The Size of Our God
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Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, Piper served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. He has authored more than 50 books, and more than 30 years of his preaching and writing are available free of charge at desiringGod.org. Piper resides in the Minneapolis area with his wife of 51 years, and has five children and 14 grandchil...more
Have you wondered where God is in the midst of pain and suffering? Dave and Ann Wilson discuss with pastor and author John Piper how God’s sovereignty and grace are in all things.
The Size of Our God
Bob: In the middle of very difficult circumstances, have you ever found yourself mad at God? John Piper says you are skating on thin ice.
Ann: For me to say, “I’m mad at You, God,”—
Dr. Piper: —is sinful.
Ann: And what I should have said was—
Dr. Piper: [Emotion in voice] “This truly hurts; I don’t understand what You’ve done! I don’t get it!” Because you don’t—
Dr. Piper: —I mean, you’re finite;—
Dr. Piper: —you’re not God!
“It’s utterly perplexing,” “It’s baffling; it hurts!”—you tell Him it hurts.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 26th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’re going to talk with John Piper today about how we should think rightly and respond rightly to what has been called the, sometimes, “frowning providence of God.” Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There was a book that came out many years ago. This was one of the first books I remember seeing as a Christian. It described me; the title of the book described me.
Dave: Oh, boy!
Bob: It was a book called—
Dave: I have a lot of titles going through my head right now! [Laughter]
Bob: This was a book titled Your God Is Too Small.
Dave: —Too Small.
Bob: You remember that?
Dave: J.B. Phillips?
Bob: I think that’s right. And my God—in those early days of understanding Him—was too small. I have to tell you—it wasn’t until I had somebody sit down and point me to the passages in Scripture that talk about the sovereignty of God, that I started to go, “Oh, He is much bigger than I realized”; and also pointed me to the reality of my own sinfulness, which was deeper than I thought it was.
That was a revolutionary turning point for me—to see that God was much bigger than I realized.
Dave: I think if anyone would comment on my preaching in 30-plus years—if they ever listened; you know, you wonder, “Is anybody out there listening?”—and they could recount the big idea of my life, they’d say/I think that’s the thing I keep going back to—it’s: “The size of your God will determine the outcome of your life.”
Dave: And I always used to think, you know, it is the size of your faith. It’s not the size of your faith; you can have mustard seed faith. It’s the size—and really, the character and understanding: “Who is God?”—when you understand, not just how vast, and majestic, and big He is—but the heart of who God is—it literally changes every second of your life. That’s why I say it determines the outcome of your life: “Who is God?”
Bob: And that’s what we’re probing this week as we get to spend time—
Dave: We’re going deep!
Bob: We are spending time with Dr. John Piper, who’s joining us again. Dr. Piper, welcome back.
Dr. Piper: Thank you; good to be back.
Bob: I am trusting that our listeners don’t need to know your bio/that they are familiar with your books, with your teaching, with your years of pastoral ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church. You’ve just written this 700-page book on the subject of providence. The majority of the book is the practical application of the issue of providence in our lives.
You are pretty comprehensive. All of these questions seem to come back to that basic theodicy question that has plagued all of us from the beginning of time: “If God is all-powerful, if God is all-loving, if God is all-good, how can bad things happen to the people He has created?” Do you have a satisfactory answer for that in your own heart?
Dr. Piper: In my own heart I do, but whether it satisfies others is another question. I think we need to just step back, and sketch the big picture, and pick one—how many texts could you choose?—[Genesis 1:1] “Once, there was only God”; He is absolute reality. John Piper is absolutely and totally dependent. I don’t dictate to God anything. I am not His counselor; He’s my Counselor. I am sinful; I am fallible; I am finite; I am culturally controlled. For me to get in God’s face and tell Him what is right and wrong is infinitely absurd! That’s where I start: I have to be a learner when it comes to the world that’s out there, and what God is/who He is; what He has done.
He creates a world. And that world, by His/I would say, by His purposeful permission—which a lot of people consider that phrase a contradiction: “by His purposeful permission”—the world crashes and burns in sin. Every human being, since Adam and Eve, is born a child of wrath (Ephesians 2:3)—
Dr. Piper: —under the just judgment of God so that He can do them no wrong, because they don’t deserve anything but judgment anyway.
He brings into that world a saving purpose. Jesus Christ is presented, in the Bible—in His life and death, especially, in resurrection—as the apex of the grace of God. When Christ died—the Son of God taking my sins upon Him as an innocent, infinitely valuable being, and dying the most excruciating of deaths—when that happens, ultimate evil and ultimate grace meet. God is shown to be what He could not be shown to be any other way.
In a sense, I would say: “The fall happened—Lucifer rebelled—sin entered the universe; and all the calamities and catastrophes came with it that there might be Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, saving millions of people for Himself. In Ephesians 1:6, it says, “He predestined us for adoption as sons to Himself through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will unto the praise of the glory of His grace.”
“Unto the praise of the glory of His grace,”—that grace came to a climax in the most horrible, wicked, sinful suffering/evil act in the universe—it couldn’t have happened without evil. There would be no Jesus, no cross, and no salvation; and no display of all dimensions of God without that. Paul says as much, for example, in Romans 9:20: “If God, desiring to show His power and His wrath, endured with much patience the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,” it just wouldn’t have happened/that revelation wouldn’t have happened. The ultimate answer is: “There is evil because—in a universe, where there is real evil, real guilt, real judgment—there is a real, fuller revelation of the glory of God.”
Bob: There’s a revelatory purpose, but there’s also a providential purpose in the fact that evil will one day be vanquished totally.
Dr. Piper: Yes; Hebrews 2:14: “He defeated the devil in whose hands is the power of death.” People had been held in bondage to that fear all their lives long. The cross was the decisive battle against evil; and ultimately, evil will be cast into outer darkness, called “hell.” The new heavens and the new earth will have no evil; they will only have righteousness and peace forever.
Dave: It’s interesting when you—obviously, you wrote about this—when you think about the character of God and the reality of evil in conjunction with one another, it can be an intellectual pursuit; it’s like, “I can try and understand that.” But when it gets personal—
Dr. Piper: Yes.
Dave: —when the evil is in your own life—cancer, a wife/a spouse dies, any evil—that’s where it gets really hard to join together the providence and the sovereignty of God, and the evil that I’m experiencing in my life, unless I understand the heart and character of God. Even when I do, it’s still hard; right?
Dr. Piper: Yes.
Dave: When it gets personal, it’s another deal!
Dr. Piper: Absolutely; the fact that all things are controlled by God creates problems for us: painful beliefs and it creates solutions to problems. I’ll give you an example of what I mean: when your spouse gets cancer, and you walk that line, and they die, you feel, “Wow! God, I don’t understand all the specifics of why You did that. That was the most painful thing You could have done to me.” I think talking like that is perfectly appropriate. That’s what Job said: “The Lord gave…”
Dr. Piper: I mean, his ten children were killed by a wind; and he said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” To talk that way is a godly way to talk.
But it doesn’t just—the providence of God doesn’t just create problems—she now has, what?—30 years to live: “How will she live?” “How will she survive?” “How will she handle the first ten weeks?—and then the ten years?”
I have a good friend, whose husband was just snatched away from her like that, two years ago/62 years old. She now has a beautiful ministry to widows, strengthening the hands of widows all over the Twin Cities and, really, beyond that. The answer to that—“How will you survive?”—is the very providence that took him. If you were to throw away the providence—because you don’t like the fact that: “It took my husband,”—you’d throw away the very power, and sovereignty, and goodness of God that enables you to survive everything you deal with in life. True saints, who have not thought, you know, big, high, deep thoughts about providence—that’s exactly where they are!
I remember one grandmom one time—well, she wasn’t yet a grandmom when this happened—she didn’t like my theology; okay?—we won’t even name it. [Laughter] But she didn’t like this big sovereign God theology. Her 16-year-old son was killed in a car accident. Her first and innate response was, “I trust You, God. You are a good God. You made no mistake.” She didn’t have all the articulate, biblical foundations that I try to provide for a statement like that; but she’s born again, and she knows deep in her soul, better than her head knows, that the God she worships is in charge of railroad crossings and sons who are careless.
I mean, who would you rather have run the world?—Satan or God?
Dave: The question comes up—we were coming here yesterday—driving to the airport. We got a text—Ann and I both—from a mutual friend, whose daughter has just passed/32-years-old—three months ago, maybe—husband [the friend’s husband] has ALS, and it’s digressing. Her text to us—and really to Ann, because Ann lost her sister 21 years ago this week—she said, “Ann, how do I pray? I prayed that God would heal my daughter in the hospital; He didn’t. I prayed, when my husband went to the doctor today, that the ALS would be stabilized; and it’s progressing worse. I feel like God doesn’t hear. God’s in control anyway; it doesn’t matter what I pray. His sovereignty is already determined, so it feels pointless.”
Dr. Piper: Yes; how I’m going to talk to her will depend on where she is emotionally at the moment—because I have biblically, theologically rigorous answers to the question, “Why pray if God is sovereign?”; but then, I have experiential, more gut-wrenching things to say of my experience over here—so if she said, “I just need to figure out, theoretically and biblically, how does it work?!”—
Dr. Piper: —then I’m going to give her one answer. If she says, “I don’t know if I can even wake up to be a Christian tomorrow morning, because I’m just done praying,”—that’s going to be another.
Dr. Piper: And I would say, to the first, because it’s the most existentially ripping: “You’re walking through something I would guess every honest believer has walked through. If they’re dishonest, they cover it up—they’re afraid to say it—because they’re not sure God answers prayer.”
Dr. Piper: But I certainly have been there. I mean, any guy who has unbelieving children, deals with that issue, probably more urgently than the death from cancer. Everybody dies, [emotion in voice] but heaven and hell in the balance?
I would say, “You know, Jesus seemed to know that prayer’s going to be a problem; because He told two parables. He told them this parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Why would He say that?—because you lose heart! You’ve asked/you’ve knocked on this Judge’s door so long: “It’s midnight; they keep knocking on my door!”
I would say to her, “I don’t know why; I don’t know why, in your case and in my case, we’ve had to knock so long; but I do know it’s not a surprise. In the Bible, it’s there,”—that’s the first thing I would say—an empathetic effort to say, “The Bible and I know what you’re talking about. We’re going to walk through this together. I’m not going to give up on you. I’m not going to let you fall away from Jesus, because of this crisis. I’m going to stand with you; I’m going to point you to Scripture and promises.”
And then, the second thing I would say is: “You know, it says in John 15:7, ‘If My words abide in you, and you abide in Me, ask whatever you will, and it will be yours.’” [Laughter]
Ann: Yes! What about that?
Dr. Piper: Yes, what about that? [Laughter] My answer is: “What does it mean?—‘If My words abide in you?’—because it says, over in 1 John 5, ‘Ask whatever you will, according to His will, and we know that He hears you. And if He hears you, you have what you ask.’ Why would He stick in the qualification in 1 John 5, and not stick it in that way in John 15:7?”
My answer to that is—and I’d try to make this really personal in talking to her—I would say, “What does it mean to have the Word of God abiding in you right now?—all the words of God with regard to His sovereignty over life and death: ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that,’—James 4:15. He ultimately governs the number of our days; He ultimately governs whether we live or die. And He has chosen to take your loved one.” You have that sovereign vision of reality abiding in you, governing the expectations of the way you ask in prayer. That’s the way I think the verse works—what abides in you is all the teachings of Jesus about the sovereignty of God and His own control of all things—and therefore, you don’t pretend to be God when you pray.
I would just say to her: “You can’t see it yet—how good will come from this—but I can give you, from the Bible, four or five places, where the kind of good that will come from this is taught—for your good, for the good of those around you—‘This slight momentary affliction is working for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.’ Be patient and ask God to show you that.”
Ann: Well, that’s what I had told Debbie: “When I found myself mourning and angry with God for taking my sister”—who was 45/4 young children—“I remember being on my knees in the bathroom, crying out to God, saying, ‘It makes no sense to me! This was a bad plan, God. I don’t understand it. I’m mad at You for it. I’m not seeing how her kids will grow up well under her husband.’ As I was praying and venting, and letting God know how I felt, I also had this awareness. I came to this point of saying, ‘But I will surrender all that I am—all of my pain/my anger—all of it! I lay it at Your feet, because I trust You, and I know that You love me. I know that You love her.’”
And with that, because of that foundation of knowing His love, what I told Debbie, our friend, is that: “God loves you. Vent it; tell God what you feel. He loves you so much! That’s our foundation of knowing that we can trust a God that knows more than we do. We can’t understand it, but He loves us.”
Bob: That’s David’s pattern in the Psalms.
Bob: “Lord, how long will You forget me? How long will You allow Your enemies to triumph over me?” But he always comes back: “On your kindness, I rely.
Ann: Yes; right.
Bob: “I will exalt over Your [salvation]. I will sing unto the Lord.” I think you’re on good biblical ground with that kind of advice.
I do think, John, it’s important—when we vent—there’s a right way and a wrong way to be emotionally expressive before the Lord; right? We have to be careful in our emotional honesty.
Ann: —such as Job?
Dr. Piper: Yes; God can handle anything we give Him, but we shouldn’t give Him anything. I would say, it’s a sin to be angry at God; and you should repent. But if you feel angry, you should say it.
Ann: Yes, yes.
Dr. Piper: There’s no point in compounding the sin of anger at God with hypocrisy.
Bob: Duplicity; yes. [Laughter]
Dr. Piper: I don’t ever encourage people to be angry at God—lots of people do today—they encourage anger at God.
Lament is a big word; and I’m fine with the word, “lament”; because it means “to grieve.” This is a world we should grieve over; but anything that approaches blaming God—disapproving of God/anger at God—we’re crossing a line from submitting to God, and feeling hurt and grieved by God, into the disapproval and indictment of God—that’s evil—to indict God with evil/to indict God with blame is sin.
Ann: For me to say, “I’m mad at You, God”—
Dr. Piper: —is sinful.
Ann: And what I should have said was—
Dr. Piper: “This truly hurts. [Emotion in voice] I don’t understand what You’ve done! I don’t get it!” Because you don’t—
Dr. Piper: —I mean, you’re finite—
Dr. Piper: —you’re not God!
“It’s utterly perplexing,” “It’s baffling; it hurts!”—you tell Him it hurts.
Bob: And if you are mad at God, you say, “I’m mad at You, God”; but you repent of being mad at God—
Dr. Piper: Yes.
Bob: —because that shouldn’t be your posture.
Dr. Piper: It’s sin.
Dr. Piper: Anger at God is a sin in the heart, not a sin in the mouth.
Dr. Piper: In the mouth, you’re just being honest.
Dr. Piper: And honest is good! [Laughter]
Bob: This is why people are going to want—these kinds of issues and questions—why you want to have, on your bookshelf, a 700-page book on Providence—right?—
Dave: Right beside the Bible! [Laughter]
Bob: —so you can go through the Bible—
Dr. Piper: —under the Bible.
Dave: Yes, underneath the Bible. [Laughter]
Bob: —so you can go, in these moments,—
Dr. Piper: Tested by the Bible! Pull the Bible first.
Ann: Make sure the Bible’s first.
Dr. Piper: Absolutely right.
Bob: Well, there are 3,000 Scripture references in the book—
Bob: —so there’s a lot of Bible in this book. But in those moments, where this is what you’re feeling, and you don’t know what to do with it, you go to the index and say, “What do I do with the loss of a loved one?”
Dave: And John said earlier, “There’s not a person that doesn’t deal with these issues,”—
Dr. Piper: That’s right.
Dave: —almost daily.
Bob: You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to order your copy of the book, Providence, by John Piper. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’d rather call to order, the number is 800-FL-TODAY—800-358-6329—800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” The book by Dr. John Piper is simply called Providence. Get your copy today.
Now, I’m guessing, for many of our listeners, the last 12 months for your marriage and family have had a few stresses and strains that have been unusual. I think all of us have felt the stress and strain of a global pandemic/the stresses and strains of making adjustments to kind of a new normal. I think, for many of us, our marriages have kind of been set aside for a season while we focus on other things.
There’s a problem with that; we’ve learned this over the years: when we set our marriage aside, we start to drift apart as a couple. And so, at FamilyLife®, we’ve been working on a resource designed to help couples move back toward one another. It’s a resource we’re calling Dates to Remember. Any of you, who have been to one of our Weekend to Remember®getaways, you know that the getaway is all about pursuing oneness in marriage.
We have taken some of the key ideas from the getaway and put them together in three dates that a couple can have together, where they can interact with one another, have some important conversations, and grow closer together as a couple. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about the new Dates to Remember date box. You can order it from us at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call if you have any questions or if you’d like to order by phone. Again, the number is 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how our own sinful choices work together with God’s providence: “How do those two intersect and interact?” John Piper will join us, again, tomorrow. We hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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