Our Joyful God

From “The Divine Conspiracy:
Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God”
by Dallas Willard, 1935-2013

Central to the understanding and proclamation of the Christian gospel today, as in Jesus’ day, is a re-visioning of what God’s own life is like and how the physical cosmos fits into it. It is a great and important task to come to terms with what we really think when we think of God. Most hindrances to the faith of Christ actually lie, I believe, in this part of our minds and souls. If he cannot help us with understanding God’s life, he cannot help us at all to that salvation/life that is by faith. But of course he can and he does.

We should, first, think that God leads a very interesting life and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.

While I was teaching in South Africa some time ago, a young man named Matthew Dickason took me out to see the beaches near his home in Port Elizabeth. I was totally unprepared for the experience. I had seen beaches, or so I thought. But when we came over the rise where the sea and land opened up to us, I stood in stunned silence and then slowly walked towards the waves. Words cannot capture the view that confronted me. I saw space and light and texture and colour and power that seemed hardly of this earth. Gradually there crept into my mind the realisation that God sees this all the time. He sees it, experiences it, knows it from every possible point of view; this and billions of other scenes like and unlike it, in this and billions of other worlds. Great tidal waves of joy must constantly wash through his being. It is perhaps strange to say, but suddenly I was extremely happy for God and thought I had some sense of what an infinitely joyous consciousness he is and of what it might have meant for him to look at his creation and find it ‘very good’. We are enraptured by a well-done movie sequence or by a few bars from an opera or lines from a poem. We treasure our great experiences for a lifetime, and we may have very few of them. But God is simply one great inexhaustible and eternal experience of all that is good and true and beautiful and right. This is what we must think of when we hear theologians and philosophers speak of him as a perfect being. This is his life.

A short while ago the Hubble Space Telescope gave us pictures of the Eagle Nebula, showing clouds of gas and microscopic dust reaching six trillion miles from top to bottom. Hundreds of stars were emerging here and there in it, hotter and larger than our sun. As I looked at these pictures, and through them at the past and ongoing development of the cosmos, I could not help but think of Jesus’ words before he left his little band of students: “In my father’s house there are many places to live. I go to get some ready for you.”

Human beings can lose themselves in card games or electric trains and think they are fortunate. But to God, there is available, in the language of one reporter, “Towering clouds of gases trillions of miles high, backlit by nuclear fires in newly forming stars, galaxies cartwheeling into collision and sending explosive shock waves boiling through millions of light-years of time and space.” These things are all before him, along with numberless unfolding rosebuds, souls and songs and immeasurably more of which we know nothing.

The poet William Cowper appropriately exclaimed of God:

“Deep in unfathomable mines
of never-ending skill,
he treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.”

Now. Jesus himself was and is a joyous, creative person. He does not allow us to continue thinking of our Father who fills and overflows space as a morose and miserable monarch, a frustrated and petty parent. or a policeman on the prowl. One cannot think of God in such ways while confronting Jesus’ declaration “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” One of the most outstanding features of Jesus’ personality was precisely an abundance of joy. This he left as an inheritance to his students, ‘that their joy might be full’ (John 15:1 1). It is deeply illuminating of kingdom living to understand that his steady happiness was not ruled out by his experience of sorrow and even grief.

So we must understand that God does not love us without liking us, through gritted teeth, as ‘Christian love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God towards all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core, which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word “love.”

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