Our Joyful God
We're invited to share in the loving delight of the Blessed Trinity.
© 2000 by Paul Thigpen
The celebrated American poet James Weldon Johnson began his work "The Creation" with a striking scene:
And God stepped out on space,
and he looked around and said:
I'm lonely — I'll make me a world. (1)
The lines are lovely seen simply as poetry. Yet they reflect a fundamental theological error: God has never been lonely.
Quite the contrary. From before all eternity, within His very essence, God has enjoyed the mysterious communion we know as the Blessed Trinity — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each of these three divine Persons within the Godhead loves and delights in the other Two in perfect, unbroken fellowship. So God has never needed anyone else; the Father, Son, and Spirit have never been alone.
Why, then, did They create a world? We may never know all the reasons, but at least one is clear.
For the pure joy of it.
The Joy of Creation
"No one truly has joy," observed the great theologian Thomas Aquinas, "unless he lives in love." Joy, after all, is the fruit of love. It's the sense of delight we experience in the presence of someone or something whose goodness we cherish. It's the pleasure we take in what we love.
Numerous biblical passages reflect this understanding of the nature of joy. According to Solomon, for example, "a wise son brings joy to his father" (Pr 15:20); a parent takes pleasure in the excellence of a beloved child. And the psalmist tells us of his delight in the beauty of Jerusalem, the city he cherishes as his home (see Ps 48:1-2).
Where there is love, then, there is joy. And where there is perfect, infinite, eternal love — that is, among the three Persons of the Trinity — there is perfect, infinite, eternal joy. To say, as John wrote, that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8) is thus also to say that He is by His very nature joyful.
Here, then, is how the world came to be: not out of divine poverty, but out of divine plenty. In the beginning was joy, and the joy was within God, and the joy flowed from God. For the Father eternally loved the Son and the Spirit; and the Son and the Spirit loved the Father, and loved each Other as well. Springing from Their perfect love was a mutual delight in the beauty of perfect Goodness. So the love that holds all things together by its limitless power is the fount of joy, the head of a mighty river that flows in singing superabundance from the heart of God.
God had no need of a universe; His joy was complete without it. But in the infinite overflow of His love, He willed that all things might come into being, so that His joy might fill all things. Thus God loved the universe into existence.
"And God saw that it was good" — indeed, "very good" (see Gn 1:10, 31). He took pleasure in all these good things, for "all things … were created" for His "pleasure" (Rv 4:11, KJV); and He rejoiced in His work (see Ps 104:31).
The book of Proverbs portrays the wisdom of God in creating the world as a little child "playing always before Him, playing in the world, His earth, and having … delight in the sons of men" (Pr 8:30-31, NASB; see marginal notes here and in the RSV). Some versions translate the Hebrew here as a "craftsman rejoicing" rather than a "child playing," but with either translation, the point is the same: God in His wisdom took profound pleasure in creating a good world. He loved what He made — as He loves it still — and it brings Him joy.
We see clearly, then, the flaw in James Weldon Johnson's vision of the beginning. It's not as if a lonely God set out to make a world that could fill His need for a friend. Instead, a joyful God created a world so He could gather it into the circle of friendship within Himself that He had enjoyed from before all eternity. That's why at their creation, "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7, NASB).
The Joy of Salvation
Of course, from the very beginning God knew the human race would fall, and His creation would soon be broken. Ever since then, the world has grieved Him deeply, continually. So how can God enjoy the world now, we might ask — a world so full of wickedness, so determined to break his heart?
First, we should note that the world is not utterly bereft of goodness, though it's thoroughly marred by sin. God still enjoys the beauty of a starlit night, a lovely symphony, a selfless act of human kindness. Knowing the cosmos more intimately than we can imagine, He recognizes and appreciates the goodness still found there in a way more perfect than we ourselves could ever find possible in this life.
At the same time, God has labored ever since the Fall to redeem and heal this broken world; and the work of salvation, like the work of creation, gives Him profound pleasure. The Scripture speaks often of God's joy in redemption: In the Old Testament, for example, when ancient Israel went astray, He promised to save them, declaring, "I will rejoice in doing them good" (Jer 32:41). And in the New Testament, Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep, describing God's joy as the Shepherd who delights in recovering even a single stray (see Lk 15:3-7).
Perhaps the most startling of scriptural images in this regard is Zephaniah's picture of God as a mighty warrior who exults in His victory over sin and rejoices in the sinners He reclaims. "The Lord your God is with you," says the prophet, "He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you … He will rejoice over you with singing" (Zeph 3:17). The word translated here as "delight" means "mirth, glee, merriment"; and the phrase "rejoice … with singing" means literally to "spin around" with tumultuous joy, shouting out the triumphant song of a victory celebration!
Whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (see Jn 14:9), so we shouldn't be surprised to see this joyful picture of God made flesh in the life of Christ. When His disciples came back from their mission with reports of victory over the Devil, Jesus gave thanks to the Father, "full of joy through [or in] the Holy Spirit" (Lk 10:17-21). The Greek word here means literally "much jumping"; our Lord was leaping for joy to see His people delivered from sin!
What a scene that must have been for the disciples to behold: The Son, in the Spirit, praising the Father, exploding with joy. For a moment, the veil of heaven was pulled back, and a handful of humble souls caught a glimpse of the divine delight that flows forever within the Blessed Trinity.
An Invitation to Enter In
Yet Jesus wasn't content simply to enjoy in Himself the exuberant fellowship of the Father and the Holy Spirit. No — the kingdom of God, He taught in a parable, is like a "wedding feast," a joyous celebration (see Mt 22:1-14). The invitation has been issued: Come to the party! Rejoice with the King, whose Son has found a beloved Bride. He wants to bring her home and make her part of the family; come join them!
That parable, of course, was filled with bitter irony. Those who were first invited to celebrate actually refused the invitation. Some insisted they were much too busy to rejoice; others apparently despised, even hated, anyone who was foolish enough to make merry. Who dared to celebrate when life was so full of toil and trouble?
Who dared? Only those who could see with the eyes of faith. Only those who could look beyond this present darkness to behold the Joy that had set the sun and moon dancing across the heavens, that had taught the spring lambs to frolic and the morning stars to sing. Only those who could dare to believe that the same loving Father who had called them into existence and called them to new life in His Son now called them to be, like His Son, "full of joy in the Holy Spirit."
The invitation still stands. The party goes on. Despite the suffering and sadness of life in a world still deeply broken, Jesus even now urges us to "leap for joy" (Lk 6:23). Why? Because the One who created us cherishes us. He takes pleasure in us. He longs to bring us home forever.
The Father, Son and Spirit exult eternally in a Circle of perfect love, and we've been welcomed into the joy of that everlasting embrace. What greater reason could we have to rejoice?
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