From John Piper’s just released book, Coronavirus and Christ available free of charge from Desiring God Ministries, at: http://www.dgm.org
The coronavirus pandemic is where I live. It is where we all live. And if it weren’t the coronavirus, it would be the cancer just waiting to recur. Or the unprovoked pulmonary embolism from 2014 just waiting to break off and go to my brain and turn me into a mindless man who will never write another sentence. Or a hundred other unforeseen calamities that could take me—and you—down at any moment.
Today as I write, there are hundreds of thousands of cases of infection worldwide, with tens of thousands of deaths. There is no known cure—yet. By the time you read this, you will know far better than I how things will develop. So I need not detail the measures being taken to slow the spread of the virus or the economic toll being exacted. Social mingling, travel, conferences, church gatherings, theaters, restaurants, sporting events, and businesses are nearing a standstill. This is not unprecedented—either globally or in America. In the global influenza epidemic of 1918 (to use the estimates of the Centers for Disease Control), fifty million people around the world died. Over five hundred thousand of those were in the United States. People felt symptoms in the morning and were dead by nightfall. Bodies were picked up from front porches to be carted away to graves dug by bulldozers. A man was shot for not wearing a mask. Schools were closed. Ministers spoke of Armageddon.
Of course precedents prove nothing. The past is warning, not fate. Nevertheless, this is a time when the fragile form of this world is felt. The seemingly solid foundations are shaking. The question we should be asking is, Do we have a Rock under our feet? A Rock that cannot be shaken—ever?
I recall being told on December 21, 2005, that I had prostate cancer. For the next several weeks, all the talk was about odds. Odds with waiting to see. Odds with medications. Odds with homeopathic procedures. Odds with radical surgery. My wife, Noël, and I took these numbers seriously. But in the evening, we would smile at each other and think, Our hope is not in the odds. Our hope is in God.
I am moved to write because playing the odds is a fragile place to put your hope. Odds like 3 percent versus 10 percent, youth versus old age, compromised health versus no history of disease, rural versus urban, self-isolated versus home meeting with friends. Playing the odds provides little hope. It is not a firm place to stand. There is a better way. There is a better place to stand: a Rock of certainty rather than the sand of probabilities.
My confidence that God speaks is rooted in the fact that the Bible is his word. He has spoken, once for all, and he still speaks in his word. The Bible, rightly understood, is the voice of God. Here is what God said to me in that urologist’s office as I waited for the biopsy that would confirm that I had cancer. “John Piper, this is not wrath. Live or die, you will be with me.”
That’s my paraphrase. Here’s what he actually said: God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10)
The object of hope is future. The experience of hope is present. And that present experience is powerful. Hope is power. Present power. Hope keeps people from killing themselves—now. It helps people get out of bed and go to work—now. It gives meaning to daily life, even locked-down, quarantined, stay-at-home life—now. It liberates from the selfishness of fear and greed—now. It empowers love and risk taking and sacrifice—now.
Awake or asleep—that is, live or die—I will be alive with God. That is very different from playing the odds with cancer—or with the coronavirus. This is a firm Rock under my feet. It is not fragile. It is not sand.
Acts 2:24 — God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Romans 6:5 — For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Romans 7:24-25 — Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 14:7-9 — For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
WHAT TERRORIZES MOST PEOPLE ABOUT COVID-19 IS WHAT ONLY EASTER CAN FIX.
Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to trust You once again and always to literally and truly turn every cross of fear and death into resurrected life of joy that never ever ends for every soul that waits upon You as Lord and Savior. AMEN.