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blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). And, lest we think Job was mistaken, the author adds, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (v. 22). “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10).9 In Deuteronomy 32:39, God says, “There is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” When David made Bathsheba pregnant, the Lord rebuked him by taking the child: Second Samuel 12:15, 18 says, “The LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.… On the seventh day the child died.” Life belongs to God. He owes it to no one. He may give it and take it according to His infinite wisdom. James says, “You do not know what tomorrow will bring.… For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.… You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:14–15; see 1 Samuel 2:6–7).
Disease One of the calamities that threatens life is disease. When Moses was fearful about speaking, God said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11). In other words, behind all disease and disability is the ultimate will of God. Not that Satan is not involved—he is probably always involved in one way or another with destructive purposes (Acts 10:38). But his power is not decisive.
He cannot act without God’s permission.
That is one of the points of Job’s sickness. The text makes it plain that when disease came upon Job, “Satan…struck Job with loathsome sores” (Job 2:7). His wife urged him to curse God. But Job said, “Shall we receive good from God,
and shall we not receive evil?” (v. 10). And again the author of the book commends Job by saying, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” In other words:
This is a right view of God’s sovereignty over Satan. Satan is real and may have a hand in our calamities, but not the final hand, and not the decisive hand. James makes clear that God had a good purpose in all Job’s afflictions: “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose (telos) of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). So Satan may have been involved, but the ultimate purpose was God’s, and it was “compassionate and merciful.” This is the same lesson we learn from 2 Corinthians 12:7, where Paul says that his thorn in the flesh was a messenger of Satan and yet was given for the purpose of his own holiness: “To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!” (NASB). Now, humility is not Satan’s purpose in this affliction.
Therefore, the purpose is God’s. Which means that here Satan is being used by God to accomplish His good purposes in Paul’s life.
There is no reason to believe that Satan is ever out of God’s ultimate control. Mark 1:27 says of Jesus, “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And Luke 4:36 says, “With authority and power he commands the
10. Isaac Watts, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” verse 3.
unclean spirits, and they come out!” In other words, no matter how real and terrible Satan and his demons are in this world, they remain subordinate to the ultimate will of God.
Natural Disasters Another kind of calamity that threatens life and health is violent weather and conditions of the earth, like earthquakes and floods and monsoons and hurricanes and tornadoes and droughts. These calamities kill hundreds of thousands of people. The testimony of the Scriptures is that God controls the winds and the weather. “He summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread” (Psalm 105:16). We see this same authority in Jesus. He rebukes the threatening wind and the sea, and the disciples say, “Even wind and the sea obey him” (Mark 4:41).
Repeatedly in the Psalms, God is praised as the One who rules the wind and the lightening. “He makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire” (104:4). He “makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses” (135:7). “He makes his wind blow and the waters flow.… Fire and hail, snow and mist; stormy wind fulfilling his word!” (147:18; 148:8; cf. 78:26).
Isaac Watts was right: “There’s not a plant or flower below but makes your glories known; and clouds arise and tempests blow by order from your throne.”10 Which means that all the calamities of wind and rain and flood and storm are owing to God’s ultimate decree. One word from Him and the wind and the seas obey.
Destructive Animals Another kind of calamity that threatens life is the action of destructive animals.
When the Assyrians populated Samaria with foreigners, 2 Kings 17:25 says, “Therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which killed some of them.” And in Daniel 6:22, Daniel says to the king, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths.” Other Scriptures speak of God commanding birds and bears and
11. See R. C. Sproul, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1994). As he says, “If chance is, God is not. If God is, chance is not. The two cannot coexist by reason of the impossibility of the contrary” (p. 3).
donkeys and large fish to do His bidding. Which means that all calamities owing to animal life are ultimately in the control of God. He can see a pit bull break loose from his chain and attack a child; and He could, with one word, command that its mouth be shut. Similarly, He controls the invisible animal and plant life that wreaks havoc in the world: bacteria and viruses and parasites and thousands of microscopic beings that destroy health and life. If God can shut the mouth of a ravenous lion, then He can shut the mouth of a malaria-carrying mosquito and nullify the harmful effects of every other animal that kills.
All Other Kinds of Calamities Other kinds of calamities could be mentioned, but perhaps we should simply hear the texts that speak in sweeping inclusiveness about God’s control covering them all. In Isaiah 45:7 God says, “I form light and create darkness, I make
well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these.” Amos 3:6
says, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” In Job 42:2, Job confesses, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Nebuchadnezzar says (in Daniel 4:35), “[God] does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” And Paul
12. Commenting on Proverbs 16:33, Charles Bridges writes:
The instructive lesson to learn is that there is no blank in the most minute circumstances.
Things, not only apparently contingent, but depending upon a whole train of contingencies, are exactly fulfilled. The name of a King (1 Kings 13:2), or of a deliverer (Isaiah 44:28), is declared many hundred years before their existence—before therefore it could be known to any—save the Omniscient Governor of the universe—whether such persons would exist. The falling of a hair or a sparrow is directed, no less than the birth and death of princes, or the revolutions of empires (Matthew 10: 29–30). Everything is a wheel of Providence. Who directed the Ishmaelites on their journey to Egypt at the very moment that Joseph was cast into the pit (Genesis 37:25)? Who guided Pharaoh’s daughter to the stream, just when the ark, with its precious deposit, was committed to the water (Exodus 2:3–5)? What gave Ahasuerus a sleepless night, that he might be amused with the records of his Kingdom (Esther 6:1)? Who prepared the whale at the very time and place that Jonah’s lot was cast (Jonah 1:17)? Who can fail to see the hand of God, most wonderful in the most apparently casual contingencies, overruling all second causes to fulfil his will, while they work their own? “When kingdoms are tossed up and down like a tennis-ball (Isaiah 22:18); not one event can fly out of the bounds of his Providence. The smallest are not below it. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without it. Nor a hair, but it is numbered by it.” Charles Bridges, A Commentary on Proverbs (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974, orig. 1846), 253.
13. Charles Spurgeon, “God’s Providence,” sermon on Ezekiel 1:15–19 in 1908, in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Banner of Truth), 493.
IS 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 ?
says, in Ephesians 1:11, that God is the One “who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” And if someone should raise the question of sheer chance and the kinds of things that just seem to happen with no more meaning than the role of the dice, Proverbs 16:33 answers: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” In other words, from God’s perspective, there is no such thing as “chance.”11 He has His purposes for every roll of the dice in Las Vegas and every seemingly absurd turn of events in the universe.12 This is why Charles Spurgeon, the London pastor from one hundred years
I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of…leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.13 When Spurgeon was challenged that this is nothing but fatalism and stoicism,
What is fate? Fate is this—Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains,
14. Ibid., 201–2.
15. “God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and
they, in turn, create their decisions.” Gregory Boyd, Letters from A Skeptic (Colorado Springs, Colo.:
Chariot Victor, 1994), 30. In God of the Possible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000), Boyd writes that “future free decisions do not exist (except as possibilities) for God to know until free agents make them” (120).
16. “As the Lord did with Joseph’s evil brothers, and as Christ did with Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ that originated from Satan, God can sometimes use the evil wills of personal beings, human or divine, to his own ends (Genesis 50:20; 2 Corinthians 12:7–10). This by no means entails that there is a divine will behind every activity of an evil spirit—for usually we find that God and evil spirits (whether called angels, gods or demons) are in real conflict with each other.” Gregory Boyd, God at War, 154. I would observe that “real conflict” does not rule out the ultimate control of God or God having good purposes in all events.
Satan’s purposes in Paul’s “thorn” and in the betrayal and death of Jesus were diametrically opposed to God’s purposes.
must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that.… There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man.14
1.2 GOD’S CONTROL OVER MORAL EVIL Now consider the evidence for God’s control over moral evil—the evil choices that are made in the world. Again, there are specific instances and texts that make sweeping statements of God’s control.
For example, all the choices of Joseph’s brothers in getting rid of him and selling him into slavery are seen as sin and yet also as the outworking of God’s good purpose. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers when they fear his vengeance, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Gregory Boyd and others, who do not believe that God always has a specific purpose in the evil choices of people (especially since He does not know what those choices are going to be before they make them15), try to say that God can use the choices people make for His own purposes after they make them and He then knows what they are.16 But this will not fit what the text says or what Psalm 105:17 says. The text says, “You meant evil against me.” Evil is a feminine singular noun. Then it says, “God meant it for good.” The word it is a feminine singular suffix that can only agree with the antecedent feminine singular noun evil. And the verb meant is
17. Jonathan Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 529.
18. Ibid., 534.
19. For example, Exodus 4:21; 7:3; Deuteronomy 2:30; Judges 9:22–24; 14:4; 1 Samuel 18:10–11;
2 Samuel 12:11; 1 Kings 12:15; 2 Kings 19:7, 37; Psalm 105:25; Jeremiah 52:1–3; John 15:24–26;
Romans 9:18; 2 Corinthians 1:8–9; Hebrews 12:4–11; 1 Peter 3:17; 4:19; Revelation 17:17.
Commenting on Deuteronomy 2:30 and the hardening of Sihon, Old Testament scholar R. K. Harrison said, “Because the Ancient Hebrews ascribed all causality to God as the author of all created things, it was both natural and proper for them to see the response of Sihon in the light of the larger activity of God.” R. K. Harrison, “Deuteronomy,” in New Bible Commentary, ed. D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1970) 209–10. See Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, ed. Paul Ramsey, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), 399–403, where Edwards discusses texts showing God as the disposer and orderer of sin.
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