That Your Joy May Be Full (5 part article)
A THEOLOGY OF HAPPINESS (by Scott Swain President, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando)
Happiness Begins in God
A Christian account of happiness begins with the blessed Trinity, the primary form of happiness in the universe and the principle from and to which all other forms of happiness flow. As God is the supreme good (Mark 10:18), to be extolled above all by all at all times in all places (Psalm 145:1–3, 21), so also is he the supreme beatitude, “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15).
Along with divine perfection and divine glory, divine beatitude is a summative attribute. A summative attribute is not simply one attribute among others, but instead an attribute that characterizes all of God’s attributes. God’s wisdom, goodness, and power are perfect wisdom, perfect goodness, and perfect power. God’s wisdom, goodness, and power are, furthermore, glorious and beautiful. God’s wisdom, goodness, and power are therefore objects of God’s supreme beatitude, delight, and satisfaction. Divine perfection refers to the fullness of God’s being, the infinite riches of his wisdom, goodness, and power (Romans 11:33; Ephesians 2:4, 7; 3:8, 18–20). Divine glory refers to the beauty of God’s being, the utter clarity and intelligibility of God’s radiant life (Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 1:5). Divine beatitude, in turn, presupposes both divine perfection and divine glory. Divine beatitude refers to the satisfaction of God as he reposes in, rests in, and rejoices in the beauty of his perfect being. The blessed Trinity “dwells” in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:15–16). The Father rests in his radiant Son in the Spirit (Matthew 3:16–17) and, by the Spirit, the Son rejoices in the glory of the Father (Luke 10:21). Divine beatitude is “the happy land of the Trinity,” where, suffering no lack, the blessed Trinity reposes in the fullness of his luminous life.
God’s beatitude is simple. Nothing “makes” God happy. God does not “have” happiness. “God is happiness by his essence.” He is happy because he is who he is (Exodus 3:14). God’s beatitude is eternal. “The glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11) is the glory of “the King of the ages” (1 Timothy 1:17), the glory of one who lacks beginning and end. God’s beatitude is immutable. Nothing can increase God’s happiness, and nothing can take it away (Job 22:2–3; 35:6–7; 41:11; Acts 17:25; Romans 11:35; James 1:17). God’s beatitude is impassible. Because God is perfect, he rests content in himself as his own final end. He desires no further completion, no further fulfillment from anything outside of himself. God lacks all desire, reposing in himself in infinitely realized delight. God’s impassible happiness is fully actualized happiness. For this reason, God’s will toward anything outside of himself is not an expression of desire but of pure benevolence. God wills and affirms the existence of creatures, without grudging, without envy (James 1:5).
Consequently, while divine beatitude is the supreme form of beatitude, it is not the exclusive form of beatitude. God’s blessedness is a communicative attribute — that is, an attribute that he shares with creatures. As the supreme good, God is also the supreme source of creaturely goods: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). And each creaturely good carries with it a distinct form of happiness for creatures capable of happiness. Some creaturely goods are worthy of our love: we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Other creaturely goods are not worthy of our love but are to be received and shared with our neighbors for our mutual enjoyment: wine gladdens the heart of man, oil makes his face shine, and bread strengthens his heart (Psalm 104:15). All creaturely goods are limited goods, and therefore sources of limited satisfaction, pleasure, and felicity. But all creaturely goods are true goods, and therefore sources of true satisfaction, pleasure, and felicity.
Christian teaching on happiness thus rules out disordered hedonism, which treats finite goods, objects of finite happiness, as if they were infinite goods, objects of infinite happiness (Matthew 6:31–33). Christian teaching on happiness also rules out false asceticism, which devalues finite goods, objects of finite happiness (1 Timothy 4:1–5). All creaturely goods, both material and social, are to be received “with thanksgiving” to the happy God who makes us happy through them (1 Timothy 4:4). Even in their finitude, they point to the one who is the transcendent good and the object of transcendent delight: our true food, our true drink, our true husband (Psalm 45; John 3:29; 6:35, 55). The blessed Trinity is thus the source and end of all creaturely goods, all objects of creaturely happiness within the order of beatitude.