How are Trusting God and Desiring God Related?

(SeanO) #1

@Brian_Weeks Thank you for your post! Certainly John Piper is a great Bible teacher and I have always admired him for his boldness to speak truth. On this particular issue, I would personally take issue with a few of his definitions.

Trust (or Faith) Vs Desire

I am not sure I agree that the essence of sin is desiring something more than God if we defined desire as a feeling. Instead I would say that sin is trusting anyone or anything more than God. Faith is what God requires and ultimately faith is trust.

Abraham trusted God to take care of Isaac - even to resurrect him if necessary. Abraham did not desire to sacrifice his son, but he did trust God. Nothing in the story indicates Abraham was overflowing with the feeling of joy as he raised his knife.

In the midst of temptation I think our feelings often deceive us and we do feel like we desire something more than God. But if we are wise, we trust that obedience will lead to joy unspeakable in God as we are faithful to Him through the trial.

In the same way - the first sin was not desiring the fruit - it was not trusting God’s Word. Doubt and faith do not coexist. When we trust our own desires or the lies of the enemy more than God’s Word we endanger our souls.

Consider the order in which the serpent attacked Eve - he did not begin with her desires, but instead by attacking God’s Word and her trust in it. First God’s Word was questioned by making the prohibition seem overly restrictive (so Eve would question God’s character or intentions), then the consequences of sin were questioned and then her desire was engaged because she allowed herself to drop her guard. I think this is how temptation works - when we start to doubt God’s character and question the goodness of His commands we then are in a position of weakness where our own desires can lead us astray.

  • Did God really say not to eat from any tree?
  • You will not surely die…
  • Then Eve saw the tree that it was good to eat…

Perhaps Piper meant something slightly different by desire? I have never really studied his teaching on this deeply.

God’s Commands Are Grounded in His Goodness

In complete honesty, the idea that God’s commands our rooted in His supremacy actually bothers me on the surface. God is love. And whatever He does is good not just because He does it and He is supreme, but because He is in fact the very definition of goodness.

Sin is not wrong or destructive because God is supreme. It is destructive because God is love and if He commands it it is for our good. When we go against God’s commands we experience corruption and decay because we are defying the essence of what is good and true and beautiful and pure.

I agree with Piper that God must be our greatest treasure - 100%. But I think if we just say that without rooting it in the fact that God is love - pure and undefiled, we risk portraying God as being arbitrary.

It begins to sound like divine command theory - which says that something is right or wrong just because God says it is so. Well, that’s kind of right - but also kind of wrong. Everything God commands is right - because He is goodness itself. If we separate divine command theory from God’s character I think we risk distorting our view of God.

Is this a fair critique or am I misrepresenting Piper in some way?

Thank you for raising these very interesting points.

Why put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden?
(Brian Weeks) #2

Sean, thanks for the opportunity to provide some breadth to the thoughts I briefly shared above. I’ll try to expound a bit on the points you raised.

While the concept of desire as it relates to the Christian life, and human life in general, may at first glance seem peripheral, after careful consideration, I’ve found there is profound depth and truth to what Piper preached on. To be clear though, Piper didn’t invent this idea of desire being so central to the Christian life. Rather, he preached on something that goes back through ages of theologians, including Jonathan Edwards, Blaise Pascal, and St. Augustine, who wrote in the first paragraph of Confessions, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”

Regarding trusting God, I think you’re right, God does require faith. But, he requires not just our trust, but also our desire for him. If we can conceive of such a thing as bored trust, reluctant trust, indifferent trust, or utilitarian trust (trusting someone merely as a means), is simply trust alone sufficient? Psalm 37:4 commands us to delight ourselves in the Lord, and there are numerous other scriptures that likewise command us to treasure God above all things. I can trust that Jesus can save me, but if I don’t desire Jesus, would that be good? The problem I think we run into when we reduce the Christian duty (what God requires of us) down to trust alone is that we risk turning God into a means to something other than himself, rather than God being both the means and the end.

Concerning desire as it relates to trust, if there is a difference between trusting that someone can do something for me without me placing my trust in them, again, is trust alone sufficient? I can trust that someone can get me from Georgia to Florida. But if I don’t desire to go to Florida, I won’t place my trust in them. I must desire to go to Florida before I place my trust in them to get me there. So, here again, it seems desire precedes placing our trust in someone.

Why do I place my trust in Christ? I place my trust in Christ because I desire what the gospel promises (ultimately, God). Desire of what the gospel promises precedes placing my trust in Christ.

On the first sin, can we conceive of the possibility of Eve placing her trust in the promises of the devil if she was totally content in and satisfied by God? Every decision of the will has a motive behind it (that, I would argue, necessarily involves desire). Her decision to not continue to place her trust in God and, instead, place her trust in the promises of the devil presupposes her discontentment, else there would be no motive to consider placing her trust anywhere else. And it is this discontentment, this lack of being fully satisfied by God, that seems to me to have been the first sin. How do you see this?

With respect to God’s commands being grounded in his supremacy in all things, put another way I’d say, God’s commands are grounded in him, in his God-ness (including not just his love, but all of his attributes, including his holiness, righteousness, justice, lordship, immutability, eternality, etc.); and, I would say, God revealed his commands to us to preserve himself as our supreme treasure; yes for our good, but ultimately for his glory (Romans 11:36). He is the end, not us.

I tried to be brief here, but hope this provides some clarity to what I had in mind. Thanks again for engaging this, Sean. I have a feeling continued conversation might be due its own thread, but I’m not sure. What do you think? Again, I appreciate the opportunity for discussion and I’m looking forward to your thoughts.

(SeanO) #3

@Brian_Weeks I think we mostly agree when it comes to God’s commands - the importance of God being supreme is rooted in His goodness. I would disagree a bit probably with the emphasis on supremacy rather than on His goodness when speaking about the source of the commands - I think if we emphasize supremacy in our speech we give the impression to hearers that God is more concerned with His supremacy than our welfare even though you and I know those are the same thing. For God to be all in all is best for everyone, but the listener could easily misinterpret that if the emphasis is on supremacy. I’ll start a new thread for the discussion on desire.

@Brian_Weeks I found this quote in Calvin’s institutes part II section I - regarding general revelation of God and it is applicable - “But although our mind cannot conceive of God without rendering some worship to Him, it will not, however, be sufficient simply to hold that he is the only being whom all ought to worship and adore, unless we are also persuaded that He is the foundation of all goodness, and that we must seek everything in Him, and in none but Him…not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does nto flow from Him, and of which He is not the cause…”

(SeanO) #4

@Brian_Weeks Here is my initial response. I appreciate your well thought out reply. I agree that many of the great Christian men and women of the past have seen the importance of truly desiring God.

Here is my hypothesis after some reflection: Desire for God as a feeling is transitory and cannot be constantly maintained. Therefore it is not a sin not to desire God as a feeling above all. Temptation or pain or circumstances can temporarily displace desiring God as a feeling. Desire for God as knowing - as in a committed love relationship - involves both deep joy in God and, at times, faithfulness in the face of temptation and can and should be maintained.

In the OT God often compared His relationship with Israel to a faithful relationship (if lived out properly) between a man and a woman. And the word ‘to know’ in the Bible can refer to marital relations. So knowing God involves having had a deep, soul penetrating experience of the Holy Spirit within us and a knowledge of the good things of God. In Hebrews 6:4 this experienced is described with vivid imagery - “those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit”. Salvation is something we experience - we taste - a deep experience and knowing of God.

John 17:3 - Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

I Corinthians 8:3 - But whoever loves God is known by God.

Galatians 4:9 - But now that you know God–or rather are known by God

We Look Forward to Future Joy in Present Sorrow

Even when desire as a feeling is gone, desire as being known may remain and give us strength to endure. We see that Jesus, upon the cross, looked forward to the future joy of His Father and the redeemed people of God in the midst of present sorrow.

Hebrews 12:2 - fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

God Tests Our Hearts

Desire as a feeling is not only transitory, but I think we were never meant to lean on it. In 2 Chronicles we see the story of Hezekiah, where foreign rulers came to inspect his dwellings. God wanted to know what was really in his heart and so allowed him to make the decision, so it would seem, on his own. In times of testing, I do not think we can rely on our feelings?

Perhaps in the Garden of Eden God was likewise testing Adam and Eve?

“And even in the matter of the envoys of the rulers of Babylon, who sent to him to inquire of the wonder that had happened in the land, God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart,” (2 Chron. 32:31)

We Must Lead Our Desires

Many pastors call this ‘preaching to your own heart’. But I think the fundamental point is - desire as a feeling is the type of thing that we must, with a renewed mind, lead. It is a fluctuating creature that may often betray us and must be subdued - for our feelings are subject to the physical state of our bodies, tiredness, our emotional state and many other forces. King David often preached to his own soul and Lewis makes the point well that there are often times when we must act as if we love someone even when the feeling is absent. But when we lead with our actions our feelings very often follow.

Psalms 103:1 - Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” C. S. Lewis

Trust and Desire, Like Relationship, Are a Dance

Desire as knowing God and being known by Him is a dance. There are times in life where we have a deep, even physical awareness of the love and glory of God that rests upon us. And there are times when we trust and obey though we cannot trace the hand of God or feel His presence. Life is a dance between trust and desire - between pursuing the Beloved in times of discouragement and confusion and experiencing the Beloved in embrace. The gap between these experiences need not be long - I am not sure I go along with the idea of the ‘dark night of the soul’ - walking in the Spirit and that idea seem to go head to head in some ways. But I do think there are times when God’s presence feels far away - as in David’s life - and we must cry out to Him.

Do those thoughts provoke any further discussion? Do those who are reading agree with my distinction between Desiring God as a feeling and desiring God as knowing? May the Lord grant us wisdom as we seek to know Him more!

(Brian Weeks) #5

I think you’re right that we mostly agree regarding God’s commands. Thanks for talking through this with me, Sean.

I was wondering if you could help me understand a bit more about your view of God’s supremacy as it relates here. You mentioned your concern with communicating to others that God is more concerned with his supremacy than our welfare. Do you find the idea of God being supreme over us, and being more concerned with him being God than our welfare, offensive?

On knowing God, you’re right that the Bible speaks to us knowing God. However, the texts you referenced aren’t meant to be exhaustive or exclusive to other biblical truths. In other words, when we view the Bible in its entirety, we do read, as you’ve mentioned, that the Christian life involves knowing God, but it also involves lots of other things.

Thanks for the detail you provided on knowing God. Now that I’ve read your thoughts on knowing God, I think we’re closer here than it might at first seem. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first definition for desire as a noun is, A strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen. As a verb it’s, Strongly wish for or want (something). If one desires to know God, is this not desiring God? Is it possible for one seek to know God without desiring to know God? Do you think we’re on a similar page here?

Concerning God’s commandments being grounded in his goodness, I agree with you. I believe they are grounded in his goodness, but that they aren’t grounded only in his goodness. Goodness, i.e. righteousness, is one of God’s many attributes. And if we a la carte God’s attributes, then we ignore the fullness of God and how it relates to and upholds his commandments. God’s commandments are good because they’re rooted in God who is good. But, God’s commandments are also just because they’re rooted in God who is just. They are commandments we must abide by because they’re rooted in his lordship. They are loving because they’re rooted in his love, and so on. So, I agree that they’re rooted in his goodness, but I don’t see them as being rooted in his goodness alone. Rather, I see them as being rooted in his God-ness, if you will.

Regarding feelings, I should clarify, by the term desire, I don’t mean feelings only, but I do include feelings when I’ve used this term here. With respect to your response on this, I’m not sure I’m following the reasoning in this and I’d like to seek your clarification (or, you could say, I desire your clarification :slight_smile: ):

Desire for God as a feeling is transitory and cannot be constantly maintained. Therefore it is not a sin not to desire God as a feeling above all. Temptation or pain or circumstances can temporarily displace desiring God as a feeling. Desire for God as knowing - as in a committed love relationship - involves both deep joy in God and, at times, faithfulness in the face of temptation and can and should be maintained.

  1. Could we not, though, say the same thing about our thoughts? Isn’t every part of man’s being, including his thoughts, corrupted by sin, not just his feelings?
  2. Is it safe to use logic and/or experience as a determiner of what is commanded? If something is hard, does this mean God cannot and does not command it?
  3. Concerning feelings for God being transitory, Paul seemed to believe it was possible to always rejoice in God, even in the midst of great suffering, when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” How do you understand the phrase “always rejoicing?”
  4. Jesus commands us to always love God with all of our hearts, minds, and souls. This seems to refer to the entirety of our beings, but do you see this as excluding our feelings?
  5. How do you understand the texts that seem to command us to be always joyful in God, such as the following?
  • Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

  • Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)

I appreciate the conversation, Sean, and I’m looking forward to hearing your perspective on this.

(SeanO) #6

@Brian_Weeks Thank you again for a thorough response. I think I am not communicating from within the same context, so I am going to try to switch things up a bit so that we do not completely miss each other.

Question 1 - Our Welfare and God’s Supremacy

You asked: Do you find the idea of God being supreme over us, and being more concerned with him being God than our welfare, offensive?

My response to this one is actually a question for clarification. The question may seem a bit odd at first, but I think it will help me respond more accurately.

For what reason or reasons do you believe that God created us?

Question 2 - Can we literally rejoice always?

I found an article from Ligonier that uses much of the same language as Piper and with which I believe Piper would fully agree, but it makes one significant nuance. It differentiates rejoicing always from both stoicism and a dogged attempt to force our emotions into a certain state. Rather, we rejoice because we have the proper perspective - Jesus has won - the enemy is defeated! And soon we shall be with Christ in glory! Maranatha! But the feeling may not always be there - yet we rejoice because we have the right perspective and we eagerly expect the Spirit to stir within us if we persist in prayer. I like this quote from Julian of Norwich regarding perspective.

"“All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Julian of Norwich (In Christ of course)

“True joy is not grounded in personal sentiment or emotions (“I feel joyful”), nor in a stoic resolution to bravely face the future. Rather, it is grounded in the fact that the crucified Savior who died for our sins so as to turn aside the wrath of God was also bodily raised from the dead and will come again in fulfillment of all His promises.”

(Brian Weeks) #7

I think that’s a really good, foundational question for us to establish because, as you’re alluding to, that’s kind of where it all begins for mankind. Ultimately, my mind goes to Isaiah 43:7, where it says “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” I’m not aware of another more explicit verse on this subject. So, in short, I believe God created us to glorify him.

But, how about you? How would you answer that question?

(SeanO) #8

@Brian_Weeks So, I wanted to start with Piper’s answer to this question. I think the way Piper explains it in this video he offers a small nuance that may allow me to be more accepting of what at first appears to be reductionism. Piper clarifies that God wants not only to bring Him glory but to enjoy His glory - and I think when it is stated that way I can see how it could be a more encompassing view of all that God created us to be and do.

“which doesn’t mean that He created us to increase His glory but to display His glory in us and offer it as a gift to us for our enjoyment…by relying on God we show His trustworthiness…He made you to enjoy this glory”

I also think we see in Romans 1 that the failure of man to give thanks to God and give Him glory are indeed key failures in understanding the purpose for which we were created.

Romans 1:21-23 - For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

However, I think if we go back to Genesis we find that it is possible to add some nuance to the purpose for our creation. We were created to steward God’s good creation, to live productive and fruitful lives, to fill the earth and subdue it.

Genesis 1:28 - God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

I agree we were created for God’s glory. But I do appreciate it when a little more nuance of exactly what that means is provided - that we love God and are loved by Him; that we steward His creation; that we give thanks in all things.

Back to my original confusion over the word ‘supremacy’ - I think the Biblical term glory, if understood in its fullness, is a better expression. Supremacy is a very one dimensional word in my mind, but glory, if the person hearing actually knows the Biblical context and story line, has a much fuller meaning. God’s glory is displayed through His loving providence over creation, His justice, His mercy and kindness to mankind and His steadfast love.

(Brian Weeks) #9

Sean, I totally agree with your thoughts on what you shared regarding God creating us to glorify him by enjoying his glory. I also agree with you that God created us for more, and that the “more,” such as stewarding his creation, is to work toward and culminate in glorifying him. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

I also agree with you on the importance of defining our terms. What do we mean when we say we were created to glorify God? It seems there are more than a lifetime of sermons behind that. So I think you’re right that we need more understanding of what that means and how we can and should do it.

And if you’re more comfortable with the term glory than supremacy, I can see why you’d feel like that and I could agree with that term as well. I sincerely appreciate the civil and thoughtful conversation you’re offering here, Sean.

(SeanO) #10

@Brian_Weeks More than a lifetime of sermons indeed! I appreciate the respectful and thoughtful dialogue on your part as well. Like an iceberg, words often have a wealth of meaning that lies beneath the surface and it has been enjoyable to reconsider the depth of the word ‘glory’ in a Biblical context.