In his mini-book, John Piper provides us with a timely devotional apologetic. He avoids speculation and conjecture and writes with his heart and mind to provide assurance in the light of biblical truth. This book is worth reading through a few times or reading slowly and pausing to think through the implications. Piper briefly draws our attention to the global influenza epidemic of 1918 that took the lives of around fifty million people. He then candidly shares something of his personal experience of when he battled with prostate cancer.
Just like some of Paul’s epistles, for example Ephesians and Colossians, Piper lays a solid systematic theology in the first half before following that up with practical application. Without an understanding of Scripture, God’s character and attributes, the outworking of God’s sovereignty and biblical precedent there is simply no way of giving a Christ like, reasoned response. In the middle mini-section, Piper reminds us of the inscrutability of God’s ways before working through what God is doing through the coronavirus.
Six answers are given and the first is that the coronavirus physically pictures the moral horror and ugliness of besetting sin. The root of all physical misery originates in inherent sin going back to the garden of Eden. Sadly, we are blinded by our sin and although painful, this enables us to be aware of what is fundamentally wrong in the spiritual realm.
Piper then discusses specific sin judgements. He is not of course saying that everyone and anyone with the virus is being punished for their sin. He cites Job as the most righteous man on the earth who suffered the most awful afflictions to ensure that he is not misunderstood. Piper does however mention King Herod in Acts 12:23 who the Lord struck down and was eaten by worms in relation to that.
The third point is a greater awareness and preparedness of the Lord’s second coming. Piper is quick to point out the unhelpful number, of end of the world predictions. All too often people have either proof texted reading their situation into the Bible and ignored the context and the rest of Scripture. How should we respond? Should we not expect the birth pains and be ready and stay awake and take heed that no one deceives us?
The fourth point is realigning ourselves with the infinite value of the Lord. There are times when calamities force us to rethink our priorities and they bring about repentance and godly sorrow. Piper is not talking about a superficial change of opinion but a deeper transformative work resulting in us desiring God and His will in our lives, first and foremost. Paul wrote, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).”
Fifthly, creating good works despite danger and personal cost. Piper raises our attention to some remarkable examples in the early church during great plagues in the Roman empire in AD 165 and 251 where the believers cared for their own and others putting to silence the ignorance of emperors.
The last reason, ‘reaching the nations’ might cause us to think again. Limiting oneself to mere human logic, one might deduce that plagues curtail missionary activity. Piper is not thinking short term immediate projects but ongoing labours further down the line and according to God’s wider purposes. Again Piper uses a recent example of a Bulgarian Pastor, unfairly imprisoned who shared the gospel with many, like Paul, again pointing to God’s providence. That helps us to reconsider our strategy and also inspires us to recommit to missions as the day approaches.
This is not the time to be spiritually asleep or to be fearful, but to respond in a similar way to how the faithful saints of old remained steadfast throughout hundreds of years. It is a time to recognise the fall of mankind and its effects, that God is sovereign and just, that the Lord is of inestimable value, that we should be employed in good works for His glory and that although we don’t know the exact time of the Lord coming, there is a glorious gospel to be preached and taken to all the nations of the world before that day.