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John Piper and other contributors explore the many categories of God's sovereignty as evidenced in his Word, helping readers form a biblical view of suffering.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781581348095
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 09/13/2006
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 584,856
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring GodDon’t Waste Your LifeThis Momentary MarriageA Peculiar Glory; and Reading the Bible Supernaturally.

Justin Taylor (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher at Crossway. He has edited and contributed to several books, including A God-Entranced Vision of All Things and Reclaiming the Center, and he blogs at Between Two Worlds—hosted by the Gospel Coalition.

Justin Taylor (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher at Crossway. He has edited and contributed to several books, including A God-Entranced Vision of All Things and Reclaiming the Center, and he blogs at Between Two Worlds—hosted by the Gospel Coalition.

John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring GodDon’t Waste Your LifeThis Momentary MarriageA Peculiar Glory; and Reading the Bible Supernaturally.

Mark Talbot (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is associate professor of philosophy at Wheaton College. His areas of expertise include philosophy, psychology, David Hume, Augustine, and Jonathan Edwards. He and his wife, Cindy, have one daughter and three grandchildren.

David Powlison (1949–2019) was a teacher, a counselor, and the executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation for many years. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and was also the senior editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling. He wrote a number of books, including How Does Sanctification Work?Making All Things New; and God's Grace in Your Suffering.

Joni Eareckson Tada is founder and CEO of the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, which ministers to thousands of disabled people and their families through programs of practical encouragement and spiritual help. She is also an artist and the author of numerous best-selling books such as Joni; Heaven: Your Real Home; and When God Weeps.

Read an Excerpt


Suffering and the Sovereignty of God: Ten Aspects of God's Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan's Hand in It

John Piper

The impetus for this book comes from the ultimate reality of God as the supreme value in and above the universe. God is absolute and eternal and infinite. Everything else and everybody else is dependent and finite and contingent. God himself is the great supreme value. Everything else that has any value has it by connection to God. God is supreme in all things. He has all authority, all power, all wisdom — and he is all good "to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him" (Lam. 3:25). And his name, as Creator and Redeemer and Ruler of all, is Jesus Christ.

In the last few years, 9/11, tsunamis, Katrina, and ten thousand personal losses have helped us discover how little the American church is rooted in this truth. David Wells, in his new book, Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World, says it like this:

This moment of tragedy and evil [referring to 9/11] shone its own light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight. For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which could match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness. Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore.

In other words, our vision of God in relation to evil and suffering was shown to be frivolous. The church has not been spending its energy to go deep with the unfathomable God of the Bible. Against the overwhelming weight and seriousness of the Bible, much of the church is choosing, at this very moment, to become more light and shallow and entertainment-oriented, and therefore successful in its irrelevance to massive suffering and evil. The popular God of fun-church is simply too small and too affable to hold a hurricane in his hand. The biblical categories of God's sovereignty lie like land mines in the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to seriously open the book. They don't kill, but they do explode trivial notions of the Almighty.

So my prayer for this book is that God would stand forth and reassert his Creator-rights in our lives, and show us his crucified and risen Son who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and waken in us the strongest faith in the supremacy of Christ, and the deepest comforts in suffering, and the sweetest fellowship with Jesus that we have ever known.

The contributors to this volume have all suffered, some more visibly than others. You don't need to know the details. Suffice it to say that none of them is dealing with a theoretical issue in this book. They live in the world of pain and loss where you live. They are aware that some people reading this book are dying. There are people who love those who are dying; people who live with chronic pain; people who have just lost one of the most precious persons in their life; people who do not believe in the goodness of God — or in God at all — who count this book their one last effort to see if the gospel is real. People who are about to enter a time of suffering in their life for which they are totally unprepared.

These authors are not naïve about life or about who you are. We are glad you are reading this book — all of you. And we pray that you will never be the same again.

The approach I am going to take in this chapter is not to solve any problem directly, but to celebrate the sovereignty of God over Satan and God's sovereignty over all the evils that Satan has a hand in. My conviction is that letting God speak his word will awaken worship — like Job's — and worship will shape our hearts to understand whatever measure of God's mystery he wills for us to know. What follows is a celebration of "Ten Aspects of God's Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan's Hand in It." And what I mean in this chapter when I say that God is sovereign is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things, but that he does govern all things, for his own wise and holy purposes.

1. Let Us Celebrate That God Is Sovereign over Satan's Delegated World Rule

Satan is sometimes called in the Bible "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), or "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4), or "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), or a "cosmic power over this present darkness" (Eph. 6:12). This means that we should probably take him seriously when we read in Luke 4:5-7 that "the devil took [Jesus] up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, 'To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.'"

And of course that is strictly true: if the sovereign of the universe bows in worshipful submission to anyone, that one becomes the sovereign of the universe. But Satan's claim that he can give the authority and glory of world kingdoms to whomever he wills is a half truth. No doubt he does play havoc in the world by maneuvering a Stalin or a Hitler or an Idi Amin or a Bloody Mary or a Saddam Hussein into murderous power. But he does this only at God's permission and within God's appointed limits.

This is made clear over and over again in the Bible. For example, Daniel 2:20-21: "Daniel answered and said: 'Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings'"; and Daniel 4:17: "The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will." When the kings are in their God-appointed place, with or without Satan's agency, they are in the sway of God's sovereign will, as Proverbs 21:1 says: "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will."

Evil nations rise and set themselves against the Almighty. "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, 'Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.' He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision" (Ps. 2:2-4). Do they think that their sin and evil and rebellion against him can thwart the counsel of the Lord? Psalm 33:10-11 answers, "The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations."

God is sovereign over the nations and over all their rulers and all the satanic power behind them. They do not move without his permission, and they do not move outside his sovereign plan.

2. Let Us Celebrate That God Is Sovereign over Satan's Angels (Demons, Evil Spirits)

Satan has thousands of cohorts in supernatural evil. They are called "demons" (Matt. 8:31; James 2:19), or "evil spirits" (Luke 7:21), or "unclean spirits" (Matt. 10:1), or "the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41). We get a tiny glimpse into demonic warfare in Daniel 10 where the angel who is sent in response to Daniel's prayer says, "The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me" (Dan. 10:13). So apparently the demon, or evil spirit, over Persia fought against the angel sent to help Daniel, and a greater angel, Michael, came to his aid.

But the Bible leaves us with no doubt as to who is in charge in all these skirmishes. Martin Luther got it right: And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
We see glimpses of those little words at work, for example, when Jesus comes up against thousands of demons in Matthew 8:29-32. They were possessing a man and making him insane. The demons cry out, "What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?" (They know a time is set for their final destruction.) And Jesus spoke to them one little word: "Go," and they came out of the man. There is no question who is sovereign in this battle. The people had seen this before and were amazed and said, "He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him" (Mark 1:27). They obey him. As for Satan: "We tremble not for him; his rage we can endure." But as for Christ: even though they slay him, they always must obey him! God is sovereign over Satan's angels.

3. Let Us Celebrate That God Is Sovereign over Satan's Hand in Persecution

The apostle Peter describes the suffering of Christians like this: "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world" (1 Pet. 5:8-9). So the sufferings of persecution are like the jaws of a satanic lion trying to consume and destroy the faith of believers in Christ.

But do these Christians suffer in Satan's jaws of persecution apart from the sovereign will of God? When Satan crushes Christians in the jaws of their own private Calvary, does God not govern those jaws for the good of his precious child? Listen to Peter's answer in 1 Peter 3:17: "It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil." In other words, if God wills that we suffer for doing good, we will suffer. And if he does not will that we suffer for doing good, we will not. The lion does not have the last say. God does.

The night Jesus was arrested, satanic power was in full force (Luke 22:3, 31). And Jesus spoke into that situation one of his most sovereign words. He said to those who came to arrest him in the dark: "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:52-53). The jaws of the lion close on me tonight no sooner and no later than my Father planned. "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (John 10:18). Boast not yourself over the hand that made you, Satan. You have one hour. What you do, do quickly. God is sovereign over Satan's hand in persecution.

4. Let Us Celebrate That God Is Sovereign over Satan's Life-Taking Power

The Bible does not take lightly or minimize the power of Satan to kill people, including Christians. Jesus said in John 8:44, "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning." John tells us, in fact, that he does indeed take the lives of faithful Christians. Revelation 2:10, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."

Is God then not the Lord of life and death? He is. None lives and none dies but by God's sovereign decree. "See now that I, even I, am he, and 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" (Deut. 32:39). There is no god, no demon, no Satan that can snatch to death any person that God wills to live (see 1 Sam. 2:6).

James, the brother of Jesus, says this in a stunning way in James 4:13-16:

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit" — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

If the Lord wills, we will live. And if he doesn't, we will die. God, not Satan, makes the final call. Our lives are ultimately in his hands, not Satan's. God is sovereign over Satan's life-taking power.

5. Let Us Celebrate That God Is Sovereign over Satan's Hand in Natural Disasters

Hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, blistering heat, deadly cold, drought, flood, famine. When Satan approached God in the first chapter of Job, he challenged God, "Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face" (v. 11).Then the Lord said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand" (v. 12).

The result was two human atrocities and two natural disasters. One of the disasters is reported to Job in verse 16: "The fire of God fell from heaven [probably lightning] and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you." And then the worst report of all in verses 18-19, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead."

Even though God had loosened the leash of Satan to do this, it is not what Job focused on. "Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD'" (Job 1:20-21). And the inspired writer added: "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong."

Job had discovered with many of you that it is small comfort to focus on the freedom of Satan to destroy. In the academic classroom and in the apologetics discussion, the agency of Satan in our suffering may lift a little the burden of God's sovereignty for some; but for others, like Job, there is more security and more relief and more hope and more support and more glorious truth in despising Satan's hateful hand and looking straight past him to God for the cause and for his mercy.

Elihu helped Job see this mercy in Job 37:10-14. He said:

By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God.

Job's first impulses in chapter 1 were exactly right. When James wrote in the New Testament about the purpose of the book of Job, this is what he said: "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 5:11).

God, not Satan, is the final ruler of wind — and the waves. Jesus woke from sleep and, with absolute sovereignty, which he had from all eternity and has this very moment, said, "'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:39; see Ps. 135:5-7; 148:7). Satan is real and terrible. All his designs are hateful. But he is not sovereign. God is. And when Satan went out to do Job harm, Job was right to worship with the words "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."

There's not a plant or flower below, But makes Thy glories known; And clouds arise, and tempests blow, By order from Thy throne.

6. Let Us Celebrate That God Is Sovereign over Satan's Sickness-Causing Power

The Bible is vivid with the truth that Satan can cause disease. Acts 10:38 says that Jesus "went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." The devil had oppressed people with sickness. In Luke 13 Jesus finds a woman who had been bent over, unable to stand up for eighteen years. He heals her on the Sabbath, and in response to the criticism of the synagogue ruler he says, "Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (v. 16). There is no doubt that Satan causes much disease.

This is why Christ's healings are a sign of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God and its final victory over all disease and all the works of Satan. It is right and good to pray for healing. God has purchased it in the death of his Son, with all the other blessings of grace, for all his children (Isa. 53:5). But he has not promised that we get the whole inheritance in this life. And he decides how much. We pray, and we trust his answer. If you ask your Father for bread, he will not give you a stone. If you ask him for a fish, he will not give you a serpent (see Matt. 7:9-10). It may not be bread. And it may not be a fish. But it will be good for you. That is what he promises (Rom. 8:28).


Excerpted from "Suffering and the Sovereignty of God"
by .
Copyright © 2006 Desiring God.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction Justin Taylor,
Part 1: The Sovereignty of God in Suffering,
1 Suffering and the Sovereignty of God: Ten Aspects of God's Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan's Hand in It John Piper,
2 "All the Good That Is Ours in Christ": Seeing God's Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us Mark R. Talbot,
Part 2: The Purposes of God in Suffering,
3 The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God John Piper,
4 Why God Appoints Suffering for His Servants John Piper,
5 Sovereignty, Suffering, and the Work of Missions Stephen F. Saint,
6 The Sovereignty of God and Ethnic-Based Suffering Carl F. Ellis, Jr.,
Part 3: The Grace of God in Suffering,
7 God's Grace and Your Sufferings David Powlison,
8 Waiting for the Morning during the Long Night of Weeping Dustin Shramek,
9 Hope ... the Best of Things Joni Eareckson Tada,
Don't Waste Your Cancer John Piper and David Powlison,
An Interview with John Piper John Piper and Justin Taylor,
Subject Index,
Person Index,
Scripture Index,
Desiring God: Note on Resources,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"John Piper and friends tackle some of the hardest and most significant issues of Christian concern, producing one of the most honest, faithful, and helpful volumes ever made available to thinking Christians. It is filled with pastoral wisdom, theological conviction, biblical insight, and spiritual counsel. This book answers one of the greatest needs of our times-to affirm the sovereignty of God and to ponder the meaning of human suffering. We need this book."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

"For all who don't live a charmed life, for all who have given themselves to the point of exhaustion, for all who have been betrayed by pious backstabbers, for all who wonder if they can even go on, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God will be green pastures and deep, still waters."
Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., Pastor to Pastors, Immanuel Church, Nashville, Tennessee

"This is not another theological volume that complicates what appears to be an irreconcilable paradox; it is a book that grows out of practical experience and applies Scripture to a realistic world where we all live."
Jerry Rankin, President Emeritus, Southern Baptist International Mission Board

"This book will challenge you to believe that God is truly sovereign, not just in the safe haven of theological inquiry, but also in the painful messiness of real life. You will be encouraged to live more consistently by God's grace and for his glory."
Mark D. RobertsSenior Advisor and Theologian in Residence, Foundations for Laity Renewal; author, Can We Trust the Gospels?

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