Interview with John Piper
Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org
Pastor John’s new book is about the precious doctrine of God’s providence. The title is simply Providence (you can now preorder the title from our friends at Westminster Books for just $19.99). God governs over all that he has created. He reveals this to us in thousands of texts in the Bible. By welcoming us into this incredible revealed reality, God calls us to see and savor this for ourselves. He wants us to treasure his providence so much that it brings tangible change to how we live. To that end, we are setting aside Wednesdays on the podcast to look at a few of the implications. There are ten of them in this series. Last time, in episode 1583, we looked at how the providence of God “protects us from the trivializing effects of contemporary culture, and from the widespread habit of trifling with everything, even the great things of God.” That was implication number four. Here now with implication number five is Pastor John.
I suppose, Tony, that among all the challenges that characterize our lives and the lives of those who write to us, the frustrations of ordinary life and how to cope with them are right near the top of our concerns. In other words, things come into our lives that are unplanned, unexpected, either very frustrating, or sometimes very painful. And the question is: Is it possible to be patient with all the unexpected, frustrating things that come into our lives?
And that’s where this fifth real-life benefit of seeing and savoring the all-pervading providence of God, the purposeful sovereignty of God, comes into play. And it is this: Believing the providence of God, embracing the providence of God, enables us to be patient and faithful in the long, dragged-out, often unexpected trials of life, amidst the most inexplicable circumstances, detours, and delays that, from our limited viewpoint, make no sense. Believing the providence of God transforms that experience.
James, in his book in the New Testament, points us to the connection between God’s providence and our patience.
Be patient . . . brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. . . . As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. . . . You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:7–8, 10–11)
James says that our patience in life, as we, like a farmer, sow our seed faithfully in the spring and then wait and wait, and the summer months are long and they’re hot and we don’t know if the seed is growing the way we want — our patience as we wait will be strengthened and sustained if we look at the story of Job and take special notice of his endurance in God’s passion and love and care.
He calls it the Lord’s “merciful” purpose in it all, which is amazing because it’s a very painful story. Satan gets permission from God in chapter 1 of Job, and God permits Satan to actually kill all ten of Job’s children. And Job meets the news by falling on his face (in Job 1:20–21) and worshiping the Lord instead of hating God for taking his children, and he says, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Satan then returns to God again, and he gets permission to go afflict Job with boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. And his wife tells him, “Look, just curse God and die” (see Job 2:9). And Job responds again with patience and endurance in faith in God’s providence and says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). And at the end of the book, in chapter 42, Job expresses one of the most sweeping and powerful statements of God’s providence in all the Bible when he says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
And for that faithfulness, God had mercy on Job and restored his fortunes, including his children. And James says that lesson in providence from the book of Job is the foundation of the patience of our life.
So, saturate your mind with such Scriptures day after day. Be exposed to God’s utterly unexpected ways in the Bible until you become accustomed to trust him in the dark because of what he’s shown you in the light — especially the light of his word. Isaiah 55:8 says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” And then let’s immerse ourselves in the biblical portrayals of his providence. If we do that, we will become less vulnerable to panic, less vulnerable to perplexity and dread, because God has shown us again and again and again that things are not what they seem, and that he is always weaving something wise out of the painful, perplexing threads that look like a tangle in our lives.
Just think of this — this has moved me so much. Think what practical effect it would have on our lives for wonderful, counterintuitive patience if we believe that our frustrating delay at the red traffic light was God’s keeping us back from an accident about to happen. Or if we believe that getting our leg broken in the accident was God’s way of revealing an early cancer in our leg, which, because it’s discovered, would save our lives for another fifty years, instead of dying within a year. Would we be angry that he ordained the breaking of our leg if that was the case? Or what if we believed that the frustrating, middle-of-the-night phone call that made us so angry that we were awakened was only to help us smell the smoke in the basement and keep our house from being burned down?
God says in his word that that’s what he’s doing in every one of our frustrations. Yes, he is. The key to patience is faith in the all-embracing, all-guiding, all-wise, all-gracious providence of God to transform all the interruptions of his children into rewards. Can we not, then, write in big letters, as a heading over our lives and over every frustration, “Satan, you meant that for evil; God meant it for good” (see Genesis 50:20)? Is the great Romans 8:28 really true? Can it be believed that owing to God’s all-pervading, all-embracing, all-wise, all-gracious providence, God is working everything together for our good as his children?
Let me give you just one closing story. Benjamin Warfield was a world-renowned theologian who taught at Princeton Seminary for almost 34 years until his death in 1921. Many people are aware of his famous book The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. But what most people don’t know is that in 1876, at the age of 25, he married Annie Pearce Kinkead, took a honeymoon to Germany, and during a storm, Annie was struck by lightning and permanently paralyzed. On their honeymoon.
After caring for her patiently for 39 years, Warfield laid her to rest in 1915, and there was no Job-like restoration at the end of that story — only death into the arms of Jesus, and someday a new body. Because of Annie’s extraordinary needs, Warfield almost never left his home for more than two hours at a time for 39 years.
But when Warfield came to write his thoughts on Romans 8:28, this is what he wrote:
The fundamental thought is the universal government of God, providence. All that comes to you is under his controlling hand. The secondary thought is the favor of God to those that love him. If he governs all, then nothing but good can befall those to whom he would do good. . . . He will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from all that befalls us. (Faith and Life, 204)
That is the root and power of beautiful patience and steadfastness in Job, in Warfield, and in you. So, the fifth real-life effect of seeing and savoring the providence of God is the amazing power to be patient and faithful through the most inexplicable circumstances of life. Let’s sing with William Cowper,
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence,
he hides a smiling face.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.