On the Happiness of Theology

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In the household and the university, theology can seem to be a rather boring intellectual discipline in comparison to mathematics, art, medicine, or have your pick. But here at Bethlehem College & Seminary, we see theology as a happy discipline and fuel for the Christian’s happiness in God. Why is this so? Much of the answer depends on the object and nature of theology, and the doctrines of God and salvation in Christ.

The Object of Theology

Theology studies a “twofold object”: (1) God and (2) everything that is not God.1 First, theology is concerned with God’s inner life as Trinity, that is, theology studies God in himself apart from creation. But because God has given existence to a reality other than himself, we also study God in a relative manner—studying him in his external works of nature and grace: creation, providence, redemption, and consummation.

The second part theology studies is “everything that is not God”—created things. But we study “everything else” in a particular way. We treat “everything else” in its relation to God. Why? Because created things do not exist apart from him. Therefore, in theology, we never stop talking about God—directly or indirectly—and when we start talking about “everything else,” we do so by talking about God or by pointing back to God as creation’s beginning and end.2

Christian theology primarily studies God and increases our knowledge of God. For this reason, we can begin to understand theology’s happiness.

The Nature of Theology

Given and sustained by God, theology is an act of the created intellect whereby it grows in knowledge of God. Theology, then, is a creaturely mode of knowing God. Therefore, theological inquiry is not just any act, but one that partakes in what belongs supremely to God: knowing God.

Only God fully knows God, but he chooses to reveal himself and gives us his Spirit that we might know him: “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt 11:27); and “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received . . . the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2:11b–12).

Our knowledge of God is real and growing, and a way it grows is through theological inquiry. Theology, once again, is a creaturely participation in what principally belongs to God. But as a participation of what belongs supremely to God, theology shouldn’t only include knowledge. On this, the doctrine of God proves helpful.

God’s Happiness as Undivided Trinity

God the Trinity is whole in himself. He has nothing to become or improve. Suffering no division, lack, or need, and having no beginning or end, God is complete in his own fullness of perfection. As this one, God both knows himself and is happy in himself.

We know God is happy because in Scripture God is called “blessed,” for example, 1 Timothy 1:11: “the glory of the blessed God.” Here, blessed is translated from the term μακάριος (makarios). Another gloss for makarios is “happy.” In 1 Timothy, we see that God’s happiness matches his eternal being because he “is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality” (6:15) and it is this blessed one who is “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1:17).

Because his happiness matches his nature, God’s blessedness is triune: the Father is pleased with his beloved Son in the Spirit who rests upon him (Matt 3:16–17; Mark 1:10–11; Luke 3:22); the Son rejoices in the Holy Spirit and gives thanks to the Father (Luke 10:21). And since God is undivided, what he has, he irreducibly is: “I AM WHO I AM” (Exod 3:14). Hence, God’s self-knowledge and happiness are not separated or divided. Therefore, God’s self-knowledge is not mere knowledge, but is divine delight; we might further see that in his self-knowledge, God is his own object of infinite happiness.

Knowledge and Praise: Salvation in Christ

As God’s self-knowledge includes self-adoration, he intends our knowledge of him would induce and include praising him—and it is in praising God that our true happiness culminates. Theology—a way of knowing God—is not happy if it terminates only in knowledge, for even the demons know God is one and they shudder (Jas 2:19). Their knowledge of God doesn’t include joy because it doesn’t lead to praising him. True and full happiness comes to those who not only know about God, but worship him. Theology, then, has two essential elements and goals: knowledge and praise. Knowing God leads to wonder, and this wonder expresses itself in praise.

God reveals himself that we might remember and praise his name (Exod 3:14–15). It is in this praise that we are happy. As Jonathan Edwards said: “[God’s] happiness consists in enjoying and rejoicing in himself; so does also the creature’s happiness. It is a participation in what is in God. . . . The happiness of the creature consists in rejoicing in God.”3 But there’s a massive problem: sinful man does not praise God; instead, he is hostile to God and cannot submit to him (Rom 8:7). How can theology be happy if sinners refuse to praise God? Theology can be happy because of the redeeming and sanctifying missions of the Son and Spirit.

On the basis of Jesus’s saving work, we receive the Spirit (Gal 3:13–14). Through the indwelling of the Spirit in which we are united to Christ, we are remade with new hearts that can love God; further, we receive “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16) so that we can know him and his ways, and in this, we are enabled not only to know about God, but to know him as our supreme Satisfaction, which leads us to worship him by the Spirit and glory in Jesus as such (Phil 3:3, 7–8). In this we find real joy. Salvation in Christ and the sanctifying work of the Spirit, then, make possible the happiness of theology because in Christ we can both know God and praise him. In theology, the Spirit can guide us in knowledge of God and awaken worship in which happiness culminates.

Just a Menu

When we understand who God is and what he does, we will understand that theology is a happy discipline because it can increase our knowledge, wonder, and praise of God. Though we refused to worship him, in his kindness God saved us that we might know him, praise him, and have happiness in him. Theology is happy, but our happiness ultimately doesn’t rest in theology but in God himself. As ones united to Christ, we get a taste of divine delight—and theology is just a menu preparing the taste buds of our heart for the Bread of Life and Living Water that forever satisfies.

David Larson

Seminarian

 

Prayer Requests:

  1. Pray that our students might praise God in their studies. It’s easy to become focused on finishing tasks and “getting the grade.” We need to worship God in our studies.
  2. Pray that our students would find joy while studying even if the topics might not seem immediately relevant to their future ministry.
  3. Pray that our students would finish well in the last half of the semester.
  4. Pray that our professors would finish strong and serve our students well that both might see and savor more of God.

 

1 See the mature theology of the late John Webster.
2 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia.1.7.
3 Jonathan Edwards, “The End for which God Created the World,” [72] in John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 158.