Welcome to a new week on the Ask Pastor John podcast with John Piper. Pastor John, you were in Vancouver recently teaching on 1 Peter in a Look at the Book regional conference at Westside Church. It seems to have gone really well. A lot was going on in the news as well. As you look back on that trip and over what you taught, do you have any reflections to share with us here on the Ask Pastor John podcast?
The earthquake in Nepal happened while I was there — we found out about it as we began Saturday morning. Hearing this news put the second half of our study under a cloud of very serious reality for me personally and I think for others as well. In other words, no game playing here with 1 Peter, because I had said to them Friday night that 1 Peter is a book that more than any other book in the New Testament is pervasive with suffering. It focuses on, teaches about, prepares people for suffering.
And so we were talking about some of the most serious kinds of losses in the world with this enormous tragedy unfolding which, as we speak right now, has about 5,000 people killed, 9,000 injured, eight million affected, one million children in urgent need and, of course, the ripple effects from all of those are enormous. And I think what I want to say, Tony, in response to that event and that moment in my life and that seminar is that there is a kind of sequence to the responses that Christians should have — reflective Christians especially.
If we get the sequence wrong or the spirit of the sequence wrong, we may do more damage than good if we open our mouths, or if we don’t open our mouths. So here is what I mean by the sequence: Number one, I think the first response we should have when we hear news like this earthquake is a heart that feels empathy or compassion. In other words, we should use immediately, by reflex, our imaginations to imagine that we are trapped under the rubble and wishing somebody would find us, or our child is trapped under the rubble and we are standing outside frantic to find the child. In other words, use our imaginations to feel what is being felt and then to feel compassion and do neighbor love — love your neighbor as you love yourself even before your hand can move a muscle. I think that is the first thing that should happen and we should repent if it is not happening.
Second, rising up in my heart should then be, after that kind of compassionate empathy, prayers of desire for the good of those who experienced the greatest losses. We are Christians, we know that the greatest good anyone could receive is Jesus Christ. We know that the greatest need every human being has is Jesus. We know that Jesus is overflowing in love and compassion toward all who call upon him and is ready to forgive their sins and meet their needs, especially the most painful and eternal needs. And we know — here is what I found out by just glancing at Twitter feeds — we know that we will be found fault with if we pray this way for people, that is, if we mention Jesus or we hope that somehow people would find Jesus through this tragedy. We will be lambasted as exploitive of this moment and that we are simply doing partisan politics and utterly insensitive to the people and so on.
But in spite of that kind of criticism, I am totally convinced we should pray and pray something like this. I tried to formulate in my mind how I should pray. I try to do this every time a calamity comes along. So my prayer would go something like this: “O God, have mercy on those who have experienced the greatest losses here. Have mercy on those who have lost their most cherished family members — children who have lost their parents, wives who have lost their husbands, thousands who have lost every earthly possession.
“Raise up, O God, every resource for the supply of the most urgent physical needs that the Nepalese people have and, Father, in your great mercy grant that your people, Christians, would be among those who make the greatest sacrifices to meet their needs. And would you grant that thousands and thousands of people would be led though these mercies to see the merciful hand of God, yourself, the Father of our Lord Jesus, and that they would meet Jesus as their most precious friend and the Savior of their souls, the one of infinite power and great compassion who could give them a future and a hope for this world and the next.” So I think, Tony, we should pray like that regardless of what anybody says.
And then, thirdly, in this sequence that I have in my mind, after we have felt and prayed, we should give. We should go online, find reliable venues and sources and missions, and in the name of Jesus get out our VISA card and be a part of the rescue operation and let our hands join our hearts in the compassion that we began with.
And then the fourth thing in this sequence is that we should think deeply and biblically about what in the world is happening in the world. We may not speak at this point. We may; we may not. If the setting seems right, we might, but if not, we won’t. Our minds should kick into gear to engage the Bible and refresh our understanding of what kind of world we live in.
And I think the very first aspect of that would be to respond to Jesus’s words addressed to us when we take him the problem of Nepal or the tower of Siloam on which 18 people fell and to which he responded, “Do you think that those 18 people are worse offenders than all the others who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4–5). In other words, I should hear the Lord God almighty address me, “Piper, do you think that you don’t deserve to be under that rubble?”
So get that right in your head. You deserve to be there and, unless you repent, you will be there sooner or later. That reality should have a profoundly sobering effect on me as a Christian. You know, the article that we put up at Desiring God about praying for Nepal said that the man who was in Nepal who wrote it knew of 30 Christians who had been killed. So it is both Christians and non-Christians who are swept away in these kind of calamities. It is a word for us before it is a word for anybody else.
And the last thing in this sequence, after we have felt and after we have prayed and after we have given and after we have thought and repented, then we might — and here timing really matters and tone really matters and content really matters — we might speak of biblical perspective on why these calamities are in the world. And that is what I tried to do then, Lord’s Day morning. So after the seminar was over on Saturday, I stayed to preach at Westside. My sermon title was The Pain of the World and the Purposes of God.
But I did not focus mainly on Nepal. Nepal was kind of like a gargantuan backdrop giving seriousness. I tried to talk about the suffering that all of us will necessarily taste as we walk through a world of futility and corruption and the situation in the world at the moment simply provided the kind of seriousness and weight that made everything feel more heavy. It was an unusual moment. That is probably why I felt like addressing this topic here. It felt unusual. There was an unusual hush upon the people.
So my prayer right now for those listening to this podcast — and who knows between the time we are recording and the time they listen, another huge calamity may have happened. My prayer is that people would have great compassion and great prayerfulness and great generosity and great biblical thoughtfulness and great wisdom about what to say and when to say it.