How Can a Good God Allow Suffering?

Please take the 35 minutes to listen to this interview between NPR and John Piper, recorded shortly after the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004. It moved me to tears several times, hearing how majestic our God is. How just and merciful, powerful and patient, holy and good He is. This is for skeptics and Christians alike:

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/interviews/the-npr-tsunami-interview

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on the interview. Did you like what Piper has to say? Did it comfort you? Was there anything left unsaid? Comment below!

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Let the Nations be Glad!

I just completed my final paper for the first semester of the Men’s Development Program. This one was on a book by John Piper called Let the Nations be Glad. See paper below…

Moving from Master Plan of Evangelism, to Total Church, to Let the Nations be Glad, I see how God’s design for mission is applied to our relationships with individuals, groups, and ultimately the world. I know this exposure is going to be of tremendous value in the ministry God has for me.

While, I’m sure, there are other books that exhaustively cover the theology of mission, starting with the Trinity, and yet other books that cover strategy, Piper’s book has to be of paramount value in understanding the purpose of missions. There were a few theological assertions made in this book, some familiar, some new, that were used to inform, encourage, and convict the reader.

One of the things I like about Piper is his ability to bring clarity to theological issues, using loads of Scripture and a logic that you can follow. On the flipside, he also has verbose tendencies. I mention this because he comes out of the gates and reveals two of his big three assertions in the first few sentences of the book, and then somehow stretches them out over 200 plus pages! His big three assertions in this book, in my opinion, are: a) missions is not the ultimate goal of church; worship is, b) missions exists because worship doesn’t, and, of course, c) God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Since assertion C has been covered extensively in previous papers, I’ll just focus on A and B.

To say that missions is not our ultimate goal is simply another way of saying that God is not an idolater. We reflect our Creator, and we know that His greatest delight is in Him being God. So, our greatest delight must also be in God being God. Delighting in Him is our ultimate goal, missions is one of our means. To elevate the means above the goal would be to miss the point completely, and lead to idolatry. If God were to do this, He would be an idolater, and so would we. This is the theology and logic that I’m talking about. He protects the dignity of missions while, appropriately, reminding the reader that loving and worshipping God is ultimate.

The second assertion is like the first, in that there is a distinct correlation between worship and missions. Again you can see the theology and logic play out: if worship of God existed among all people groups, missions would be obsolete (Matt. 24:14); if missions exists, it means that worship among all people groups does not. In fact, he says, “It [missions] is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.”[1] I believe this assertion is the most succinct answer to the question of why missions exists, so long as you add the tagline that God deserves and has ordained that all people groups worship Him (Acts 1:8; Rev. 5:9,10). This way you answer the question of why missions exists (because worship doesn’t), and you answer why this is important (because God deserves and has ordained that He will be worshipped by all people groups).

When Piper begins to move into the means by which both missions happens and how God receives worship and glory in missions, he uses language that has been very helpful to me in describing the Christian life. He says, “Life is war.”[2] It is more than this, but when it comes to our mission on earth, the spiritual powers we are up against, and what’s at stake, we are certainly at war. Praise God that we are in the winning camp! I found great encouragement in Piper’s reminder that God has secured victory. Multiple times in the book he reminds the reader that because God is committed to the glory of His name among the nations, and He is committed to the mission of the church, and because His purposes never fail, the mission of the church will never fail. We know that God will go before us in our missionary efforts to build His church (Matt. 16:18), and we know from history that after twenty centuries, the world just can’t seem to get rid of Jesus. All of creation is His (Col. 1:16,17; Heb. 1:3), and His purposes will not be frustrated.

This wartime mentality helps me to put mission and prayer in perspective. The degree to which we pray is the degree to which we understand mission. Prayer is an open admission that we are not God and that He is, and that we need Him for everything. Piper, I think borrowing the concept from C.S. Lewis[3], calls prayer our “wartime walkie-talkie”. It is one of our ways of staying connected with headquarters and asking for all we need to accomplish our mission. This challenges me in both the mode and content of my prayers. I think that when we grasp the severity of our situation, our prayers will absolutely change. We are in a spiritually austere economy, and our prayers should reflect this.

Prayer, however, is not the end or means of missions. When it comes to our responsibilities as missionaries, Piper reminds us of our calling to declare and demonstrate the gospel. This is a banner that is not unfamiliar at the Austin Stone. He says that this is, “the work of missions.”[4] The story he told of Joseph, the Masai Warrior, moved me to tears. It was incredible see the gospel lived out in both the declaration (him going door-to-door, telling everyone about Jesus) and the demonstration (coming back to his village after severe beatings, to love them and again tell them the gospel message). I lost it emotionally when I read the line, “The entire village had come to Christ.”[5]

In fact, the whole chapter on suffering was moving to me. There has always been something about the act of sacrifice, which has moved me, and I believe this was one of the means by which He wooed me to Himself. There is no greater sacrifice than Jesus, and no greater cause than His name. The afflictions we face in His name are for our good and His glory, displaying to the world that He is treasured above all else and worthy to be praised.

Do I consistently live like this is true? Hardly. In my life, I witness a vain and empty worship, a fear of Hell rather than a love for Jesus, and a desire for the gifts of the King rather than the King Himself. The only hope for believers and unbelievers alike is Jesus. My prayer for my life is that He would continue to transform my heart, that my desires would be more like His desires, and that through relying on Him I might show the world that He is to be treasured above all else. My prayer for missions is that Christians around the globe, including myself, will be reminded of our mission on earth and be compelled by worship to join the fight, that the nations would be glad and God be glorified.


[1] p. 203

[2] p. 45

[3] Mere Christianity. HarperOne. p. 46.

[4] p. 63.

[5] p. 94.

 


Been a while…here’s a paper!

I know this is the typical trend for most blogs: update! update! update!….disappear….

oops.

I will be much more diligent in December: Diligent December.

In the meantime, here’s a paper that I wrote for the Men’s Development Program (new on ASCC site!), on two of John Piper‘s books, Desiring God and Pleasures of God.

I only had two pages to sum up my thoughts, so there’s kind of a lot crammed in there…Hope you enjoy the paper, and I highly recommend both books!

-Trey