Did Jesus Die because of Joy or Indifference, Part 4

No one has done more in this day to promote the idea that God acts to magnify his own glory in the world than John Piper. He writes,

Redemption, salvation, and restoration are not God’s ultimate goal. These he performs for the sake of something greater: namely, the enjoyment he has in glorifying himself…If God were not infinitely devoted to the preservation, display, and enjoyment of his own glory, we could have no hope of finding happiness in him. But if he does in fact employ all his sovereign power and infinite wisdom to maximize the enjoyment of his own glory, then we have a foundation on which to stand and rejoice (Desiring God, expanded edition; Multnomah Press, 1996, 33).

Piper is quick, however, to credit those in recent history who influenced his thinking along these lines. Specifically, he mentions Blaise Pascal and C. S. Lewis.

Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician, inventor, and philosopher spoke of the fact that all men seek happiness, so that whatever they do is motivated by a pursuit of joy:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

Some may respond that this is the very reason why we ought to be motivated by duty, and not personal joy. In doing so, they argue for a joy-less existence, hardly the picture in Hebrews 12:2 of Christ, our example. Pascal continues:

There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.

Pascal reminds us of a fundamental Christian truth: while unbelievers see humanity as one, in fact, there is a distinct difference between regenerate and unregenerate life, thought and knowledge. I think one of the reasons why some Christians don’t want to accept joy as the motivation for all things is that they don’t trust the human heart (and they shouldn’t!). But we must make a distinction between the redeemed heart and the unredeemed. As regenerate I now know what truly makes me happy, and so can pursue it, always being guided by the Word. Those who want a duty-based love don’t seem to trust the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification to give us new, redeemed desires to pursue.

Piper also credits C. S. Lewis, whose sermon, The Weight of Glory, contains a well-known analogy. Piper says that the first page of the sermon was one of the most influential pages of literature he had ever read. This passage show that the problem with human beings is that they don’t seek pleasure (joy) with nearly the resolve and passion as they should.

If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love- You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.

 If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

That last line gets to the heart of the issue, I believe. The problem with duty-based love is not that it seeks no pleasure, but it seeks lower pleasures, pleasures that are often subtly very wicked. Duty-based love seeks the pleasure of satisfaction that I have been virtuous, maybe even noble, and feeds my pride. Duty-based love seeks the pleasure of having done what is morally good, and so now I feel good in myself, feeding my self-righteousness. Duty-based love seeks the pleasure of knowing I have done my duty, so that I can justify myself when I judge others for not having done theirs. Oh yes, duty-based love seeks pleasure as much as debased eroticism, just with a more respectable outcome.

But both duty and hedonistic eroticism share a common feature—they seek too little joy, or they seek it in ways that brings only minimal joy. In Part 5, we’ll explore John Piper’s explanation of why the pursuit of joy ought to be the motivating factor for everything we do, for everything we do is worship.

About Mark Farnham
Professor of Apologetics and Director of the Pre-Seminary Major at Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster, PA. Founder and Director, Apologetics for the Church (apologeticsforthechurch.org). PhD in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; ThM in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

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