Monday, February 20, 2006

The Supremacy of God in Suffering

John Piper, on the eve of surgery for prostate cancer, has powerful words of hope in a sovereign God. (The surgery went well and he is recovering.)

Piper has a very high view of God, and that is often confusing to people. It's terrible in its simplicity - God IS GOD. God is fully sovereign in every way, in every respect. Nothing happens that He does not permit, and did not forsee from before His creation of time. Everything - everything! that happens is due to His plan and design, whether or not we can understand it.

That's the sticking point for a lot of people. "I can't understand how a loving God could let my mother die of cancer," they say. So they either dismiss God as callous and uncaring, or limit His sovereignty by saying that pain isn't part of His plan.

They ignore the third path - the paradox that a loving, merciful God can design pain and suffering into our lives. Sometimes we can see His hand clearly - would the Acua Indians have come to salvation if not for the martydom of Jim Elliot?

Oftimes, though, we can't.

And that's where we have to simply accept the paradox. God IS infinitely loving and merciful. Yet He permits suffering.

We can't understand it.

But we don't have to understand everything.

Disclosure - I consider myself blessed to have sat under John Piper's teachings for a decade. He baptized me and my wife, and officiated at our wedding in the old sanctuary at Bethlehem Baptist Church (now the site of the new education wing at BBC).

Also, I lost my mother to cancer when I was 4. I was at my uncle's side when he died of stomach cancer 20-odd years ago. My stepmother died of ovarian cancer about a decade ago. And as an asthmatic, I've stared death in the face a couple of times myself.


Laura said...

Corrie, that's beautiful. Thank you for sharing it via the blog. It gives me a lot to think about. It reminds me of a piece I've read called "What Cancer Cannot Do." Have you read it?

Again, thanks to you and blessings on both you and John.

John said...

Corrie, pain and suffering is antithetical to God. I don't think it's a "tough-love," disciplining, humbling kind of thing.

WE OURSELVES chose to permit pain and suffering from the very beginning, did we not?

However, God is Good and Merciful, and Himself, and what He has permitted is Grace.

He has delivered many people from pain and suffering.

I don't know why he permitted others to be taken away (like my dad), but, to quote from Hamlet, "there's a method to the madness," and "there's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we will."

John said...


"However, God is Good and Merciful, and Himself, and what He has permitted is Grace."

I meant:

"However, God is Good and Merciful, and what He has permitted--to counter our own bungling into pain and suffering-- is Grace.

Corrie said...

Thanks for the link and the kind words on Republicus, John. While Pain and suffering are antithetical to God, that does not mean that pain and suffering are not part of his divine plan.

Open Theologists might make that claim, but I'm not persuaded to so limit God's sovereignty. He uses everything for the good of those that love him and obey his commands. Everything in his creation - including disasters great and small - ultimately bring him glory.

That we cannot understand how such a thing can be says less about him than it does about us.