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6. Repeatedly Jesus treats the Old Testament as an authority that must be fulfilled. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
4. Norman Anderson, God’s Word for God’s World (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981), 112. The Jewish Scriptures include all our Old Testament but in a different order.
not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17–18; cf. Matthew 26:54, 56; Luke 16:17).
7. Jesus rebuked the two disciples on the Emmaus road for being “foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25).
8. Jesus Himself used the Old Testament as authoritative weapon against the temptations of Satan: “But he answered, ‘It is written…’” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).
The diversity of this witness and its spread over all the Gospel material show that the Lord Jesus regarded the Old Testament as a trustworthy, authoritative, unerring guide in our quest for enduring happiness. Therefore, we who submit to the authority of Christ will also want to submit to the authority of the book He esteemed so highly.
THE AUTHORITY NEW TESTAMENT
My confidence in the New Testament as God’s Word rests on a group of observations.
1. Jesus chose twelve apostles to be His authoritative representatives in founding the church. At the end of His life, He promised them, “The Holy Spirit…will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; 16:13).
2. The apostle Paul, whose stunning conversion from a life of murdering Christians to making Christians, demands special explanation.
5. For pursuing such a study, I recommend Daniel Fuller, Easter Faith and History (Grand Rapids, Mich.:
Eerdmans, 1965) and John W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible (London: Tyndale, 1972).
6. After translating the Gospels into “racy modern English,” J. B. Philips wrote the following in The Ring
of Truth (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967), 57–8:
I felt, and feel, without any shadow of doubt that close contact with the text of the Gospels builds up in the heart and mind a character of awe-inspiring stature and quality. I have read, in Greek and Latin, scores of myths but I did not find the slightest flavor of myth here. There is no hysteria, no careful working for effect and no attempt at collusion. These are not embroidered tales: the material is cut to the bone. One sensed again and again that understatement which we have been taught to think is more “British” than Oriental. There is an almost childlike candor and simplicity, and the total effect is tremendous. No man could ever have invented such a character as Jesus. No man could have set down such artless and vulnerable accounts as these unless some real Event lay behind them.
7. The Baptist Catechism, commonly called Keach’s Catechism, rev. and ed. by Paul Jewett (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1952), 16.
Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?1 Jonathan Edwards on the Divine Decrees F ourteen years ago, Charles Colson wrote, “The western church—much of it drifting, enculturated, and infected with cheap grace—desperately needs to hear Edwards’ challenge.… It is my belief that the prayers and work of those who love and obey Christ in our world may yet prevail as they keep the message of such a man as Jonathan Edwards.”2 That conviction lies behind my life, my ministry, and this book. And I certainly believe it.
Most of us, having only been exposed to one of Edwards’s sermons, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” do not know the real Jonathan Edwards. We don’t know that he knew his heaven even better than his hell and that his vision of the glory of God was just as ravishing as his vision of hell was repulsive—as it should be.
1. A previous version of this essay was read at the 1998 conference of The Jonathan Edwards Institute.
2. Charles Colson, “Introduction,” in Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 1984), xxiii, xxxiv.
Mark Noll, who teaches history at Wheaton College and has thought much
about the work of Edwards, has written:
Since Edwards, American evangelicals have not thought about life from the ground up as Christians because their entire culture has ceased to do
3. Mark Noll, “Jonathan Edwards’ Moral Philosophy, and the Secularization of American Christian Thought,” Reformed Journal (February 1983): 26, emphasis added. Noll summarized Edwards’s unusual
juxtapositions in another place:
Although his biography presents many dramatic contrasts, these were in reality only different facets of a common allegiance to a sovereign God. Thus, Edwards both preached ferocious hellfire sermons and expressed lyrical appreciations of nature because the God who created the world in all its beauty was also perfect in holiness. Edwards combined herculean intellectual labors with child-like piety because he perceived God as both infinitely complex and blissfully simple. In his Northampton church his consistent exaltation of divine majesty led to very different results—he was first lionized as a great leader and then dismissed from his pulpit. Edwards held that the omnipotent deity required repentance and faith from his human creatures so he proclaimed both the absolute sovereignty of God and the urgent responsibilities of men.
(Caption under Edwards’s portrait in Christian History 4, no. 4, p. 3).
I S G O D L E S S G LO R I O U S BEC AU S E H E O R DA I N E D T H AT EV I L BE ?
so. Edwards’s piety continued on in the revivalist tradition, his theology continued on in academic Calvinism, but there were no successors to his God-entranced world-view or his profoundly theological philosophy.
The disappearance of Edwards’s perspective in American Christian history has been a tragedy.3 One of the burdens of this book, and certainly one of the burdens of my life, is the recovery of a “God-entranced world-view.” But what I have seen in more than twenty years of pastoral ministry and six years of teaching experience before that is that people who waver with uncertainty over the problem of God’s sovereignty in the matter of evil usually do not have a God-entranced worldview. For them, now God is sovereign, and now He is not. Now He is in control, and now He is not. Now, when things are going well, He is good and reliable, and when they go bad, well, maybe He’s not. Now He’s the supreme authority of the universe, and now He is in the dock with human prosecutors peppering Him with demands that He give an account of Himself.
But when a person settles it biblically, intellectually, and emotionally— that God has ultimate control of all things, including evil, and that this is gracious and precious beyond words—then a marvelous stability and depth come into that person’s life, and he develops a “God-entranced world-view.” When a person believes, with the Heidelberg Catechism (Question 27), that “the almighty and everywhere present power of God…upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things, come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand”—when a person believes and cherishes that truth, he has the key to a God-entranced worldview.
So my aim in this appendix is to commend to you this absolute sovereign control of God over all things, including evil, because it is biblical and because it will help you become stable and deep and God-entranced and God-glorifying in all you think and feel and do.
And when we set our face in this direction, Jonathan Edwards becomes a
great help to us because he wrestled with the problems of God’s sovereignty as deeply as anyone. And I want you to know how he resolved some of the difficulties.
So my plan is to lay out for you some of the evidence for God’s control of
all things, including evil. Then I will deal with two problems:
1. Is God then the author of sin?
2. And why does He will that there be evil in the world?
I will close with an exhortation that you not waver before the truth of God’s sovereignty, but embrace it for the day of your own calamity.
1. EVIDENCE GOD’S CONTROL OF First, then, consider the evidence that God controls all things, including evil.
When I speak of evil, I have two kinds in mind, natural and moral. Natural evil we usually refer to as calamities: hurricanes, floods, disease—all the natural ways that death and misery strike. Moral evil we usually refer to as sin: murder, lying, adultery, stealing—all the ways that people rebel against God and fail to love each other. So what we are considering here is that God rules the world in such a way that all calamities and all sin remain in His ultimate control and therefore within His ultimate design and purpose.
An increasingly popular movement afoot today is called “open theism,” which denies that God has exhaustive, definite foreknowledge of the entire future.4 The denial of God’s foreknowledge of human and demonic choices is a buttress to the view that God is not in control of evils in the world and therefore has no purpose in them. God’s uncertainty about what humans and demons are going to choose strengthens the case that He does not plan those choices and therefore does not control them or have particular purposes in
4. For responses to this dangerous theology, see Bruce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000); John M. Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2001); and Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, ed. John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2003).
For example, Gregory Boyd, in his book God at War, says, “Divine goodness does not completely control or in any sense will evil.”5
Neither Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God’s absolute power as absolute control. They prayed for God’s will to be done on earth, but this assumes that they understand that God’s will was not yet being done on earth (Mt. 6:10). Hence neither Jesus nor his disciples assumed that there had to be a divine purpose behind all events in history. Rather, they understood the cosmos to be populated by a myriad of free agents, some human, some angelic, and many of them evil. The manner in which events unfold in history was understood to be as much a factor of what these agents individually and collectively will as it was a matter of what God himself willed.6 In other words: “The Bible does not assume that every particular evil has a
particular godly purpose behind it.”7 Or as John Sanders puts it:
God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurrence of evil.… When a two-month-old child contracts a painful, incurable bone cancer that means suffering and death, it is pointless evil. The Holocaust is pointless evil. The rape and dismemberment of a young girl is pointless evil. The accident that caused the death of my brother was a tragedy. God does not have a specific purpose in mind for these occurrences.8
5. Gregory Boyd, God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997), 20, emphasis added.
6. Ibid., 53.
7. Ibid., 166.
8. John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1998), 262.
9. Amazingly, Boyd thinks that Job’s theology is incorrect here, though his heart was in the right place. He writes, “Yahweh commends Job for speaking truth from his heart.… But this is not the same as endorsing Job’s theology.” Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001), 404, emphasis added. But surely when God says that “in all this Job did not sin with his lips,” the point is not merely that his heart was in the right place, but rather that his words—from his lips—were pleasing to God.
This is diametrically opposed to what I believe the Bible teaches and what this message is meant to commend to you for your earnest consideration.
1.1 EVIDENCE THAT GOD CONTROLS CALAMITYConsider the evidence that God controls physical evil—that is, calamity. But keep in mind that physical evil and moral evil almost always intersect. Many of our pains happen because human or demonic agents make choices that hurt us.
So some of this evidence can serve under both headings: God’s control of calamities and God’s control of sins.
Life and Death The Bible treats human life as something God has absolute rights over. He gives it and takes it according to His will. We do not own it or have any absolute rights to it. It is a trust for as long as the owner wills for us to have it. To have life is a gift and to lose it is never an injustice from God, whether He takes it at age five or at age ninety-five.
When Job lost his ten children at the instigation of Satan, he would not give Satan the ultimate causality. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;