29 August 2019

A God Who Delights

A God Who Delights
by Troy Cady

I invite you to think of someone you like a lot, the kind of person that lifts your spirit whenever you are around them. Try to think of just what it is you like about them and describe the qualities you admire with specific words or phrases. Maybe you’d like to give thanks for the gift of that person in your life.
Now consider this: the way you think about that person is the way God thinks about you. God delights in you. In fact, God is full of delight for the whole world. That, quite simply, is all I want to look at in this essay.

God is not a killjoy
For the better part of my life I didn’t think of God as someone who is full of delight. At various times I have thought of God as a standard of perfection to which I could never measure up, a God who could only be pleased with me if I performed well for him and others. I’ve gone through seasons where it seemed I could never stop committing a certain sin and at different points I was sure I had reached the limit where God would say, “Okay, that’s it. I’m done with you. You’re hopeless.” I imagined that if I ever saw God face to face, he would want to know why it is that I can come up with lots of good ideas but never complete any of them. This God is the God of regret, a God defined by all my lost chances and failed tests. This is the killjoy God.
But this is not the kind of God the Bible describes. The God of the Bible is a God whose mercies are new every morning. This God never says, “I’m done with you.” This God says, “You’re mine and I love you so much. I made you: I will never stop loving you.” This God believes in you and sees good things in you (because this God is the one who put those good things in you). This God loves you so much that he actually likes you.
That might sound like a strange thing to say because we tend to think that loving someone is greater than liking them, but when we apply that notion to God we end up with the twisted thought that perhaps God has found a way to love us without actually liking us. We might quote the verse “God is love” but somewhere inside us there is a disconnect between the love of God and the delight of God. Yes, God loves us—but is it possible, could it be…that God delights in us so much he actually likes us?
The prospect of this is so wonderful that I encourage you to spend an entire month letting that simple truth sink into your heart, mind and body. Because God loves, God delights.
This truth is brought out beautifully by a key verse I encourage you to meditate on over and over again. It’s from Zephaniah 3:17 where it says,

“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Just soak that in now. If there was ever a doubt that God delights in you, this verse lays that doubt to rest: “he will take great delight in you.”
In my study of that text this week, I looked at the word delight and discovered that there are several words in Hebrew that can be translated as delight. It’s as if God’s delight is like a diamond with many faces. Turning the diamond to see a different side brings out different colors, each one fascinating to behold.
In this verse, a certain variety of delight holds center stage. Notice that the verse is formed by five lines. The latter three lines form their own triplet. In this case, some Hebrew scholars render the last three lines like so:

“he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”

The phrase “he will take great delight in you” conveys the image of God “rejoicing over you with gladness.” I love that: God is joyful…filled with gladness.
The set-up to this establishes a situation of close, personal safety. It describes God as a Mighty One, someone who is strong enough to save you from trouble. This “mighty one” is named and located in the first phrase where it says: “Yahweh, your God, is in your midst.”
Yahweh is God’s name, not God’s title. The writer here is calling God by name and reminding us that Yahweh is very close to us (in our midst) keeping us safe. Within this place of intimate, personal safety, God freely rejoices over you with gladness (line 3) and with singing (line 5). Thus, line 4 makes it clear: when we experience that kind of love, that kind of delight, it quiets the uproar in our hearts.
How we need that kind of love today! This verse tells us quite simply that God is not a killjoy. He is up-close and personal. He is safe. He sings gladly over you. He quiets you, loves you, delights in you.

God is not an It
This verse also suggests to us another myth we need to lay to rest about God and it is this: God is not an It. This poem speaks of God in personal terms. You’ll notice that in this particular verse, the poem would fall flat were it to speak of God in terms of an It: “it will take great delight in you, it will quiet you with its love, it will rejoice over you with singing.”  That kind of textual rendering would sound kind of creepy, actually!
In this instance, the verbs happen to be in the third person masculine singular which indicates the “he” pronoun: “he will take great delight in you, he will quiet you...”
The emphasis, however, is not on the “he” but on the personal nature of God. God is not an It, but nor is God solely a “he.” Other texts dealing with the delight of God also bring out the feminine personal aspect of God, speaking of God in terms of “she” or “her.”
Look at Proverbs 8 for a great example of this. In this text, God is very closely identified with Wisdom who is portrayed as a woman. In fact, Wisdom is so closely associated with God in this text that many interpreters feel it is like God talking about God's self in the voice of a woman. In my study for this topic, I looked closely at this text because it tells us in verses 30 and 31 that Wisdom is “filled with delight.” In wanting to learn what kind of delight the text is describing, I discovered other ways of translating how God talks about Herself here. And I love this translation, which says:

"I was an artisan with God.
I was filled with delight day after day,
playing, laughing always in God's presence,
playing, laughing, enjoying the whole world,
delighting in all humanity."

One popular translation of the Hebrew text renders “playing, laughing” as “rejoicing” but really the idea of delight here is one of playing and laughing. Additionally, the phrase “I was constantly at his side” could be translated literally as “I was an artisan.” Taken together, this text encourages us to think of God as a laughing, playful painter or sculptor who happens to be a woman—which is very different than how we normally think of God.
Another delightful feminine image of God draws a parallel between God and the city of God’s people, Jerusalem—the “City of Peace.” In Isaiah 66:12-13, God and this city of peace are closely identified when God says,

“I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

I love how the text surprises us here. In the first part, it sounds like God is describing Jerusalem as a mother but then in the last three lines Jerusalem is equated with God’s motherhood.
Though this picture of a city of peace has a literal counterpart in the land of Israel, it also expresses a desire of God’s to see every city, including ours, to become a place of peace. Notice that, for that to happen, God plays the role of mother, nursing us, carrying us on her arm, playing with us like a mother playing with her toddler on her knees. It’s a picture of comfort, of being nourished by God’s delight, carried by her and enjoying her.
I think it’s simply wonderful how this text portrays God as delighting in our city neighborhoods. When we think of the city we often think of all the problems that need to be fixed, but when God thinks of the city God doesn’t start with the problem, God starts with delight. And God’s delight is our very peace. And God’s delight is personal.

God is not Plato’s Unmoved Mover
Another myth we need to dispel about God is something we’ve inherited from a long tradition of European philosophy. It comes from Plato who described God as “the Unmoved Mover.” This God is distant and stoic, unmoved by our plight.
In Isaiah 38, we get another image of God’s delight in the story of Hezekiah who was on the verge of death. He cried out to God and, when he recovered, Hezekiah wrote a song to thank God for answering his prayer. In verse 17 we get a beautiful picture of another side of God’s delight, where Hezekiah writes: “In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction…”
The imagery in Hebrew, however, is even more vivid than this. It is a picture of attachment where God actually gets into the pit with Hezekiah, who testifies: “You attached to me, and loved my soul out of the pit.” It’s a picture of a God who not only moves to restore life but who jumps right into the pit of hell to wrap his arms around us and love us back to life. In this text, God’s delight is God’s passionate, merciful attachment to us.
This image of a leaping, attaching, delighting God makes up the very center of the core story we use with children at our church year after year. We start the story by saying that God dances so hard he leaps right out of himself back into himself. We say that God was so joyful, he leapt into our world in love. “And now,” we say, “God is inviting you to dance with him.”
Contrary to Plato’s Unmoved Mover, the God of the Bible is not static…the God of the Bible is ek-static, which means “out of oneself.” When you are in a state of ecstasy, you have the sensation that you are having an out-of-body experience. It’s transcendent.
The philosopher Peter Kreeft says that’s what joy is. It’s the state of leaping out of your own skin into another and back again. When we talk about “falling in love” this is the kind of thing we’re really talking about. It would probably be more accurate to say we’re drowning in joy. All at once you feel nothing like yourself and more like yourself than you ever have before.
I love how Kreeft describes this in the specific terms of Christian faith. He writes: “We leap to God because he leaped to us in Christ, and God leaped to us because he is eternally leaping within himself like a flea circus. The whole of reality is ek-static leaping, a cosmic dance, God engaging in a wild acrobatic display with humanity.”[1]
This is a picture of the amazing love of God for each of us; it’s a love that’s immersed in an inexhaustible ocean of joy, whose depths we could never completely plumb. In Jesus, God leapt into who we are so we could leap into who he is. For us to fully grasp the significance of this kind of love, I think that instead of saying “God is love” we might do better to say, “God is always falling in love with us.”

God is beyond reason
If we think of God this way, it will help us put in place another common misconception we have about God, and it’s this: somehow we have got it into our head that God always has to make sense to us. We equate God to reason—and, though God is wise, wisdom is greater than reason. When we equate God to reason, we end up trying to put God in a box.
The older I get the more I am convinced that the only way we will be able to make sense of God is if we stop trying to make sense of God all the time. If it is true that God is always falling in love with us and longing for us to return those affections, it follows that at various points in life we’ll be carried away by that love, even irrationally so.
God’s love and God’s ways may be reasonable but they are not merely reasonable. God’s love, God’s delight goes beyond reason. It’s because of God’s delight that we will always encounter God as a mystery.
In Isaiah 11 we have a vivid picture of God’s mystery where we read that “infants will play near the hole of the cobra.” That image of play is an image of delight, but for Pete’s sake…notice where the kid is playing! It’s like Isaiah was watching some movie where the hero has a drug-induced hallucination and we see all kinds of weird things like wolves sharing a house with lambs, cows feeding with bears, lions eating straw and Indiana Jones as a toddler, laughing while sitting on a carpet of snakes. It makes no sense!
Thankfully, looking back on the text now, we can make some sense of it, but even then its meaning still defies all logic and reason. Today we know that in the advent of Jesus we witnessed a child for whom Satan, the great serpent, was nothing more than a plaything. And this is so not because Jesus became so great but rather because God became so small, a child.  The delight of God confounds how seriously Satan takes himself and how seriously we take ourselves, too. God overcomes our desire for greatness by becoming a child who delights.

And therein lies the key if we are to comprehend even the slightest fragment of this God who delights: we must become as God became; we must become like a little child.
I love how G.K. Chesterton relates God to childhood. He writes:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” -from Orthodoxy

It's true: we encounter the Ancient of Days most fully when we encounter God as an eternal child, filled with wonder and joy, delight and irrational (but truly free) love. We cannot reason our way into the delight of God. The delight of God is a leap, it’s a foolhardy attachment, it’s a continual falling in love with those of us who haven’t the first clue how very, very, very much God loves us, how she sings over us, dances his life away, nurses us, carries us, rescues us, and asks us to come out and play. The invitation is to change and become like a child because God is an eternal child. The invitation is to simply enjoy a God who delights. Amen.

[1] Peter Kreeft. Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 149.

I invite you to read part 2 of this series on delighting in God here

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