The first chapter of The Pleasures of God is titled “The Pleasure of God in His Son,” and in the final pages of that chapter Piper wrote these paragraphs which, I think, shed some helpful light on what I wrote yesterday. If you’d like to read the first three chapters of The Pleasures of God for yourself you can find them in a PDF by clicking here.
We may conclude that the pleasure of God in his Son is pleasure in himself. Since the Son is the image of God and the radiance of God and the form of God, equal with God, and indeed is God, therefore God’s delight in the Son is delight in himself. The original, the primal, the deepest, the foundational joy of God is the joy he has in his own perfections as he sees them reflected in the glory of his Son. Paul speaks of “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). From all eternity God had beheld the panorama of his own perfections in the face of his Son. All that he is he sees reflected fully and perfectly in the countenance of his Son. And in this he rejoices with infinite joy.
At first this sounds like vanity. It would be vanity if we humans found our deepest joy by looking in the mirror. We would be vain and conceited and smug and selfish if we were like God in this regard. But why? Aren’t we supposed to imitate God (Matthew 5:48; Ephesians 5:1)? Yes, in some ways. But not in every way. This was the first deceit of Satan in the Garden of Eden: He tempted Adam and Eve to try to be like God in a way that God never intended them to be like him—namely, in self-reliance. Only God should be self-reliant. All the rest of us should be God-reliant. In the same way, we were created for something infinitely better and nobler and greater and deeper than self-contemplation. We were created for the contemplation and enjoyment of God! Anything less than this would be idolatry toward him and disappointment for us. God is the most glorious of all beings. Not to love him and delight in him is a great loss to us and insults him.
But the same is true for God. How shall God not insult what is infinitely beautiful and glorious? How shall God not commit idolatry? There is only one possible answer: God must love and delight in his own beauty and perfection above all things. For us to do this in front of the mirror is the essence of vanity; for God to do it in front of his Son is the essence of righteousness.
Is not the essence of righteousness to place supreme value on what is supremely valuable, with all the just actions that follow? And isn’t the opposite of righteousness to set our highest affections on things of little or no worth, with all the unjust actions that follow? Thus the righteousness of God is the infinite zeal and joy and pleasure that he has in what is supremely valuable, namely, his own perfection and worth. And if he were ever to act contrary to this eternal passion for his own perfections he would be unrighteous, he would be an idolater.