Misconceiving God’s character, what he’s really like, is devastating, to say the least. Wrong thoughts regarding God automatically start you behind the eight-ball of truth. There’s no winning with an angry God; there’s also no escaping. The notion that God’s grumpy and just out to get you when you fail is disconcerting on two fronts. One, it shows the depravity of man and his utter hatred of anything that has to do with God and his true nature. Two, perhaps more egregious, it shows the gaping hole Christians have created in encouraging the idea that God’s just mad at sinners.
A focus on the law will do that to you. Honing in on only God’s word of demand engenders an angry culture that can’t see anything but the negative. As we said last time, this view sees God’s commands as keeping you from something, instead of shepherding you to something (or Someone). But that’s our problem: we’re addicted to law — such that we slink back to it first chance we get. So, for whatever “progress” we’ve made in understanding the gospel, the compass of mankind’s heart will always be law-centered — on achievement-based merit and mercy. Yet, we come now to a resounding conclusion, one that has little, if nothing to do with you — and everything to do with Jesus!
We Have a Happy God
You see, God is happy. The resounding resolution of our souls is that we serve a happy God who seeks to him impart his happiness. This is the endgame of the gospel. The apostle Paul, in writing to Timothy, says that he’s been commissioned to preach “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” (1 Tim. 1:11) The word “blessed” here is literally “happy” in the Greek — “the glorious gospel of the happy God,” you might say. The same word occurs 49 others times throughout the New Testament, most notably in Matthew 5, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (“Blessed [Happy] are the poor in spirit,” etc.). Likewise, Peter elsewhere affirms the Savior’s sentiment, declaring it to be a blessed, a happy thing to be reviled and reproached for the sake of God and the gospel. “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.” (1 Pet. 3:14 KJV; cf. 1 Pet. 4:14)
Yes, God is happy — but how is he so? I think there are three quick ways to think about God and his happiness towards us.
Glad in Himself
You want to hear something strange? God doesn’t need you to be happy. It’s true. God’s not wringing his hands up in heaven hoping his people obey, waiting for you to praise him. God was happy before you existed and he’ll be the same happy God after your time is over. God wasn’t lonely before the creation of the world — he wasn’t bored or melancholy. This would create a very bad world in which negative things are infinitely more terrible as they upset an otherwise happy deity. (Which is what we’ve done, essentially, by making him a God all about karma.) Nope, God was and is perfectly satisfied and sustained within himself. His happiness and blessedness and satisfaction is rooted in his divine Triune nature, in which the Trinity forms a holy fellowship of divine gladness and pleasure.
Jesus prays, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20–23) God is fully satisfied in and of himself, perfectly sustained in the harmony of Father, Son, and Spirit. And there’s infinite consolation in this fact. Your God is the happy God, full of inexpressible joy and otherworldly glory. (1 Pet. 1:8) In him is all perfection and blessedness. The happiness of God isn’t even a concept we can wholly imagine or comprehend here on earth. And yet, it’s God’s desire to impart his happiness to you! God’s plan, through man’s redemption, is that they’d share in his gladness, his happiness for all eternity. “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13)
But how does he do this with creatures that continuously rebel and reject him? How can God still be happy with such vile people like us? Well, because he’s also . . .
Glorified in His Son
God’s happy with you because his law has been satisfied, the demand for perfection was met, and his creation will one day be restored — all because of the work of his Son. God is glorified in the perfect performance of his only begotten Son. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” (John 13:31–32) Because of the gospel, we enter into the joy of the happy God. The cross of Christ welcomes all who would believe into the everlasting felicity of heaven. By grace through faith in the death of the Son, we’re made partakers of the Heavenly Father’s eternal gladness. God died so that his joy might be ours! “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)
Christians can often be some of the most unhappy people. And I think a lot of this unhappiness stems from fear and confusion surrounding the End Times and what’s going to happen when we’re taken to heaven by Jesus. I think the general consensus is that there’s going to be this giant throne upon which Christ is seated as judge. And behind will be a massive flat-screen TV, which will display a recap of your whole life, movie trailer style, from which your judgment will be determined. If that were truly the case, I’d definitely not be looking forward to that! But that’s not what’s going to happen. Instead, imagine heaven this way: God’s going to be sitting at this little desk and lines of believers filed in front of it. As you walk up, he’ll turn around and open a large filing cabinet and pull out your “file,” the record of your life. And the only words he’ll read are, “Forgiven!” “Pardoned!” “Approved!” “Accepted!” “Paid in full!” “Not condemned!” Your record will be dripping with Christ’s blood, which has forever sealed your standing before God, such that he’s forever glad and glorified in you!
God can’t be anything other than happy with you because of who you are in Christ. (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 8:1) If you’re “in Christ,” God can do nothing but love you because all your sins are “hidden” in Christ’s perfection. (Col. 3:3) All of God’s wrath and animosity towards your sin was borne by Jesus and thrown, as Robert Capon puts it, into the forgettery of his death, the chasm of his grace:
Jesus takes all the badness down into the forgettery of his death and offers to the Father only what is held in the memory of his resurrection.
Jesus took it all, bore it all, and erased it all, securing fully, finally, and forever your forgiveness! “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13–14) God is happy because of what the Son did, not because of what you do. Your performance is paltry compared to what Christ accomplished. And if you believe in this finished work, your sins have been washed away in the blood, removed as far as the east is from the west, cast into the depths of the oceans, thrown behind God’s back. (Ps. 103:11–13; Micah 7:19; Isa. 38:17)
“But,” you might be thinking, “how does this affect our daily life? Yes, I understand this concerns my heavenly standing but what about my earthly struggles? Is God still happy when I fall?” Glad you asked.
Grieved in Our Sin
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) You might’ve been thinking of this verse the whole time, wondering how God’s grief and gladness can coincide. The word “grieve” here is literally, “to make sorrowful; to affect with sadness; to cause grief.” The grieving and vexing of God’s Spirit is a direct result of our sin. When we sin, God is saddened, grieved, because it’s a sign that we’ve been deceived into believing that anything other than God himself can satisfy us.
Sin, as you know, is truly and ultimately disbelief—disbelieving God and distrusting that he’s sufficient. The essence of all sin is, as the Reformers defined it, incurvatus in se, that is, man turned in on himself. Sin is man thinking that he can make a better God than God. And nothing much makes God more sick and sad than wicked, vile human beings believing they can do better than he can. This is why Jesus reminded his followers that the true work of the believer is belief. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)
God is serious about sin. He hates it. We’re told in the Old Testament that he can’t even look at (Hab. 1:13), and that he hates “all evildoers.” (Ps. 5:5) God hates sin with the kind of loving hatred a father has for anything that would harm his family. God hates your sin because he knows how deceptively and completely it destroys. But how does that jive with God’s love? We know from Scripture that God’s love for you doesn’t rise or fall on the measure of your obedience. That would be bad news. The good news is that God’s love for you is eternally secure in the Person and Work of his Son, Jesus Christ. The Father’s disposition towards you who believe is one of everlasting peace, pardon, and happiness, all on the grounds of the Son’s finished work on the cross.
And here’s where we see the full beauty of this word “grieve.” The grief of God is his anger that’s been sweetened by love. Charles Spurgeon says that the Spirit’s grief is “a sweet combination of anger and of love.” The anger is still there but the bitterness has been softened by mercy — the edge is taken off the wrath by Jesus’s grace. You see, because of the Son’s perfect performance on the cross for you, the people of God now only feel the Father’s grace and grief, never his wrath. That was borne by Jesus. Christ endured the brunt of God’s undeserved justice so that you and I could enjoy the beauty of his undeserved grace.
This is what motivates you in the service of God. We aren’t coerced into doing “Christian” things by an angry God, by a dictator. Our motivation isn’t the fear of punishment or the promise of reward by some Santa God. No, our drive as disciples of Christ is solely the glory of the gospel, the truth of God’s love as most clearly seen on the cross, and the “sound doctrine” that Christ has taken your place to give you his perfection! The imperatives and directives of Scripture are always based on the finished work of Christ in his sin-free life and sin-bearing death.
God’s not after blind obedience; he doesn’t want religious robots. God’s after worshipful warriors, believers that desire to do what is their duty, Christians that want to do what they ought to do. And this is only accomplished by continual and constant remembrance and reflection on the love of the happy God.