there’s a need?

That’s an excellent observation. There were other changes in that chapter too. Every time I revise something that’s got missionary statistics in it, I feel like I want to bring this up to speed here, which is why I brought in all that global south material, but you’re pointing out a kind of a mid-course correction. Whenever I celebrate, which I do and if you haven’t, but if you had been around Bethlehem for thirty years like I have, you will realize that when I came here, this was a very missionary church.

I forget how many units we had, maybe twenty or thirty missionary units and most of them I would say were working not among unreached peoples. So it’d be in the Philippines and Manila say with the church and the church in the Philippines and this has been 150 years maybe. So the people group is there, I mean the people group is reached, but the need for missionaries of a Timothy-type, maybe I should just say what it is.

When I say Paul-type missionary, I’m locking in on his statement, “I don’t want to build on another’s man’s foundation. I want to go where Jesus has not been named. So I’m heading for Spain by way of Rome.” That’s a frontier missionary, unreached people’s missionary, Paul. Timothy grew up in Lystra evidently. Paul finds him there, delights in the qualities that he sees, asks his mom and grandmamma, “Can I have this boy?” And they say, “All right.” I’m just assuming that’s what happened. He starts traveling with him and he gets deposited in Ephesus as the bishop or pastor there.

Now, Ephesus probably pretty different culturally than Lystra. Don’t know that for sure, but he’s not at home anymore. So he moved to Manila or Buenos Aires or whatever. And there he is and Paul leaves him there and he doesn’t say, “You should go to Spain too because that’s where real missionaries go.” He does. He said, “There’s a place for a person to leave their home. Go to another metropolitan area who don’t have the kind of leadership they need. You’re going to be equip the people and that’s your life.”

And so, when I wrote the first chapter, I was probably eager to press Bethlehem forward, press the church forward into unreached peoples, which I still am, and we have made amazing progress in how many of our units here are devoted to unreached peoples. But the last thing I wanted to do, in fact interestingly, I got an email a few weeks ago and I haven’t answered it yet from one of our missionaries in Africa and maybe she’ll watch this so she knows that the answer’s on the way and she just asked me that question. She said, “Can you say something to encourage us who we are not among unreached people here? We’re doing this, this and this for the good of the church. Nobody else is able to do it, we think, and we think this is God’s calling on our life.”

I want to say to that couple, that is God’s calling on your life. I have zero reason to question God’s calling on your life. That’s a beautiful and worthy thing. I would like more of our people to do that, not less. When the business as mission group meets here and they’re thinking how to take our businesses and make it more mission-oriented globally, I say just, “Bless you. Bless you.” Don’t feel like, “Oh, I’m not working really as a frontier missionary among unreached people.” So behind that new was probably an effort. Lord, I don’t want to make these folks feel like second-class citizens.

I mean, if anybody should feel second-class citizen, I should be one, right? I’m here and I’m not there. Who am I to say it’s better to be in Afghanistan I’m going to reach people than to be in Africa I’m going to reach people doing a unique and necessary work? Biblically, they’re both valuable.

Pastor John, on Monday of last week you wrote a blog post regarding the tornadoes that had gone through the Midwest. In your summary, third to last paragraph, you talked about tornadoes being Jesus’s. You said that the tornadoes belong to Jesus. And then you closed the last paragraph with this statement, “But before Jesus took any life in rural America, he gave his own on the rugged cross.”

I had some pushback personally just last week regarding your statement there using the active language, Jesus took this, which I would totally agree with. And then your balance of that with the cross, I thought was great. I’m wondering pastorally, maybe even sharing an anecdote that might be helpful, as you hold these truths about the fame of God, God’s pleasure and his fame, God’s pleasure in bruising the Son, is it helpful at all, do you find, to hold that truth back a little bit when tragedy strikes and to talk about God’s pleasure in abolishing sin, abolishing death or God’s displeasure in anything? Is that helpful? What would you say?

Excellent. It is helpful and you do measure what you say according to the person you’re saying it to and the situation they’re in. God’s truths are like a medicine cabinet and there are different medicines for different seasons. There’s an anti-nausea medicine and there’s a headache medicine and there’s a Tums for heartburn and there’s just all kinds of things in the cabinet. You don’t pull out the wrong medicine for the, I avoid the word disease or grief, but the wrong condition. And so, in general the answer is yes.

Here’s one of the things that guides me. I regularly, meaning once or twice a year maybe, do something like I did in that blog and I’m watching for occasions when it would be appropriate to do it. I ask the Lord, now I’m going to get a lot of flack for this, I always do, is this the time and should I do it? On this one, I was just blown away by towns that disappeared. Ninety tornadoes in one afternoon, few days. Thirty-eight people is a lot of people to lose, but it’s not 3,000, but there was something about it that took me. So I said, “Okay.” The reason I’ve choose to address it, and this is pastoral counsel here, is that for my church here, I want them at points where they haven’t just lost a child, just lost a husband, just been told they had cancer, I want them to be thinking about the providence of God and the sovereignty of God in suffering when they’re not suffering.

I just think over the years what you want to do in your church is generally help your people get ready to suffer, build into your people solid pillars and foundations of faith in the sovereignty of God so that when you walk into the hospital room, you don’t have to rehearse all that theology. I’ve often said to Tom Steller, I haven’t recently, but we used to when it was just he and I here, not too many other staff, I used say, “Tom, if we make it to the end together and maybe we will, one of us is going to visit the other in the hospital for the last time. You know what’s going to be so great about that? We won’t have to say a word to know exactly what the others think. We will say something, but we won’t need to.” That’s the way.

I want to walk into Betty Fast’s hospital room, which I did last week. Stroke, she had been flourishing. She was old, 86, but she was well. Her family said she had been happier than she’d been. She was going to things at the nursing home. She was just really happy and bang in the middle of the night, her brain’s taken out, never recovers. She dies at five o’clock the next afternoon. We’re all gathered around her. I didn’t need to say too much about a theology of death or what’s about to happen or what God just did. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

John Fast in my side here, he knows that. He knows what I believe, and there’s such a deep, sweet, theological resting place at those moments. What you can talk about is the more tender things. It is not tender to say, “God killed my mom.” The word kill has such negative connotations, like harshness and meanness and anger, and yet that’s what the Bible says God did to David’s child that Bathsheba bore him, killed him.

Maybe the last thing to say is pastorally, I want to help people be utterly submitted to the Bible. This is Madeleine L’Engle saying, “I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent.” She doesn’t believe in hell as an eternal reality, and the reason, “I can’t believe in it.” Now when I read things like that, I just say there is the sea change difference between two readers of the Bible.

One reader of the Bible is broken and humble, trembling, “What you say, I bow to,” and the other comes and says, “Nope, I can’t. I can’t believe it.” I’m into helping our folks submit, and I think one of the ways we do that is continually challenge them with the things most people would call the harder things. Go ahead.

I have an older version here. This was the first book of yours I read, and it was profoundly influential. I sat down to read the book, didn’t really know what was in it, just had it recommended by a friend, and I wasn’t believing in the doctrines of grace at that time. After I read the book, I don’t think I could have read the Bible and not have seen and believed in the doctrines of grace. It just completely transformed my view, and part of it was because it didn’t couch it in terms of debate.

It showed me God’s pleasure in himself and his glory. And then when I got to the chapter on election, seeing how it delighted him to do things this way. And so, now many years after believing these things, my question is what should our response be to the doctrine of election. As believers, as God’s children, when we read these passages about it, what does God intend us to feel and think, and how should it affect us in our belief in him?

I think you could talk for years about that because I think the doctrine of election is a shorthand way of saying God decided for reasons other than our merit or our worth to set his infinite and everlasting favor upon us, and everything is included in that. I mean, it’s the fountain from which I think he creates the world. That’s the order of the decrees in my mind. I think the decree to redeem is before the decree to create.

Okay, we got to have a world to do this too. So it’s just a fountain from which creation happens and then incarnation happens and then the cross happens and then the Holy Spirit is poured out. And then we’re preserved and then we’re glorified and we’re brought into this everlasting thing that he predestined us for.

Predestination is simply the definition of the goal of election. They’re not identical; they’re overlapping reality. So he chooses us for himself owing to nothing in us and those whom he chooses, he predestines unto glory, unto conformity to his Son, unto everlasting joy. So I would say the first reaction should be a stunned, grateful amazement that I was chosen owing to nothing in me. It should be, I don’t know how you rank humbling doctrines, but among the most humbling of all doctrines to just devastate any presumption, any pride. We just be constantly on the lookout that we don’t move from the unconditionality of election to the privilege of election. It starts to feel to people like I think you think you’re special, and that word, you are special, for them is going to mean you think God chose you rather than me because you’re better and it doesn’t. That’s one.

A second one, let me say it quick unless I forget it, is I think the doctrine of election has a powerful effect on enabling us to be fruitfully and effectively evangelistic to the worst of sinners, because if you have a person — I mean, I talked with an ex-con after church on Saturday night. Just out of prison, was there with his mentor and he’s asking me lots of questions about the sermon. That’s great. If you have a person like that sitting in your office saying, “I don’t think there’s any way God could forgive me. I don’t think there’s any way he could love me, any way he could choose me.”

I think our response to that is to get in their face like this and say, “Who in the world do you think you are to elevate your sinfulness above God’s capacity to choose unconditionally whom he chooses? Don’t you realize that God chooses whom he will before you are born, before the world existed? And he doesn’t choose it on the basis of anything he foresees and therefore what you’re saying to me is that all this stuff you’ve done rules you out. You can’t say that. You are not able to say that in view of unconditional election.” I think, “Whoa, I wasn’t thinking that I was offending God.” “Well, you are. You are. Don’t talk like that. Don’t make your list of sins as though that list somehow is taken into account when God chose you before the foundation of the world or not. He didn’t base it on that.”

And then he’ll say, “Well, what did he base it on?” “Nothing. Nothing. This strips away every obstacle he could throw up. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t do it because of this. He couldn’t do it because he couldn’t. No way. I’m not paying any attention to that talk.” And then he might get to the point, “Well, how can I know if I’m one of those?” That’s a good question. Whosoever will, let him come. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. So evangelism becomes really powerful. Nobody can throw up any argument in front of you that they’re excluded. None, they can’t.

Here’s the third one. My assurance does not hang on my persevering ultimately; it hangs on God enabling me to persevere ultimately, and that unconditionality of my new birth and then God’s preserving me is rooted in his having chosen me from the beginning, and therefore the doctrine of perseverance and hope.

I’ll just mention one last thing. The way I fight the fight of faith and I pursue holiness is by banking my hope on the promises of God. I’m going to preach on this on Thursday. We’re supposed to preach in this series of texts in our chapel on Thursday is texts that have been hugely powerful, influential in your life. Well, I know where I’m going, and it’s right here. I do Q&As with you guys with the cameras rolling with a sense of trembling that I’m going to say stupid things or not know the answer or look foolish.

This old 15-year-old stuff I dealt with fifty years ago is still gnawing at me, so how do I fight that? How do I push that away? How do I kill that? My answer is promises. What are they based on? They’re based on God’s favor toward me. And what’s that based on? Nothing in me. So I could argue from the cross, and I could argue from the promise. I could argue from election. Underneath it all is this glorious electing grace that is designed to help me praise his grace every moment of every day and thus fight the fight of faith with more success.

I’m trying to get my head around reconciling verses like Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” And then verses like at the end of Ezekiel 18:31–32, “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” So I’m trying to just think of what are true biblical helpful ways for us to think and put these two things together and say, “They’re both true. How can we correctly think about them?” I’m wondering, is it true and helpful to say that God takes pleasure in the fact that he is grieved at difficult things? So we’re talking about election in chapter 5. We’re talking about God being pleased in the bruising of his Son in chapter 6. Does it make sense?

**Is it true or is it too complex and convoluted to say that God is grieved at the death of his Son, that it’s painful and that God is grieved at the death of people, even wicked people, it grieves God and that God responds appropriately and that’s a part of his glory, that he really is grieved about things that are worth being grieved at? In fact, he’s more grieved than anybody else’s. To put it in human situation, there are really tragic things that can just bounce off my hard heart and not affect me.

And then there are things when I’m gripped by how tragic it is that lost people don’t know Jesus and are going to hell and I’m grieved by that. And then I can step out of that intense grief and say, “I’m more like God now. This is how God feels and my heart is being more united to God.” Actually, there’s some pleasure in the fact that I’m feeling and responding as I really should be. Is that happening in God? Is that a helpful way to reconcile these things?**

I would say the way your thought has taken you, you’ve obviously thought a lot about that because the way you articulated it there at the end is good, and the answer is yes. When you think wherein ultimately does the pleasure of God consist, the answer is himself. And then you have to ask himself in all that he is and all that he does, and one of the things he does is grieve according to Ephesians 4:30, “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit,” talking about being hardhearted and unforgiving. “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit by which you were sealed into the day of redemption.”

The Holy Spirit is God, so God can be grieved. And then the text you cited, “He does not delight in the death of the wicked.” There are others. Jesus standing before Jerusalem, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks and you would not?” I think what we’re supposed to feel in that moment is a genuine, compassionate, aching, longing that has pity in it and has grief in it for the Pharisees who walk away.

Another illustration might be the parable of the two sons. He’s enveloping his arms around the prodigal who comes home, and you don’t get the least spirit of bitterness towards the older son and the father. He goes out on the porch and treats him. “Son, come in, your brother who is dead is alive. Join the party. I really would like you to come in.”

This is the Pharisees he’s talking to. This is the Pharisees, one of the clearest sermons to the Pharisees compassionately. Usually, the Pharisees are being hammered, right? Okay. Whitewashed tombs. In this parable, he’s talking to the Pharisees on the porch saying, “It’s all yours, just come on in. If you don’t come into the party, your inheritance is going to stay in the bank, so come on in.”

So I think the range of God’s affections and emotions are very wide, and they include grief. Yes, as he is able to behold himself, responding that way to the death of the wicked, he delights in that response. So paradoxically as it sounds to be glad that you are grieving, glad that you’re grieving, God is capable. You said, “In the moments where I’m able to step outside myself and watch myself feel compassion and grief for the loss, I feel like I’m more God-like and my conscience bears witness that that’s a good thing,” and that’s exactly the way we should feel, I think. You don’t need me to say this probably, but somebody watching might.

I would feel really happy when somebody talks like that, “Let’s weep over what God weeps over. Let’s feel what he feels” if I knew they had a theology that made him sovereign over the death of the wicked. I fear that when that kind of language is used, “Weep for what God weeps for,” it’s being spoken by people with a very thin view of God’s way of relating to the wicked, and they therefore overly humanize God. I don’t think that’s the case with you.

So I think a full-blooded, mature, Reformed lover of the doctrines of grace will go exactly where you’ve gone. I think the emotional life of a Calvinist, if you want to use that phrase, or just a Reformed person, is not yet mature, hasn’t matured in his grasp of the doctrines of grace until he gets to the point where the doctrines of grace yield compassion for lost people and yield a broken heart and yield sorrow for the people on the street, of the brother or sister you know who’s lost. If it hasn’t yet, if you haven’t worked through the sovereignty of God and the irresistible grace of God and the unconditional election of God and the limited atonement to the point where all of that feeds a heart that is broken for them, you’ve locked in somewhere in an immature and incomplete way.

Pastor John, the pleasure of God in himself is the only hope for our joy, and I’m trying to teach these to my four-year-old and two-year-old. We’re around the table at night; we do catechism with them and try to teach them about God’s glory. At some point, I say around the table, I say, “I love mommy. I love Kira. I love Allie,” and every time my two-year-old says to me, “Daddy, do you love yourself?” How would you recommend responding with appropriate love for yourself to little kids?

Wow, a two-year-old, what are you going to say to a two-year-old? That’s incredible. You’ve got an amazing two-year-old.

She says a lot of heresy around the table.

I mean, I’ve got answers to that, but I don’t know if I have an answer for a two-year-old because the answers are complex. I think probably you better say yes because I think, “What is the two-year-old thinking?” I’m not sure what. But I think after I say yes — and that’s true. I mean, Jesus assumes self-love when he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The old way that I dealt with back in the ‘70s was you got to learn to love yourself so you can love other people. That’s not what Jesus is saying.

He said, “You love yourself plenty of good. You’re not walking in front of any cars. You’re not trying to make Fs on tests. You’re not eating any poison today. You love yourself plenty good, and therefore you should use that same creative energy to take care of yourself for your neighbor. Measure your love for your neighbor by the measure of your own self-serving care of dressing warmly in the winter and putting a roof over your head and buying insurance and eating well.” Anyway, yes, you love yourself so you can say yes.

Then I think I take the occasion to try. I don’t know how far you get with the two-year-olds. What do you mean? What are you thinking? Are they thinking you like the way you act or are they thinking do you take care of yourself the way you take care of us? And so, I think if I had to do anything differently with my kids, it would’ve been that drawing out issue, emotionally drawing out. Take it as a moment. I could really go somewhere maybe with their heart here, shepherding a child’s heart here and draw out, “What would it look like if daddy didn’t love himself? What might that look like?” and see what they say.

But I think probably yes would be the better answer than no because I’m a sinner and I don’t like sin and I’m under the wrath of God. But I don’t know, you may go there, depends on what your two-year-old’s capable of.

Pastor John, I’ve heard you mention sometimes when you were struggling through the doctrines of God’s sovereignty, how you would go up to your professor and you had the pen and you dropped it and you said, “I did that.” That was my heart attitude the first time that I read chapter five on his pleasure in election. So I just want to acknowledge there’s probably going to be a lot of people who read that chapter that have that attitude.

If you could speak to people who have that attitude in how to keep going through it and how to seek it out. I just feel like for me, it was just a powder keg of emotion reacting to it. And it just got really personal. It’s like if God is free to elect whom he will, then why can’t he elect everyone, or at least my mom and dad was how I was feeling. So if you could talk to both of those.

Wow, that’s really, really, really good. One of the things I have found most helpful in personally face-to-face, dealing with somebody who responds to a sermon or a chapter or a devotion or a blog face-to-face will say, “I don’t think that’s what the Bible teaches or I just can’t accept that. Give me a concrete illustration.” This is the principle that I think we would follow more often. This woman in her twenties, I think out of college, came up to me after a sermon probably 20 years ago and she was really angry. It had been on election, I think, at least I had touched on it. She could smell it.

She just said, “I don’t think that’s true. I just can’t believe God elects us apart from any condition in us, which would mean he doesn’t elect everybody.” I said, “You walking home?” Because I knew where she lived, down 11th Avenue. I said, “Hang on, can I walk with you home?” We started walking together through the Twin Towers. We got to the bridge, I remember saying to her, “You know what would be helpful to me is just to hear you tell me how you got saved. Just keep it short because there’s my house right over there, how you got saved.”

She told me this amazing story. She said, “I was about 12 and I was very tall, taller than all the boys and taller than all the girls and skinny.” She was taller than I was. Now, she’s as tall and it obviously was a big deal for her. “One day I was walking home from school and two or three of my friends I thought started sing-song making fun of me because of my height out loud. As they did that I thought, ‘Well, even if they don’t love me, God loves me and he accepts me and takes care of me.’”

She said, “I think that’s when I got saved. I felt like never before, God loved me and Jesus cares for me.” I said, “That’s beautiful. Now, that just happened. I mean, did you make that happen?” I didn’t have to say another word to her. It was over. She just said, “No, no, no, I didn’t make that happen. That was a gift. I should have been angry. I should have been really angry at those girls and I wasn’t.”

So the point is this, I think in all the five points, if I start teaching on the five points, you know where I start? I start with I, irresistible grace because I just want to start with you. How did you come to Christ? Where do you want to give the credit? To whom do you want to give the glory? How do you relate to God about the grace in your life? Do you really want to trace it back to an ultimate self-determining self or do you want to trace it back ultimately to God? Lots of people I find at that point, if you trace it back, let them trace it back to God ultimately, things start to fall into place. So that’s one strategy that I have found to help people.

I think the last thing I would say is I really want to create at Bethlehem for the audience that is those who come a lot of space for questions and doubt for a long time. The last thing I want to communicate is fish or cut bait, get on board with reform theology or get out. This is totally not the way I think. This took me a lot of time and it was very painful and dropping of the pen kind of stuff. You maybe heard me say too that in the semester from the fall September of 1968 to Christmas, that semester of seminary, I cried more than I cried in the first four years, the previous four years of my life.

I would come home from a class with Jim Morgan or Paul Jewett who were both taking me into the text in ways I’d never been in before. I would put my elbows on the desk and I would just cry. I would say, “God, I’m just so discouraged. I’m so confused.” That’s what I would say, “I’m so confused.” And so, knowing that, I just want to give a lot of time and space for that rather than pushing too hard on anybody. The last thing I would do, just keep them in the Bible. Just don’t let them go to Calvin. Don’t let them go to Wesley. Don’t go to Whitefield. Don’t let them go to Sproul or anybody. Just say, “Can we just look at texts and pray that they would have that submissive spirit to the Bible?”

In chapter 6, in the paragraph talking about schizophrenia in heaven and thinking about God’s pleasure in the death of his Son, I’m trying to still wrap my mind around this, about what about Christ’s death did God take pleasure in? And so, when I think of it, what comes to mind is when Jesus was getting scourged and the Roman whip comes on his back at that moment, was God taking pleasure in that?

Or did God only take pleasure in that part of the whipping, or when he’s getting the nails in his hands, was God only taking pleasure in the context of the overall scheme of Christ dying for us? Or can we take a narrow lens and say that in this narrow lens of looking at this, God hates that. So I was just wondering, can you apply the narrow lens, wide lens view that you had in Desiring God for God’s wills? Can you apply that in with God’s pleasure?

Yes. Yes, you can, I think. So let me make sure we’re on the same page with regard to the verse. So here’s Isaiah 53:10, “The Lord was pleased to bruise him. He has put him to grief.” I don’t want people to think I’m working deductively and theologically here when I say God takes pleasure in the death of his Son because he must because of some logical deduction. This is a text from Isaiah, “The Lord was pleased to bruise him.” And that chephets, I did it again this morning just to make sure, clicked on that verb, chephets, clicked lemma instead of inflicted in my little Accordance and there’s 73 instances and almost all of them are delight like in women and others. This is not a merely volitional word. This is a word loaded with affectional content. So just to say there.

he was bruising the Son. So the bruising, I think, would be a word to encompass the whipping and the nails, and God is delighting. Now, if he doesn’t take delight in the death of the wicked and yet he chooses to put many wicked to death, there must be a both end in how he does or doesn’t take delight in it. I would say the same thing, must be true of the Son. Surely, this would’ve fly.

The Lord will not
     cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
     according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
     or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:31–33)

So he’s afflicting his Son, and in some sense, as he watches him scream, I don’t know what happened when Jesus was whipped; that in the narrow lens, pain is not delighting the heart of God. Only as a reflection of the Son’s utter submission to the will of God, utter love for the elect, utter commitment to see through this act for the glory of God — those three things at least would be in the wider lands, and it doesn’t get much wider, he would say, “I delight in that.” It’s like hell.

This is the last question we’re going to do today, so this might be a good place to put this in. It’s amazing how frequently the denial of the penal substitution and the denial of hell go hand in hand, because if you can’t have hell, you probably can’t have God punishing his Son in that way and vice versa. So he’s punishing his Son, but just like hell, God doesn’t delight in the suffering of the damned in and of itself. It’s only as an expression of his utter commitment to righteousness, justice, holiness, and the value of his Son and his glory that have been so scorned that that becomes an occasion for delight in justice.

I would say probably the same thing would be true about the exquisite pain that must have been endured by the Lord Jesus when God was bruising him. That is not the immediate sole narrow lens object of the Father’s delight. It’s the meaning of that in the larger picture, Edwards would say, in the universality of things. This is a right and good and beautiful thing because it expresses God’s commitment to his justice and his love for his elect, whom that suffering is redeeming.