How Do We Rest in the Face of Horrible Calamity?

How Do We Rest in the Face of Horrible Calamity?

What happens to our emotions if we really believe in the sovereign wisdom and goodness of God in horrible persecution?

This question rises for me for two reasons.

One is because of God’s will for our emotions revealed in the Bible, and the other is what I see happening in the hearts of God’s people today. They are not always the same. One of my aims is to help today’s saints experience more of God’s aims for our emotions.

Here is the most recent example in my experience.

Refreshed by Horrible Persecutions?

In Revelation 6 John saw “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God.” These are martyrs for Jesus in heaven. “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood?’” (verse 10).

Since they are in heaven, where “the spirits of the righteous are made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23), we should be slow to call this cry sinful. But God directs their emotions from this rising sense of urgency to a different heart-experience.

The martyrs were “told to rest a little longer.” This is an emotionally peaceful and refreshing word (anapauō). We can feel the connotations in these examples:

  • “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

  • “They refreshed my spirit” (1 Corinthians 16:18).

  • “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 1:7).

  • Refresh my heart in Christ” (Philemon 1:20).

But here’s the striking thing emotionally.

They were explicitly made aware of the horrible persecutions on earth. They were told to rest and be refreshed “until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

This is emotionally jarring.

The Key to Their Rest

Note four things: 1) They are told to rest and be refreshed; 2) They are told that while they are resting, people are being killed, some by beheading (Revelation 20:4); 3) They are told that while they are resting, these dying people are their “brothers”; 4) And they are told that the number of these killings is appointed by God.

So we are confronted with this real, practical, emotional question: Does God really expect these saints to step back from their urgency about immediate vengeance, and rest while their brothers are being horribly killed?

Yes. He does. He would not have told these perfected saints to rest if he did not think it was possible and right.

The key to their ability to rest is precisely the sovereign wisdom and goodness of God implicit in the statement of Revelation 6:11 — there is an appointed number of martyrs yet to come. “Rest until the number of your brothers is complete, who are to be killed.”

Deep Soul-Rest in God’s Wisdom and Goodness

What this means for our emotions is that deep confidence in God’s sovereign wisdom and goodness is profoundly transforming to our emotional reaction to horrible things. We are made able, in a supernatural way, to have a soul-rest in God amid terrible calamity.

This is not the same as indifference. It is not callousness or lack of compassion. It is not the absence of tears. But it is rest. It is a sweet repose on Jesus.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,

I will not, I will not desert to its foes.

There is a profound emotional “repose” — a deep restfulness of soul — even as we know the horrors of calamity and persecution — including our own.


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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.