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The Happiness of God

00:00 / 21:57

25 May 2024

Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

We often start in the wrong place with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The immediate problem presents itself: How can God be one and yet, at the same time, also three? And then we invent comparisons which we are subsequently told involve us in some kind of ancient heresy – God is like an egg with shell, yoke, and the white part. God is like water that is variously ice, water, and steam. God is like a shamrock with three leaves. And so on.

But what if, instead of trying to work out an answer to the mathematical question, we start somewhere else? What if we start with Jesus and what he shows us about the nature of God?

Consider the baptism of Christ. When Christ came out of the water, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended from heaven and rested upon him. A voice came from heaven, the voice of the Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10-11). We see here that the Father loves the Son and takes delight in him. We see the Holy Spirit sent from the Father as a sign of this love like a visible representation of the Father’s word of affirmation and approval.

There are many other moments in the New Testament in which something of the mutual delight, joy, and love of the Holy Trinity is revealed to some degree. Another can be found in the words of Christ’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed (John 17:5). “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24).

Consider the implications of Christ’s words: there was a time when the world did not exist. God was not the Creator then. But he was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He was a Trinity of love, delight, and mutual affection.

The Holy Trinity is not, therefore, best thought of as a mathematical conundrum that must be solved. The American Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards said that God is in fact best thought of as ‘a society or a family’. And that God’s joy consists in ‘love and society’.

Just ponder that for a moment: outside of his creation, God is not solitary, or lonely, or in need. But he is infinite delight, joy, love, and harmony. The most vibrant, welcoming, love-filled family home that you have ever entered is but a pale reflection, a small echo, of the love of God in the Holy Trinity through all eternity.

A very simple way of putting this – and please forgive me if the language here seems childish and unsophisticated – is that God is happy. Or, we could even say, that God is happiness itself.

The Happiness of God in Creation

Why then did the Holy Trinity create the world? There was mutual delight, joy, abundance in God already. What was the point? It cannot have been that God needed creation to do something for him. He did not need slaves to serve him. He did not need creatures to meet some need in him. It can only have been because creation is itself an extension, a going-forth, of the very life and love of God as he is in himself. The English Puritan writer, Richard Sibbes, put it like this:

If God had not a communicative, spreading goodness, he would never have created the world. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were happy in themselves and enjoyed one another before the world was. Apart from the fact that God delights to communicate and spread his goodness, there had never been a creation or redemption.

God had a communicative, spreading goodness, and he delighted to shed abroad that goodness in creating the world. Sibbes and many other theologians have compared God’s joy in creation to a fountain that overflows because it is in nature to do so.

Perhaps some images here may help. Consider the decision that human beings make to marry and have children. Why do we do such a thing? In a sense, we could say that there is a biological imperative to do so. However, we know that there are ways of avoiding this, especially in the modern day, so, why do we do it? Why does anyone do it given the expense, inconvenience, difficulty, and pain of doing so? And why do we keep doing it, even though we might have done it once, twice, three, four, five times? Surely it is because the love of husband and wife overflows in having children. We desire not only to be two – or even three, or four, or five – but to be more, to extend our love, our life, our happiness, in the children, and the family that surrounds us. This, I would suggest, is a good picture of the love of the Holy Trinity: God is perfectly sufficient in himself and yet he delights in giving birth to the world and to the many creatures within it.

Or consider the human propensity to create beautiful things, to create culture and art. In the nineteenth century in France and England there was a popular phrase, “Art for art’s sake”. What was meant by this was that the purpose of art was not to teach people things about morality or to score political points or for any reason at all. The point of art was the art itself. It needs no further justification. That might come across as somewhat narrow but there is certainly a deep truth there: human beings create beautiful and interesting and wonderful things in art and culture, and a lot of the time these are extravagant and completely unnecessary. Sometimes even worse than unnecessary: there are extremely expensive, time-consuming, and inconvenient.

And, yet, we do it anyway. Why? Because we delight in the beauty of it. It is, in a sense, totally pointless, and yet that is what makes it so glorious.

The creation of the world is like that: unnecessary, a totally extravagant expenditure of energy on God’s part, adding nothing to him whatsoever because he didn’t need it in the first place. And that is what makes the creation what it is: glorious, extravagant, wonderful, and completely pointless. Or, we might say, that the only purpose for which the world exists is delight.

C.S. Lewis, in writing to his friend Owen Barfield, said the following:

Talking of beasts and birds, have you ever noticed this contrast: when you read a scientific account of any animal’s life you get an impression of laborious, incessant, almost rational economic activity…but when you study any animal you know – what at once strikes you is their cheerful fatuity, the pointlessness of nearly all they do. Say what you like, Barfield, the world is sillier and better fun than they make out.

In other words, the world and the creatures in it are not purely utilitarian, rational, economic, but there is, in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘the dearest freshness deep down things’: joy, cheerfulness, fatuity, silliness, fun even.

I am aware that I have not yet said anything about the passages for this Sunday, so let me now quote from the song of the Cherubim in Isaiah 6:

“Holy, holy, holy in the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of his glory.”

Think of glory not as an austere and serious thing. Think of it as the radiance of God’s joy, love, life, laughter, and goodness. Like the rays of the sun that warm the earth.

Finally on this, I would like to quote the great English mystic, poet, and author Thomas Traherne.Traherne was an ordinary rural vicar in the seventeenth century in a small village called Credenhill. He was a scholar and author who was published in his lifetime, but his works were lost for about two hundred years after his death. It was only due to the discovery of two of his manuscripts on a street bookstall in London by a scholar called W.T. Brooke that he memory was revived. One of those manuscripts was the visionary work Centuries of Meditations which seems to have been written for a friend who had given Traherne a blank notebook to write them in. In an introduction to that work it is said that ‘The keynote of Traherne’s work is ecstatic rejoicing in the glory of God’s creation, and thanksgiving for it.’ And, indeed, if one reads this work, one sees, over and over again, the exhortation to, first, observe, and, secondly, to rejoice in the manifold abundance of God’s creative goodness and love.

Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among her Angels. The bride of a monarch, in her husband’s chamber, hath no such causes of delight as you. You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself overfloweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.
Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations, I.28-29

The Widening Circle of God’s Happiness

I have used all my time in speaking of God’s joy in himself and in his creation. The story is incomplete because we know that men have refused to enter into the joy of God’s love and life and have turned instead to inwardness, sin, and self-obsession. And yet God has responded even to this with a joyful invitation to his children. He has done this through sending his Son into a far country to show us his love and joy, even to die for us upon the cross and so to remove our sin, and to invite us to return with him to the Father’s house. This too is but another picture of the overflowing love of the Holy Trinity.

Besides rejoicing in God’s goodness in creating, redeeming, and restoring us to his house and to his family, what do we do? We do the same thing that God does: we go out, we extend ourselves in love for the world. The circle of God’s happiness expands as we offer the world around us the invitation of God’s generous love and joy. In the same way that God’s love is spread abroad, in the same way that God has, again in the words of Richard Sibbes, ‘a communicative, diffusive goodness that loves to spread itself’, so let us also go forth into all the world as images of the radiance of God’s joyful Trinitarian life.

Friends, it is a marvellous thing that this church is named for the Holy Trinity. For the Holy Trinity is life, love, joy, gladness, and fecundity itself. It reminds us of the love and joy God in creating and redeeming us through Christ. And it reminds us also that our mission in this place and in our lives is simply to spread, as far and as widely as we can, that same love and that same joy.


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