by Scott R. Swain
Christian theology has a deep and abiding interest in the topic of happiness because it has a deep and abiding interest in “the happy God” (1 Timothy 1:11) and in the happiness of the people whose God is the Lord (Psalm 144:15).
In our first installment in a Christian theology of happiness, we considered the supreme form of happiness that rules and governs all things, the happiness of the triune God, the blessed Trinity. We also considered how the triune God communicates a share of his happiness to us through his works of creation and redemption.
In our second installment, we considered biblical teaching regarding the fact that our happiness has not yet fully arrived. While Christ has done all that is required to secure our happiness in God through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and enthronement at the Father’s right hand, the Spirit’s work of applying this happiness to us has only begun. Furthermore, having been reconciled to the happy God through Jesus Christ, we have been brought into conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil. For these reasons, the Christian experience of happiness in this age must always be characterized by a mixture of sorrow and rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10).
We conclude our survey of a Christian theology of happiness with a few brief comments on the character of the happiness that lies before us in God’s eternal kingdom. Three things must be considered when it comes to the supreme and unsurpassable happiness of the people whose God is the triune Lord: (1) the supreme good that will constitute our supreme happiness, (2) the manner in which we will possess our supreme happiness, and (3) the context within which we will enjoy our supreme happiness.1
Isaiah 33:17 captures the first two elements of our blessed hope: “Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty.” Isaiah 33:23–24 captures the third: “Then prey and spoil in abundance will be divided; even the lame will take the prey. And no inhabitant will say, ‘I am sick’; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.” Let us consider these three elements in order.
“The king in his beauty” is the supreme good that will constitute our supreme happiness in God’s eternal kingdom: the incarnate Son of God, sitting at the right hand of his Father, the source of the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of God. The triune King is the supreme good, the supreme beatitude in the order of beatitude. In the eternal kingdom, the triune King will present himself to us in unmediated splendor, as a bridegroom unveils himself before his bride.
No longer through a glass darkly, no longer in part, he will present himself to us there face to face, to be fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). No longer will the light of the sun and the moon shine upon us, for the glory of God will be our light and the Lamb will be our lamp (Revelation 21:23; 22:5). “There the Lord in majesty will be for us a place of broad rivers and streams” (Isaiah 33:21). From the throne of God and of the Lamb, the Spirit will flow, opening to us an infinite ocean of beatitude (Revelation 22:2).
When the blessed Trinity makes his habitation with men in the fullness of his being, beauty, and beatitude, God will be the object of our unsurpassable interest and satisfaction, the good greater than which and beyond which nothing else can be desired. “God himself . . . shall there be its [i.e., the soul’s] reward; for, as there is nothing greater or better, he has promised himself. What else was meant by his word through the prophet, ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people,’ than, I shall be their satisfaction, I shall be all that men honorably desire — life, and health, and nourishment, and plenty, and glory, and honor, and peace, and all good things?”2 Made for him, our hearts will find their rest in him.3
What is the manner in which we will possess our supreme good, the object of our supreme happiness? “Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty.” The blessed Trinity is an intrinsically luminous, intrinsically intelligible good. “The blessed and only Sovereign” dwells in “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 1:5). The being of God is “unapproachable” to flesh and blood, not because it is dark or blind, but because we are unclean (Isaiah 6:5) and because we are not yet glorified (1 Corinthians 15:50).
In God’s eternal kingdom, when we have been fully and finally cleansed of sin’s corrupting stain, and when we have been fully and finally glorified, we will attain the “one thing” for which the saints have always longed: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
We will possess God as our supreme good and our supreme happiness by beholding the King in his beauty, and that by means of a twofold vision. We will see the invisible God — the divine essence in its tripersonal manner of existence — by means of spiritual perception, “with clarity, directness, and completeness.”4 Furthermore, we will see the incarnate Lamb of God by means of glorified physical eyes: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25–26). In this “beatific vision,” “the completion and crown” of our happiness will be “the delight experienced in the enjoyment of God.”5 We will see him and we will thereby be satisfied in him.
What, then, of the context within which we will enjoy our supreme happiness? We will enjoy the vision of the blessed and triune God within the context of a healthy, wealthy, forgiven people: “Then prey and abundance will be divided; even the lame will take the prey. And no inhabitant will say, ‘I am sick’; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.” The presence of a redeemed humanity, endowed with “the wealth of the nations” (Isaiah 60:5, 11; 61:6), made healthy and whole (Revelation 22:2), does not increase the perfection of the blessed Trinity, which is beyond possibility of increase or diminution. But the presence of a redeemed humanity does increase our capacity for enjoying the blessed Trinity. Anselm explains,
What joy there is indeed and how great it is where there exists so great a good! . . . But surely if someone else whom you loved in every respect as yourself possessed that same blessedness, your joy would be doubled for you would rejoice as much for him as for yourself. Therefore in that perfect and pure love of the countless holy angels and holy men where no one will love another less than himself, each will rejoice for every other as for himself. If, then, the heart of man will scarcely be able to comprehend the joy that will belong to it from so great a good, how will it comprehend so many and such great joys?6
Though our attention and delight will be “centered upon the Lord” in God’s eternal kingdom, our attention and delight will also be “a social one.”7 Paul J. Griffiths provides an apt illustration that conveys the nature of our attention and delight in God and the people of God within the new creation:
Our delight in the Lord is, in this respect, like the intense attentiveness paid by orchestral players to the conductor. He is the one at whom they look and to whose gestures they respond. But their look and their responsiveness is attuned and resonant to the looks and the responses of their fellow players. That attunement and resonance is constitutive of ensemble playing.8
In God’s eternal kingdom, our happiness in the vision of God will be attuned to and resonant with the redeemed chorus of humanity, gathered from every tribe, tongue, and nation, that ever lives to glorify, honor, and thank the one who sits upon the throne and the Lamb in the Spirit who proceeds from their throne.
To possess the triune God in unmediated vision and unsurpassable bliss among the people of God, this is “the final blessedness,” “the ultimate consummation,” “the unending end” that lies ahead for the objects of God’s mercy.9 This is “our blessed hope” (Titus 2:13): the blessed Trinity will make us blessed in him. Such happiness can hardly be described in prose. Such happiness is better sung:
The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for —
The fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark had been the midnight
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.
The king there in His beauty,
Without a veil is seen:
It were a well-spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army,
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land
O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.
The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Emmanuel’s land.
Oh, I am my Beloved’s
And my Beloved is mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner
Into His house of wine.
I stand upon His merit —
I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.10
- For the first two points, see Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II.2.7. For the third, see Anselm, Proslogion, in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, ed. Brian Davies and G. R. Evans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 25.
- Augustine, A Select Library of the Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff, vol. 2, St. Augustine’s City of God and Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), XXII.30.
- Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (New York: Oxford, 1991), I.1.
- Paul J. Griffiths, Decreation: The Last Things of All Creatures (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014), 218. As William Perkins rightly notes, we will not perceive God in a simple manner, as God alone perceives himself, but we will perceive God in a comprehensive manner. William Perkins, The Works of William Perkins, vol. 1, A Godly and Learned Exposition of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2014), 207.
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John: Chapters 13–21(Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 171.
- Anselm, Proslogion, 25.
- Griffiths, Decreation, 239.
- Griffiths, Decreation, 239.
- Augustine, City of God, XIX.10.
- Anne Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857).
This article first appeared on Desiring God