I am not the first to notice that Paul calls God the “happy God” twice in his epistles to Timothy. Many have commented on this extensively. One of the most prolific is John Piper, whose book Desiring God I am now reading.
In the link above, Pastor Piper states what he calls “the ultimate Biblical explanation for the existence of suffering.” I agree that the Bible does indeed offer the ultimate Biblical explanation for suffering, and that Christ is the center of that process, and the Church is the firstfruits of that redemptive plan. I keep hoping for Piper, and C.S. Lewis, and others to reach the logical implications of their arguments, but they keep falling short.
And the reason they keep falling short is that they ignore God’s mechanism for bringing salvation to Adam and Eve and all the others who have not believed in this life.
Here’s an excerpt from this sermon:
“As for you, Adam and Eve, you meant evil against God as you rejected him as your Father and Treasure, but Oh what an infinite good he planned through your fall! The Seed of the woman will one day bruise the head of the great Serpent, and by his suffering he will display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. You have not undone his plan. Just as Joseph was sold sinfully into slavery, you have sold yourselves for an apple. You have fallen, and now the stage is set for the perfect display of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God.
“For not only did sin enter the world, but through sin came suffering and death. Paul tells us that God subjected the world to futility and corruption under his holy curse. He put it like this in Romans 8:20-23:
“The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
“When sin entered the world, horrible, horrible things followed. Diseases, defects, disabilities, natural catastrophes, human atrocities—from the youngest infant to the oldest codger, from the vilest scoundrel to the sweetest saint—suffering is no respecter of persons. That’s why Paul said in Romans 8:23, “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
“Ezekiel tells us that God does not delight in this suffering. “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). But the plan remains, and Jeremiah gives us a glimpse into the mysterious complexity of the mind of God in Lamentations 3:32-33, “Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” Literally: “He does not from his heart [millibbô] afflict or grieve the children of men.” He ordains that suffering come—“though he cause grief”—but his delight is not in the suffering, but in the great purpose of creation: the display of the glory of the grace of God in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of sinners.
“The stage has been set. The drama redemptive history begins to unfold. Sin is now in its full and deadly force. Suffering and death are present and ready to consume the Son of God when he comes. All things are now in place for the greatest possible display of the glory of the grace of God.”
It seems to me that the glaring omission in all of this is that God has provided a way to undo the pain and sin of all humans throughout all history. Piper correctly sees that the true followers of Christ will be a glorious redeemed group, a victory for suffering over evil, for grace over pride. True Christians, of whom I am sure brother Piper is one, will indeed enjoy each other and enjoy God throughout all eternity. But I think the Word promises they will also enjoy the masses of mankind, whom they are explicitly promised to reign over, to shepherd with a staff of iron, to “judge” (which means not condemn, but guide and correct). Christians will enjoy being priests on behalf of the world of mankind, they will enjoy being representatives of God’s extended and sovereign grace on behalf of the world. The gates of pearl, allowing access to the City of God. Indeed, the very streets of the city itself!
Pastor Piper speaks about how Joseph’s brothers are akin to Adam and Eve, who did something bad but God found a way to bless. But in Joseph’s case the brothers are blessed and restored to favor. What about Adam and Eve? The silent elephant in the middle of the living room, which I haven’t yet seen Brothers Piper or Lewis or McArthur talk about, is that in their view Adam and Eve are lost forever for their sin. Jesus is the seed of the woman, to be sure, and he brings some folks out of death and destruction through his and their pain, but there’s a whole lot more people and a whole lot more suffering that is unaccounted for. It feels like we are asked to just wash our hands of it and smile and say, “God can’t make a mistake so it must be OK.”
Or as Piper puts it early in his book, Desiring God, we have to learn to look at it with God’s wide-angle lens — I guess so we don’t see the personal pain and futility of it all.
So brother Piper quotes Romans 8:23 in the above sermon, which talks about how we groan within ourselves during the time of suffering and pain. That’s true, that’s good. But it also says in Romans 8:22 that the whole creation likewise suffers through this process. What of that? When will those who aren’t “the sons of God” yet have their suffering addressed? Paul answers that question in verse 21. The creation itself will ALSO be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
They don’t live happily ever after until they start to live happily ever after. But they will and I think THAT is why God is happy now. Because he sees it and he has planned it and he knows it will happen.