[A Review of “When I Don’t Desire God” by John Piper // Chapter 2 – What is the Difference Between Desire and Delight?]
We come to the second chapter in what I referred to in the last post as John Piper’s “tome of Christ-centered joy.” In this chapter, Piper defines for us desire and delight. He goes on to tell us what is the difference between the two and how the end of both of those things is Christ Himself, not the experience of desire or delight.
We see more imperative without indicative, more admonition to fight for joy without any real application, but the book is still early, and I’m still hopeful. There’s 10 chapters left to go so we’ll see what’s left.
Words, Wordy Words, The Kind of Words That Are… Wordy
Words and their definitions are important so he starts off by telling us that he’ll be interchangeably using words like happiness, delight, pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, desire, longing, thirsting, passion,etc. At first, I was worried because I really like distinctions, but then Piper reminded the reader that the Bible also uses these terms without distinctions.
“I am aware that all of these words carry different connotations for different readers. Some people think of happiness as superficial and joy as deep. Some think of pleasure as physical and delight as aesthetic. Some think of passion as sexual and longing as personal. So I signal from the outset that the Bible does not divide its emotional language that way. The same words (desire, pleasure, happiness, joy, etc.) can be positive sometimes and negative sometimes, physical sometimes and spiritual sometimes. That is the approach I take. Any of these words can be a godly experience of the heart, and any of them can be a worldly experience of the heart. I will try to make plain what way the words should be taken in any given context.”
In layman’s terms “Pay attention, and you shouldn’t get lost.” I’m fine with this.
A Barrage of Scripture and Some Working Definitions
Piper briefly reminds us to desire God and to take delight in God, and then he hits us with about two pages worth of Scriptures that support both ideas. Using Scripture to build your case is never a bad idea, but I think, in this case, a list would’ve been more helpful instead of just a wall. It’s almost as if he was looking for some filler.
After the wall of Scripture we get to where Piper is tells us the difference between delight and desire.
“The first thought that comes to most of our minds (I tried this on my eight-year-old daughter) is that delight (with its synonyms) is what we experience when the thing we enjoy is present, not just future. But desire (with its synonyms) is what we experience when the thing we enjoy is not present but, we hope, coming to us in the future.”
He goes on to say
“Desire is awakened by tastes of pleasure. The taste may be ever so small. But if there is no taste at all of the desirability of something, then there will be no desire for it. In other words, desire is a form of the very pleasure that is anticipated with the arrival of the thing desired. It is, you might say, the pleasure itself experienced in the form of anticipation.”
Again, this is a place where I think doing something different would’ve been more helpful. I think it probably would’ve been better to define our terms and then work from Scripture, but that’s just me. But to Piper’s credit, I think he accurately lays out what the difference desire and delight is and gives us some good working definition. Also to his credit, he admit that there are some scenarios where these definitions may fail because, in some cases, the desire is the delight. But, if you’re one of those people that takes notes when they read a book, then this is where you’ll want to pause write down these definitions so you can keep them in the back of your mind as you trek through the rest of the book.
Desire and Delight Are Not the End Goals
For me, the climax of this chapter is on page 29 under the subheading, “Neither Desire nor Delight Is Finally What We Want.” This is where I perk my ears up. I’ve heard critics of Piper’s idea of Christian Hedonism complain that what Piper is teaching is that joy is the end instead of Jesus, but if you really paid attention to anything that Piper has said or taught over the course of his ministry then you would know that that’s simply not true. John Piper explicitly wants us to see that our desire points us to Jesus as the ultimate source of our delight.
Piper warns us that pursuing joy in and of itself is a ditch that can find ourselves in if we’re not careful.
“Jonathan Edwards warned against [this] by observing that “there are many affections which do not arise from any light in the understanding. And when it is thus, it is a sure evidence that these affections are not spiritual, let them be ever so high.” Our goal is not high affections per se. Our goal is to see and savor “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). The affections that arise from that light are spiritual. By this Christ-revealing light, we avoid the mistake of simply pursuing joy, not Christ.”
Another Reminder to Fight for Joy
He closes the chapter by reminding us yet again to fight for joy, but this time he’s giving us three reasons we should do so (this is my condensed version):
- God has commanded us to do so. (Deuteronomy 28:47-48)
- God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. (A famous Piper quote)
- In his own words: “The third reason we should make much of joy and the pursuit of joy in God is that people do not awaken to how desperate their condition is until they measure their hearts by Christian Hedonism…” (I’m still not sure what this one means.)
Again, if you take notes while you read, write these down.
In conclusion, I think was beneficial and it really did enlighten my understanding of desire and delight. On the rating scale, I give this chapter another 3.5 out of 5 beard strokes.