John Piper started it. At least for many of us, the reminder of the pleasure of God reinserted itself into the postmodern mindset of theology through the musings of Dr. Piper. And don’t get me wrong—I am a fan and have enjoyed and affirmed much, if not all, I have ever read by him. If you read or hear Piper, you can’t help but learn of his affection for Jonathan Edwards. I have recently begun to read Edwards’ writings, and I find them amazingly fresh, deep and challenging.
But in reading lately, I must confess, my mind wanders a bit. In reading Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, the pleasure of God is present everywhere, reminding the us of the awesome God whom we are privileged and blessed to have been given the opportunity to worship. But something else strikes me: grace.
How do we define grace? What does it mean to us? As a pastor, or at least former one, I could easily give a detailed, technical definition of the word. Each person who has been to church more than once could also likely give a good religious definition of grace. You don’t need to look any further than
to see a cute, pithy way of expressing something so deep and profound that if we were honest, we truly do not fully understand anyway.
“The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays His rough wind;” writes Edwards in Sinners, “otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor.” These words left me with a question. I can’t hand out its answer; you must hear it and wrestle with it on your own. But regardless of how it’s posed, whatever form it takes, the answer to the question remains clearly the same. The answer blindsided me, but it rings true. The question is this: Does the doctrine of grace refer to nothing more (as if this is small) than the pleasure of God?
Grace abounds throughout the Old and New Testaments. It’d be proper to say that this idea and expression of grace is clearly a part of God’s character. However, we often hear from pastors how grace saves us, how God is gracious toward us, how we are saved by grace. The very nature of our language reveals our outlook and focus. Christians, especially we Americanized ones, are more focused on ourselves, how grace benefits us, what it is doing for us lately.
I can’t imagine this outlook and attitude is pleasing to God, because it sprouts a stalk of gratefulness, but likely does not result in a spring of gratitude. The American churchgoer has, by and large, never progressed from a consumer of religious goods and services to a seeker. At the very least, a seeker, whether he is a disciple or not, is motivated and passionate about what he is seeking after.
A seeker is, to me, someone who so desperately wants what he is looking for that he will go to any lengths to find it. In the search for spiritual “fulfillment,” this means a seeker will run to anything he can find that fits his need. But even more important, it seems that what he is really seeking, what the human condition longs for, is this type of companionship that fellow seekers have when they come together.
So the questions I find myself asking are, Where are all the runners? Where are the pursuers of Your heart, God? Where are the God pleasers like Jonathan Edwards?
We in America have been religious for so long that without a new generation of people who are passionate for the Lord’s pleasure first, we may never see the Lord reach out His hand for another great revival. For those who are out there who feel displaced, who are looking for those to run alongside them, don’t be fearful of being alone, because your running mates are out there. I, for one, want to be there with anyone who will run against the tide, no matter what it costs. Let us be satisfied with God’s pleasure, and let us be seekers of God’s pleasure—or in more religious terms, His grace. They certainly are one and the same.