Who wrote these words?
“God takes pleasure in Himself and rejoices in His own perfection.”
If John Piper sprang to mind you are obviously steeped in his theology. Good! Perhaps you went further back and thought of Jonathan Edwards. Terrific! Both pastors have written these words or words like them. But, the answer I’m looking for is A. W. Tozer.
My wife and I are reading through a book of a collection of Tozer’s writings called The Attributes of God (Camp Hill, PA: Wing Spread Publishers, 2007). The sentence above is from a chapter entitled “God’s Infinitude.”
Tozer goes on to explain how God delights in his creation and his Son. Jesus delights in the Father and the Spirit delights in the Father and the Son. Then quoting from a “dear old hymn writer,” Tozer tells us of Jesus’ delight in his incarnation: he did not “abhor the virgin’s womb.” “The second person of the Trinity, the everlasting Son,” Tozer wrote “the eternal Word made Himself flesh – joyously!”
This little section of Tozer’s book sparked a timely discussion for my wife and me. Does God delight in our losses? If so, isn’t that cruel and mean-spirited?
Here’s the background. Our youngest daughter is soon moving out of state – way out of state; sixteen hundred miles and seven states away. Our oldest daughter and her husband and their children (our grandchildren, I might add) live nearly twelve hundred miles and four states away. For the first time in thirty plus years, our family will be living in three different states.
Granted, that’s not unusual by today’s American standards. It’s just that it is unusual for us; and uncomfortable. For nearly thirty plus years, our family has lived in close proximity to each other. No more than thirty minutes away at the farthest.
My wife isn’t delighted about this.
I am not delighted either.
But what about God? Tozer, Piper, Edwards and the Bible agree: God delights in all that he does. In fact, my wife pointed out to me that “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Ps 25:10).
Because we are committed to the sovereignty of God at work in our lives, our daughter’s move falls under the category of his “steadfast love and faithfulness.” Fair enough. But how does “his delight” square with our dis-delight?
As we talked, we reminded each other that God cannot do anything wrong; he does all things well (Mark 7:37). The problem isn’t with God’s doing things, but our perspective of them. Is it possible to see something we dislike as something that will bring pleasure to God?
My wife reminded me further that plenty of biblical parents had to relinquish their children: Jacob had to let Joseph “go,” assuming he’d been killed (Genesis 37). Hannah had to let Samuel go for the service of the Lord (1 Samuel 1). Eventually, Moses’ mother had to let him go too (Exodus 2). Need it be mentioned that God “gave up” his Son for our salvation?
Does that mean he doesn’t care about how we feel about the loss of a daughter to the East Coast? No, not at all. Piper says it: God taking pleasure in himself is the way he blesses us and does good to and for us. God has never been unhappy or lonely.
“He has always rejoiced with overflowing satisfaction . . . God is not constrained by any inner deficiency or unhappiness to do anything he does not want to do . . . This is what distinguishes us from God. We have an immense void inside that craves satisfaction from powers and persons (our family) and pleasures (proximity) outside ourselves. Yearning and longing and desire are the very stuff of our nature. We are born deficient and needy and dissatisfied.”
Part of the answer for God’s delight in himself and all that he does is so that there is an overflow from the reservoir of his goodness into our souls as we delight in God. “God is not like an insecure bully, who likes to show off his strength by putting weaker people down. God loves to show off his greatness by being an inexhaustible source of strength to build weak people up. His exuberance in delighting in the welfare of his servant is the measure of the immensity of his resources (Phil 4:19).”
Our losses and the suffering and the dis-delight they bring become for us an opportunity to receive from the Spirit everything his Names imply: Intercessor (he will plead for us), helper (he will get in there and shoulder the work on our behalf), Counselor (he will help us see what we need to see by faith), and Comforter (Someone to lean on in times of sorrow). The loss opens an opportunity for us to delight in Christ’s all-sufficient riches. Our dependence on his riches delights God and shows that we really do believe he is greatest treasure we have. Piper writes, “If we hold fast to him ‘when all around our soul gives way,’ then we show that he is more to be desired than all we have lost.” Paul said, “Gladly then will I boast in my weakness that the power of Christ may dwell in me . . . for when I am weak (lacking something, dis-delighting in something), then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10).
So, although our daughter will move, we will miss her and feel the sadness of the loss of her company. We will call her and write to her and definitely create excuses to visit her. This new circumstance will become for us a way to live in and magnify Christ’s grace in delighting to move her away for a time and depend on him for our delights.
John Piper, The Pleasures of God (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1991), 48.
Piper, Pleasures, 193.
John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah,1986), 222.