Friday, January 1, 2010

In Store Now - A Sweet & Bitter Providence

For readers of this blog I doubt John Piper needs an introduction.  A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, and the Sovereignty of God is Piper's newest work which is about the book of Ruth.  The overall theme will be familiar to those familiar with Piper: the absolute sovereignty of God over all things--sin included.  Ruth and Boaz both are examples of people who honor sexual purity by avoiding the temptation of sex before their marriage.  But this marriage is also an example of an interracial marriage since Ruth was a Moabitess and Boaz was an Israelite.

Piper is well aware of those who have sharp words for his views.  He quotes one writer from the Wall Street Journal who said that when we "are confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering . . . no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's ends." (26)  This is precisely what Piper believes but he firmly believes that this is precisely what the book of Ruth is teaching.  The alternative is not really comforting at all.  He says, "It is not comforting or hopeful in their pain to tell them that God is not in control. . . When the world is crashing in, we need assurance that God reigns over it all." (27)  The story of Ruth shows Naomi going from despair to hope to fulfillment.  As Piper says, "In the darkest of our times, God is plotting for out glory."  (58)  As Naomi returned to Israel she was blinded by bitterness but as God continued to work she could see that his "kindness has forsaken the living or the dead."  (Ruth 2:20)  We see a turn in Naomi's disposition as hope replaces bitterness and despair which results in what Piper terms "strategic righteousness."  As hope dawns, Naomi sets a plan in action to secure a husband for Ruth.  We know how the story ends but unless we see the setbacks and obstacles we allow ourselves to have the same blindness that struck Naomi.  Setbacks, obstacles, death, and pain are all part of this life but none of that should cloud us from the knowledge that God is in control and still working.  Piper says as part of his final appeals "To know that our Father in heaven has ordained our pain is not a comfortable truth, but it is comforting."  (138) 

For many this will not sit well.  They are somehow more comforted by making God part of the plight rather than part of the solution.  It seems to me this solicits our sympathy more than our confidence in God.  As a parent who has lost a child I know the pain I could only formerly imagine.  But through it all I never lost hope that God was working.  I don't say that to boast about anything in me but to rather testify that God can sustain us through the darkest and most painful moments precisely because he can and does.  Piper does not write from ivory towers but as a pastor who has consoled his people with the truths he finds here and throughout Scripture.  The other themes of the book, sex and race, are interwoven and Piper provides helpful and wise advice in both areas.  He ends the book with seven appeals: 1) Study the Scriptures, 2) pursue sexual purity, 3) pursue mature manhood and womanhood, 4) embrace ethnic diversity, 5) trust the sovereignty of God, 6) take the risks of love, and 7) live and sing to the glory of Christ.  I enjoyed this book and wish it a wide readership. 

It is a hardcover with 160 pages (I read it in a day.) from Crossway publishers and sells for $17.99. 


Scripture Zealot said...

That last paragraph is very special. Thank you for letting us in on it.

This view of God's sovereignty is unintuitive and some get agitated over it but it's Scriptural and all throughout the Bible.

Louis said...

It was my pleasure, Jeff, to have an opportunity to give God the credit for sustaining me through a very dark episode of my life. While reflecting on that time is painful it is also reassuring because I was "under the wings" of my Lord who brought healing and comfort in ways I could never imagine.