How to Contemplate Calamity
By John Piper
“The waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me. . . . This God — his way is perfect.” (2 Samuel 22:5, 31)
After the loss of his ten children owing to a natural disaster (Job 1:19), Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). At the end of the book, the inspired writer confirms Job’s understanding of what happened. He says Job’s brothers and sisters “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11).
This has several crucial implications for us — lessons for us here at the dawn of a new year — as we think about calamities in the world and in our lives — like the massive disaster that occurred December 26, 2004, in the Indian Ocean — one of the deadliest natural disasters on record with 1.7 million people made homeless, half a million injured, and over 230,000 killed.
Lesson #1. Satan is not ultimate; God is.
Satan had a hand in Job’s misery, but not the decisive hand. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). But Job and the writer of this book treat God as the decisive cause. When Satan afflicts Job with sores, Job says to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10), and the writer calls these satanic sores “the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). So, Satan is real. Satan brings misery. But Satan is not ultimate or decisive. He is on a leash. He goes no farther than God decisively permits.
Lesson #2. Even if Satan caused that tsunami in the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas, 2004, he is not the decisive cause of over 200,000 deaths; God is.
God claims power over tsunamis in Job 38:8 and 11 when he asks Job rhetorically, “Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb . . . and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” Psalm 89:8–9 says, “O Lord . . . you rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” And Jesus himself has the same control today as he once did over the deadly threats of waves: “He . . . rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24). In other words, even if Satan caused the earthquake, God could have stopped the waves. But he didn’t.
Lesson #3. Destructive calamities in this world mingle judgment and mercy.
God’s purposes are not simple. Job was a godly man and his miseries were not God’s punishment (Job 1:1, 8). Their design was purifying, not punishment (Job 42:6). James 5:11 says, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
But we do not know the spiritual condition of Job’s children who died. Job was certainly concerned about them (Job 1:5). God may have taken their life in judgment. We don’t know.
If that is true, then the same calamity proved in the end to be mercy for Job and judgment on his children. This double purpose is true of all calamities. They mingle judgment and mercy. They are both punishment and purification. Suffering, and even death, can be both judgment and mercy at the same time.
The clearest illustration of this is the death of Jesus. It was both judgment and mercy. It was judgment on Jesus because he bore our sins (not his own), and it was mercy toward us who trust him to bear our punishment (Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24) and be our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Another example is the curse and miseries that have come on this earth because of the fall of Adam and Eve. Those who never believe in Christ experience it as judgment, but believers experience it as merciful, though painful — a preparation for glory. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope” (Romans 8:20). This is God’s subjection. This is why there are tsunamis. But this subjection to futility is “in hope.”
Lesson #4. The heart that Christ gives to his people feels compassion for those who suffer, no matter what their faith is.
When the Bible says, “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), it does not add, “unless God caused the weeping.” Job’s comforters would have done better to weep with Job than talk so much. That does not change when we discover that Job’s suffering was ultimately from God. No, it is right to weep with those who suffer. Pain is pain, no matter who causes it. We are all sinners. Empathy flows not from the causes of pain, but from the company of pain. And we are all in it together.
Lesson #5. Finally, Christ calls us to show mercy to those who suffer, even if they do not deserve it.
That is the meaning of mercy — undeserved help. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). This is how Christ treated us (Romans 5:10), dying for us when we were his enemies. By that power, and with that example, we do the same.
Three Christmas Presents
By John Piper
Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. . . . My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 3:7–8; 2:1–2)
Ponder this remarkable situation with me. If the Son of God came to help you stop sinning — to destroy the works of the devil — and if he also came to die so that, when you do sin, there is a propitiation, a removal of God’s wrath, then what does this imply for living your life?
Three things. And they are wonderful to have. I give them to you briefly as Christmas presents.
Gift #1. A Clear Purpose for Living
It implies that you have a clear purpose for living. Negatively, it is simply this: don’t sin — don’t do what dishonors God. “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
If you ask, “Can you give us that positively, instead of negatively?” the answer is: Yes, it’s all summed up in 1 John 3:23. It’s a great summary of what John’s whole letter requires. Notice the singular “commandment” — “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” These two things are so closely connected for John he calls them one commandment: believe Jesus and love others. That is your purpose. That is the sum of the Christian life. Trusting Jesus, loving people the way Jesus and his apostles taught us to love. Trust Jesus, love people. There’s the first gift: a purpose to live.
Gift #2. Hope That Our Failures Will Be Forgiven
The second implication of the twofold truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins is this: We make progress in overcoming our sin when we have hope that our failures will be forgiven. If you don’t have hope that God will forgive your failures, when you start fighting sin, you give up.
Many of you are pondering some changes in the new year, because you have fallen into sinful patterns and want out. You want some new patterns of eating. New patterns for entertainment. New patterns of giving. New patterns of relating to your spouse. New patterns of family devotions. New patterns of sleep and exercise. New patterns of courage in witness. But you are struggling, wondering whether it’s any use. Well, here’s your second Christmas present: Christ not only came to destroy the works of the devil — our sinning — he also came to be an advocate for us because of experiences of failure in our fight.
So, I plead with you, let the fact that failure will not have the last word give you the hope to fight. But beware! If you turn the grace of God into license, and say, “Well, if I can fail, and it doesn’t matter, then why bother fighting sin?” — if you say that, and mean it, and go on acting on it, you are probably not born again and should tremble.
But that is not where most of you are. Most of you want to fight sinful patterns in your life. And what God is saying to you is this: Let Christ’s covering of your failure give hope to fight. “I write this to you that you might not sin, but if you sin you have an advocate, Jesus Christ.”
Gift #3. Christ Will Help Us
Finally, the third implication of the double truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins is this: Christ will really help us in our fight. He really will help you. He is on your side. He didn’t come to destroy sin because sin is fun. He came to destroy sin because sin is fatal. It is a deceptive work of the devil, and it will destroy us if we don’t fight it. He came to help us, not hurt us.
So here’s your third Christmas present: Christ will help overcome sin in you. First John 4:4 says, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Jesus is alive, Jesus is almighty, Jesus lives in us by faith. And Jesus is for us, not against us. He will help you in your fight with sin in the new year. Trust him.
O the wonder that God stepped into history in the person of his Son, Jesus. O come let us adore him, let us shine his light into a dark and desperate world. He has come, he will come bringing justice, peace and unbridled joy.