Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Sweet and Bitter Providence

My friend Alice bought me a book for my birthday titled A Sweet & Bitter Providence, by John Piper.  In the book, Dr. Piper walks the reader through the book of Ruth and helps us "glean" some very rich and comforting food for our famished souls.  There are too many to share here...just get the book.  But I do want to share one big "helping" because it is so pertinent in light of the devastation in Haiti, as well as other gut-wrenching agonies various friends of mine who will likely read this are experiencing.   May God help us to see His sovereign hand of love even in the most bitter seasons of our lives.

I will string quotes in green, making every attempt to stay true to the gist of Dr. Piper's points, to serve up this meal as concisely as I can (these are all taken from between pages 115-142): 

The painful things that come into our lives are not described by God as accidental or as out of His control.  This would be no comfort.  That God cannot stop a germ or a car or a bullet or a demon is not good news; it is not the news of the Bible.  God can.  And ten thousand times He does.  But when He doesn't, He has His reasons.  And in Christ Jesus they are all loving.

The story of Ruth (along with Joseph and Job and Esther and others) is in the Bible to prepare us for bitter providences by showing us again and again that God is doing a thousand things that we do not know. And they are meant for our good...What I have tried to do in this book is draw out the personal and precious fact that this truth is comforting.  Yes, it is painful.  To know that our Father in heaven has ordained our pain is not a comfortable truth, but it is comforting.  That our pain has a loving and wise and all-powerful purpose behind it is better than any other view -- weak God, cruel God, bumbling God, no God.  To know that in His hands 'this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison' (2 Corinthians 4:17) is profoundly reassuring.  And yes, 'light' and 'momentary' meant, in Paul's case, a lifetime of suffering.  The excruciating 'lightness' of his suffering was light compared to the weight of glory.  And the interminable 'momentariness' of his suffering was momentary compared to the eternality of the glory." 

We ask Can it really be that God governs the sinful acts of men to make them serve His wise purposes without Himself being a sinner?  Yes, He can.  If He cannot, then there is no Christian gospel.

'Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures' (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  Notice the repeated phrase 'in accordance with the Scriptures.' That means that God planned it.  God planned that Christ would die.  There would be no gospel without the death of Christ.  All the deeds that brought Him to the cross were planned.  This is explicit in the early church's prayer of praise in Acts 4:27-28: 'Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.'  This means that what Herod, Pilate, the soldiers, and the mobs did to Jesus was planned by God.  And all those acts against Jesus were sin. 

God does not sin.  He is holy (Isaiah 6:3).  He 'is light, and in Him is no darkness at all' (1 John 1:5).  He is 'the Father of lights' from whom comes 'every good gift and every perfect gift' (James 1:17).  But He clearly ordained that the murder of His Son happened.

...[quoting Joni Earekson Tada] 'I lean toward the old adage that God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.' In other words, when God ordains something crooked, He Himself is not doing anything crooked. 

If we can keep our eyes on the cross of Christ, where God infallibly certified His love for us...then the pain He ordains for us will not undermine our sense of being loved.  Instead, we will put our hands on our mouths and bow before His all-loving, all-ruling providence.  We will trust Him to only do us good - whether it feels good or not at the moment.  And we will wait for the day when all will be repaid and made plain.

A vision of God as absolutely supreme over all the evil of the world - natural and moral - has set Joni Eareckson Tada free to love others. ...  Ruth took the risks of love -- leaving her homeland, promising never to return, working faithfully for her mother-in-law through the heat of the day, going to Boaz in the middle of the night -- because she lived under the 'wings [of God]' (Ruth 2:12). The sovereign goodness of God is revealed to us not only for our comfort, but also to free us from the fear and selfishness that quashes the radical risks of love.

There is no safer place in all the universe than under the wings of the sovereign, all-wise, all-loving God.  But the shadow of these wings may take us to dangerous places in the cause of love.  You may be martyred in the shadow of the Almighty.  But you will not have wasted your life when you die in the cause of love.  As the martyr Jim Elliot famously said, 'He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.'

The book serves up other meals to chew on relative to gender, race, and the glories of Christ as He works in the bitterest of times in our lives for our good.  Some food "tastes" better than others, but God gives us what we need and I thank Him for it, and pray that He will use the truths Dr. Piper has drawn from His Word to nourish us and strengthen us to live and die in the cause of love for the glory of His name.  

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled over from the Wright family blog. I have to say your post was so very moving in light of what our family has been going on in the past year with out international adoption. Back and forth, up and down. But I thank you for sharing such a beautiful applicable word.I know it wasnt just for me but in my selfish mind so many of the points you made were so dead on where I am at and how God has already spoken that I know I was meant to read it and will rejoice that others may share the same joy! The last BIG piece of Artwork has the verse in Ruth that I love so very much on it, I sign all my correspondence with "under His wings" and I remember being a teen and reading the story of Joni and continue to follow how God has used her to minister to others THROUGH the pain and difficulties in her life. Thank you!