I find it somewhat disconcerting to think of God as “happy”, it seems almost disrespectful. Yet this is what Paul was thinking about God when writing 1 Timothy 1:11. I am grateful to John Piper for chapter 7 of his book God is Gospel (freely downloadable).
Some improved translations of 1 Timothy 1:11 could be “According to the gospel of the glory of the gladness of God” or “According to the gospel of the glory of the happy God“. That word “blessed” in the KJV/NKJV refers to happiness and gladness, not just some externally gifted thing, but a state of emotion and being.
God’s happiness is not contingent, but it is very real. Our happiness is contingent upon a right relationship and standing with Him, but it should also be real. My kids should learn from me that God is glad because I model that gladness, that God is happy because I am happy. This is a tall order! To be a happy-glad father is much more demanding for me than being a grouchy-rule-enforcing-fusser father. Happiness (as would be discernible by my children) is often a struggle, but then nothing about Christianity is easy in one sense. In another sense though it’s easy as pie — I have been gifted happiness. God doesn’t require of me what He doesn’t model in Himself. I need to copy Jesus both in an imitative love of my glad Father, and in cross carrying. Obedience is imitative and Christian obedience is founded on deep personal loyalty. Obedience is therefore relational, not a joyless process of chiselling laws into hard stone.
Themes often weave together, and in this case we are just nearing the end of an expository season in Deuteronomy and it is astonishing how often God commands the people to rejoice before Him, to be glad when feasting or offering, not to defile tithes and offerings by eating them in mourning or sadness (Deuteronomy 12:7; 12:12; 12:18; 16:11; 16:14; 26:11; 26:14; 27:7). For instance, in Deuteronomy 28:47-48 God explains to Israel that the covenant curses would come upon them precisely because they were not glad, not grateful and not joyful in the abundant blessings he gave. Their cranky, surly, complaining attitudes would be better suited to a captive slave… so God will arrange for them a more fitting setting — namely that of a captive slave. That “fierce ol’ God of the old testament”, the terrible and awful God of Sinai… loves a party, He loves feasting, He loves joy and gladness and happiness. Why? Anything else would be a slander on his character. The glad and happy God isn’t truly revealed in His glory by “the grumpy people of God”. That old devil Screwtape though, he would be well pleased with a cranky dad who dutifully catechizes his children in the ways of a hard and joyless grind called “Christianity”.
I am called to shepherd my children in gladness. It is godly to laugh, to joke, it is good to heartily sing songs, to feast, it is good to chuckle at funny bible stories, to dance about gleefully because of God’s great deliverances, to give thanks, to look for things to rejoice in. And yes we do these things together in small measure, but we need to do it a whole lot more!