Job: When the Righteous Suffer, Q & A

Desiring God 2008 Regional Conference | Austin

We know that God, neither authors nor commits sin, yet God is sovereign over sin. What language should we use to talk about this? Is it that he permits, he causes, he ordains, he allows, or he plans?

I think all of those are totally good to use in different settings. God is holy, holy, holy. He is thrice holy. That’s the only attribute of him that is given in those ways. Isaiah 6:3 says:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
     the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Therefore, woe to me if I in any way sully his holiness by attributing to him anything unholy.

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

Therefore, I know that when I write a book like Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ, I run right up to the edge of that danger, because in that book I argue that the most spectacular sins in the world are all — choose your words — ordained by God, planned by God, permitted by God, allowed by God. The word “caused” is a little dangerous, but if you qualify it and say that God is the first cause behind secondary causes, you can use it. So yes, I do believe that’s what the Bible teaches. I’ll give you a verse or two.

The story of Joseph is one of the most pastorally helpful stories in the Bible because here are the things that go bad for Joseph from the Old Testament. He’s sold into slavery. He’s lied about by Potiphar’s wife. He’s left in jail for two years, and there is a period of about 13 years where everything seems to be going wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. He must have been crying out, “I’m being faithful and things are going bad.” And it all got started with the sins of his brothers by lying about him, throwing him into a pit, and selling into slavery. That was all sin. And then at the end of the story, you remember, his brothers come down, they get reconciled, and they’re afraid because now he’s king and they lied about him and they cheated him and they sold him into slavery. They’re terrified that he might take it out on them. And he says, “I’m not going to, I’m not God. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

Now some people take the next phrase to mean God used it for good. And that’s okay. It’s just not what this verse says. God does use evil for good. But this verse says, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” That’s what it says. You have two meanings, two intendings, two designings, two ordainings, and two purposings. Yours is evil, and God’s is good. But it’s the same event. He was sold into slavery, thrown into a pit, and lied about to get him into jail. All that is meant. God means something with that.

Here’s another thing to say. I love the language of permission. I think you find it in the Bible from time to time. If you only use the language of permission — God permits this, God permits that — it sounds like other people are really running things and he’s letting them happen. He might butt in every now and then, but basically somebody else is in charge of the world and God’s letting this and letting this and letting that. Here’s what makes all of God’s “lettings.” And I’m willing to use that. In fact, I like to use it in different contexts because I think it does give credence to the fact that Satan’s involved here with Job, for example. If God has total foreknowledge, which he does, though some people don’t believe it. The open theists today are arguing that he doesn’t, but he does. And if he does, then he knows precisely what will be done if he permits it to be done and what all of the effects of what he permits to be done will be done. And since he always knows that ahead of time, then to permit it is to plan it. It’s to permit with design and permit with purpose.

So when I use the word “permit” or “plan,” in no way do I imply God is somehow not, therefore, in charge, or not running the world. Because foreknown permissions with all the foreknown effects is a design. Here would be the biggest one. If in all eternity you have God and only God, and then God creates millions of angels. Now you have God and obedient angels. Then the biggest mystery in the universe is how Satan originated, how he fell. Free will gives zero explanation. It’s just a name put on a mystery. However it happened, God saw it coming and could have stopped it. We know he could have stopped it.

He’s stopping us from doing bad things all the time, and he stopped lots of angels from joining Satan, and one day he’s going to stop Satan entirely by throwing him into the lake of fire. God can stop Satan. He saw it coming, could have stopped, and didn’t stop it. Therefore, it’s a plan. And here’s one of the reasons we know it’s a plan, and this is one of the few things that’s been gripping me so much in the last two or three years. It’s a plan because the center of God’s plan is Christ crucified. It says in Revelation 13:8 that there’s a book in heaven, and the name of the book is “the book of the life of the Lamb who was slain.” Before the foundation of the world that book exists. So you have a book before you before the world was created called “the book of the life of the Lamb that was slain.” So what’s the plan? The plan is that Lucifer falls, Adam and Eve fall, sin spreads, and the Redeemer comes and magnifies the grace of God as the supreme revelation of history, and we sing about Christ forever and ever. That’s the plan.

If you don’t think that’s the plan, you have God playing catch up with Satan all day long, as if God was saying, “Oh, what did Satan do today? I’ll try to fix that. What did he do today? I’ll fix that. What did he do? I’ll fix that.” That’s not the way it is. So I like the word permits, but I don’t give to the word permit a meaning that says God isn’t designing in the permission or planning in the permission.

How much did the Holy Spirit have to do with Job’s ability to suffer well? Being an ancient believer, was his faith somehow different than ours?

Those are two different questions. I’ll try to answer both. The Holy Spirit had everything to do with Job’s ability to suffer well, but that’s not one of the main teachings of the book. That’s an inference that I draw from teachings elsewhere in the Bible. For example, Romans 8:7–9 says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

You have two kinds of human beings: those who are in the flesh and those who are in the Spirit in all of history, before and after Pentecost. This is my theology of the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit is there, and wherever you find a genuine saint, he has the Holy Spirit. He does not have the Holy Spirit in the sense that the Holy Spirit is there witnessing to the risen Christ, which is why John 7:39 says, “The Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Do you remember that text? And a lot of people say, “See? There was no Holy Spirit in the world before the resurrection,” because it says that in John 7:39.

But I don’t think it means that. It doesn’t even have a predicate nominative there. It says “the Holy Spirit was not . . .” and I fill in “present, witnessing to the risen Christ,” because the Christ wasn’t risen yet. The Old Testament saints did not have the Holy Spirit as a witness to Jesus because he didn’t witness to Jesus until Jesus came and was there to live and die and rise again to be witnessed to. And now the Holy Spirit’s main job is to be in us, witnessing to the reality and the power and the beauty and the superior worth of Jesus Christ. But he was there. Some people say he was only there upon believers. He came on believers like he came on David, so that David would pray, “Take not the Holy Spirit from me.” I don’t think he was just upon believers. He was in Caleb. Caleb had another spirit. That’s why Caleb bore witness the way he did, unlike the other 10 spies who were so chicken-hearted. He was bold because the Holy Spirit was in him.

Since it is, it is impossible for the mind of the flesh to please God and to submit to God, and Job clearly did please God and submitted to God. Therefore, he doesn’t have the mind of the flesh, he has the mind of the Spirit, which means according to Romans 8:9 that he has the Holy Spirit. So that’s my answer to question number one. The Holy Spirit was the means by which God preserved Job from completely sinking into unbelief.

The second part of the question was, being an ancient believer, was his faith somehow different than ours? Yes and no. No, in that the nature of the soul experience of faith is faith. Wherever it happens, it’s the same. It’s trust, it’s reliance, and it’s being satisfied. Now there’s where the difference comes. They didn’t know about Jesus, they didn’t know about the cross, and they didn’t know about the atonement in fullness. Some of them had glimpses like Isaiah 53, but by and large what they trusted were the promises of God.

In ways they couldn’t understand, they believed their sin problem would be dealt with and all things would work together for their good. And they had varying glimpses. You read different parts of the Old Testament and you feel like, “They didn’t have a very clear picture there of the afterlife, they didn’t have a clear picture of the resurrection,” and so on. But others had greater glimpses. But what they had was whatever revelation they had about God’s reality and God’s grace and God’s work in the future, and they believed it, they trusted it, they rested in it, and they treasured him. So it’s the same as an experience, but it’s different in its content, in its knowledge.

Let me take this opportunity to say something about the nature of faith because this is just huge. Until you come to terms with how deep and rich and wide and great the nature of saving faith is, you will have a very hard time explaining why it is that justified sinners really do become sanctified by faith alone, instead of being justified by faith and then sanctified by works. The reason we’re not justified by faith alone and sanctified by works is because the faith that justifies is of such a nature that it kills sin, though not perfectly. And the way it kills sin is that it first embraces Christ as a redeemer so that our conscience is cleansed, our future is secured, our guilt is taken away, and alien righteousness is imputed to us. The wrath of God is removed and we are forever safe and secure and without condemnation in Jesus. That’s the beginning and the glory out of which we now live.

But when the devil comes to you with some pornography or some quick buy-ins to the stock market, and he’s going to tempt you with greed and covetousness and whatever, how does saving faith kill that? It kills it because saving faith is seeing Christ as supremely valuable, so that when you measure Christ and what you have in him against what is being offered you by the devil, Christ is superior. That’s what faith is.

Faith trusts, embraces, receives, and treasures Christ as more valuable than what the devil is offering you, which is why we fight the fight of faith every day of our lives. The way to fight to be a good person is not to get your list out and say, “Okay, 10 commandments. God said do it, and if I don’t do it, I go to hell.” Yeah, don’t do that. The way to do it is to say, “God, do I love you? Do I treasure you? Are you this precious to me?” Which means that the fight against pornography, the fight against greed, the fight against fear, and the fight against anger is mainly a fight to know God. It’s mainly a fight to see Christ crucified as beautiful, which is why life totally changes when you get into this Christian Hedonism paradigm where sin is defeated because you have promises that are superior to the promises of sin and you cultivate a pure love of those promises. The reason we don’t sin is because sin is such a secondary, lousy, no-count payoff, and God is such a huge, blue-chip, high-yield payoff.

We’re hedonists through and through, and the essence of evil is that “my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). That’s evil. Go to the fountain for your joy. Don’t go to the devil and sin for your joy.

How could Satan come into God’s presence? Does he still come before God? Was God the one who sovereignly initiated Satan to come before him in the first place? How should we view Satan’s involvement in our own lives?

This is about a theology of Satan. Those are very good questions. Let’s see if I can give bullet answers to them. “How could he come into God’s presence?” I assume you don’t mean walking or flying. What you do mean is God is holy and Satan stinks. That’s a good question. I would say it’s figurative, and spatial categories are metaphorical here. God doesn’t have any place to approach anyway. He doesn’t have a body. Satan in heaven probably doesn’t have any horns and a tail. He’s a spirit and God is a spirit. How do spirits approach each other when they don’t have any spatial categories? What does approach mean? There’s no here and there. What it means is there was a contact, and all I can say is the contact was okay. God didn’t get defiled, and he understood what Satan had to say. And all that is described in how they were trooping in before God. I don’t know how that happened. Did you know there are a lot of things I don’t know? Billions and billions and billions of things. I know almost nothing compared to what God knows and can do with regard to Satan. So maybe I should just say “I don’t know” to that first one.

Second, “Does he still come before God?” The best text I could take you to I think would be Luke 22:31–32, where Jesus says to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” I love that text. It pictures something similar to Job. Jesus says, “Satan has demanded to have you.” That’s 30 AD. I don’t think anything has happened that would mean that couldn’t happen today.

So today, this afternoon Satan could go (whatever go means) to God and say, “I would like to sift John Piper.” And pick your temptation or your trial. Maybe it would be more cancer, or the death of one of my children. Satan says, “I want to sift him.” And God can either say, “No, I’ve got other ways to test him today. You just go back to your place.” Or he might say, “Okay, this far and no farther.” I suspect it’s the latter every day. Are you tempted any day? I think Satan’s involved in all of those, and I think God is involved in all those. God is involved in letting him and holding him back, letting him in and holding him back. No temptation, no test will befall you that is not common to man, and God will keep you. God will keep the leash on the lion. He prowls around like a roaring lion to get somebody to devour, and God will let him out and pull him in just like that all day long. So yes, I think he still does that sort of thing.

“Was God the one who sovereignly initiated Satan to come before him in the first place?” That’s tricky. I think probably the ultimate answer to that question is yes. In other words, he could have prevented from rising up in Satan’s mind the idea of going after Job. He could have prevented that idea from even rising in Satan’s mind, and so the fact that it rose was of God.

Last one here, “How should we view Satan’s involvement in our own lives?” He’s a liar and he’s a murderer and he uses, in his lying, two weapons to destroy your faith. He’s doing this right now and he’ll do it this afternoon. He does it with his minions. I don’t think he’s omnipresent, but he has demons everywhere doing his bidding, and they communicate. He has pleasure as his first weapon and he has pain as his second weapon. With pleasure he tempts you to believe that God is superfluous, and with pain, he tempts you to believe that God is evil and cruel and mean. And he uses whatever balance of pleasure and pain he can to try to destroy your superior delight in God and your trust in God.

In America, he’s mainly using pleasure, prosperity, and wealth. We are wealthy people, filthy wealthy. This building probably costs $20 million, this complex here, and so did ours. We’re wealthy and Satan would very happily spare you cancer and spare you a lost job if he could make you idolize money. He’d be so happy for you to live your whole life without a single disease if he could just get you to love pleasure more than you love God. And therefore, be very thankful when God pulls the plug on that temptation and sends you some trouble. There’s a lot more that could be said to that question. Just get out your concordance, look up “devil” and “Satan” and answer it for yourself. It’s all over the New Testament.

Upon hearing the tragic news, Job fell on the ground and worshiped. What is involved in worshiping God in those moments? Repentance, tears, cries for help? Would it be wrong to express emotions of anger or discouragement or frustration in those moments?

Worship is any emotional or intellectual or physical response to God that manifests his superior worth. If tears are being shed, they should be tears through which and by which you are saying, “I really feel the pain of this loss, but I value, esteem, reverence, and trust you more. And these tears, with that valuing, testify to your worth.” If there were no tears, it would look as if there were no great loss, and therefore, his worth would not measure up high against that small loss. But if there are great tears, then this treasuring of him will be higher, and therefore, your tears are worship. When my mother was killed in 1974 in a bus accident in Israel, I got one of those phone calls that some of you have gotten and dread to get. And my brother-in-law said, “Hi, Johnny, I’ve got some bad news for you. Your mother was killed this afternoon in a bus accident, and your dad is seriously injured and they don’t know if he’s going to make it.”

I asked for details and then hung up, told Noël what happened, and walked back to the bedroom, knelt down, and cried for two hours. I’ve never cried more in my life, and God came powerfully. No way did I try to hold back the tears as though this was going to make God look bad, because inside everything in me was rising up in worship. I prayed, “The best 28 years I’ve ever had in my life was with Ruth Piper, glory to God for such a mom. Thank you, thank you for her, and thank you that she didn’t suffer. Just like that, she was gone into the presence of Jesus. Thank you for daddy, hold on to daddy, don’t let him die, oh God.” My heart was never angry at God. So the answer to that first one is yes repentance, yes tears, and yes cries for help.

That’s beautiful. That’s all worship. Any emotional, physical, intellectual response that calls attention to the worth of God, and many of those which call attention to the worth of what was lost call attention to the worth of God because you’re still holding on to him, even though you lost it. That’s the way it works. Would it be wrong to express emotions of anger? Now I’m going to pick the words apart here. The word “express” there is tricky. I’m going to substitute the word “have” and say yes, it would be wrong. It is always, always, always wrong to be angry at God, period. It is never right to be angry at God. There is no possible justification for anger at God. Now what the question said is, would it be wrong to express the emotions of anger to God? That’s not the same question, is it? You have two issues. You shouldn’t feel it, but you do. Now what? You have hypocrisy. Why compound your sin? God doesn’t like hypocrisy and he doesn’t like you to get mad at him. You’ve blown it on the first one, so don’t blow it on the second one.

Tell him, “I’m mad and I know I shouldn’t be. I’m scared that I’m mad.” Do you hear that now? Because when I put the emphasis on the first one, so many people hear me as saying, “Be a hypocrite.” I’ve preached this and people come up to me after and say, “So you’re saying it’s wrong to tell God how you feel?” I didn’t say that. It’s always right to tell God how you feel, even if you tell him — this is a quote from Dan Barker — to go to hell. If that’s what you’re feeling, he knows it. You don’t add anything to his information by telling him so. Now if others hear you, you’ve got another issue going on. But that’s not what the question is about. Telling him about discouragement, that’s not wrong. There are measures of discouragement and measures of frustration. Sometimes they rise, I think, to the level of sin, and sometimes they don’t. But I think anger is the big one there.

The Bible is written to help us not get angry at God. It’s written to help us not be discouraged with God. It’s written to help us not be frustrated with God, and therefore, we’re in a battle every day to read our Bibles, love our Bibles, believe our Bibles and get over these bad emotions. Get over them, move beyond them, and repent of them. We should try. We should plead with him for his help.

Some people receive comfort from the truth that God reigns over suffering, but many sincere believers and most unbelievers don’t even have a category for this. How do you love people and “weep with those who weep,” and at the same time speak theological truth into their suffering at the risk of sounding callous or uncaring?

Tone and timing in the delivery of truth is everything. Regarding timing, there is a time for everything under heaven. I just read Ecclesiastes 3 a week or so ago. There’s a time for embracing, a time to refrain from embracing, a time for anger and a time for joy, a time for killing and a time for making alive. There’s a time for rebuking, a time for keeping your mouth shut. A time for silence. The first seven days of Job’s friends were their golden moment. They didn’t say anything. So pastorally, you need wisdom as to what this person needs. I got a phone call from a good friend of mine that his son’s 23-year-old wife was killed in a car accident and they lived in my town and he lived in another city. And he was just weeping and weeping on the telephone, and he asked, “Would you go? Would you go? I think it just happened an hour ago. Would you go?” So I found him at the medical examiner’s office. It’s a horrible place. You don’t want to go to the medical examiner’s office. It’s cold, it’s marble, and it’s a slab. It’s where you bring the dead people before they go to the mortuary and bring the dead people.

So I walked in and there he sat with his brother and his brother’s wife and a friend. I hadn’t seen her yet. She was in the back on a slab, dead. She was 23 years old, and they had been married four months. I know some truth here. I know Job. I know all things worked together for good. All I did was sit down beside him and didn’t say a word. He took my hand and I just waited. What am I doing? I’m praying. I’m trying to discern the moment. I don’t know what would help right now. I don’t know what would help. I don’t know. I don’t know where he is spiritually even. I’m not close to this young man. I don’t even know if he’s believing right now, or if he’s unbelieving. I don’t know anything. I can’t just blunder in there. I don’t know anything. The more you know, the more likely you can say something helpful. I’ve got colleagues that are so on the same wavelength theologically with me that I know everything they think about everything, and they know everything I think. And that silence is going to mean something very different than this uncertain silence.

But that’s what you do. You wait and you discern. We were all waiting just to see if they were going to let us go back. I had never been in this room before. I just bent over and just started praying. I just prayed. I didn’t say anything and I prayed for help. I prayed for strength. I prayed, “Oh God, God. Oh God, help him.” That’s all. Whatever that would look like, help him. There’s a lot more that happened that night. But that gives you the idea of what I mean by timing and then tone. It’s so sad that some people don’t seem to ever sound like they’re moved. It just all sounds computerized, like the voice on a train or an airport, only worse. So don’t be a computer, don’t just come in and grind it out. If God doesn’t give you a pastoral tone, keep your mouth shut.

If you’re not moved, probably just don’t talk. You have to be there. Weep with those who weep. You have a body like theirs, a little empathy creates movement in your soul and that movement will sound a certain way and it will fit the moment. There will come a time, sometimes early, sometimes late, when you say the big truths. Those who believe in the sovereignty of God are very often mocked. I read one of the mockeries to you in one of the earlier sessions about banal, simple, stupid platitudes like “everything works together for good.” Well to me, Romans 8:28 is not a platitude. It is one of the most glorious sentences that exist in any language anywhere in the history of the universe. It’s glorious, which means it shouldn’t be thrown around lightly. You say it at the right time and in the right tone, and it’s always true for God’s children, and God’s children do need to hear it. But they can hear it in certain times better than other times.

In what way is Job blameless? What does it mean for the righteous to suffer when there are none righteous before God?

That’s an excellent question. Clearly in the New Testament and the Old Testament, the words “righteous” and the “blameless” are used for imperfect people. The English word blameless does sound perfectionistic, I admit it. It sounds like you don’t have any blame, none. It doesn’t mean that. I’m sorry we have to use the word, maybe we shouldn’t use the word. The Psalms are most helpful here. If you just read contexts, take Psalm 32 for example and read about the righteous, you find out they’re sinners, which creates in the Old Testament a strain for the New Testament, doesn’t it? If you think through the meaning of how righteousness and sin are intermingled and how they’re talked about in the Old Testament, it pleads for the cross. It pleads for justification. It is a foretaste of what Christ is going to do when he makes us both simultaneously sinner and justified.

So the righteous in the Old Testament who are sinners are people who trust in God and are counted as righteous, even though they still have sin in their lives. I really do believe that you can demonstrate that, especially from the Psalms. You can push on them and say, “Okay, what do you mean by ‘righteous’ if this person is sinning?” And the parallelisms in the poetry of the Psalms show that one of the meanings of this righteous is that they cleave to God, they trust God, they hold fast to God, they lean on grace, and they lean on mercy. And therefore, God is counting them as his own and as right with him, even though they’re sinners. And that’s why it just can’t be that blameless means perfect. It can’t be because God demands perfection. If you sin at one point, you are guilty of all, the Bible says. And therefore, this sinner is totally guilty before God and he’s righteous. That demands Christ crucified and the doctrine of justification by faith.

So blameless means that Job keeps short accounts. When he sins, he knows he sins, he hates his sin, and he renounces his sin. He turns to God for forgiveness, he offers his sacrifice, he gets right with God, and no blame is kept against him. Then he does it again the next day and the next day and the next day.

How do I teach my children about God’s mercy and goodness in suffering when to date our family has suffered very little? How do we make sure there is ballast in their boats?

That’s absolutely a super crucial question. The way you do it is by reading the whole Bible to them because the Bible is filled with horrors, terrible stories, suffering, death, treachery, betrayal, deceit, and lies. And you read the whole Bible with all of its terrible stories. And as you’re reading them you say, “That’s the way the world is. That’s the way people are. And look at the grace of God. And someday these kinds of things are going to happen to you and to me.” And you tell them the stories.

And then the second thing you do is you watch the news with them. Or you go online and you talk about the plane that crashed. Were there any Christians on that plane? Probably. Were there any children on that plane? Probably. What if you had been on that plane? Would you be ready? You just deal with reality. It doesn’t have to happen right in the home for it to happen in their minds. And they got eyes. They wonder and they bring stories home from school. They might say, “Jan is having brain surgery, mommy.” You deal with the life where they are and you teach them the whole theology of God’s sovereignty. You know, don’t you, children will embrace the sovereignty of God immediately? It’s only adults that have problems with the sovereignty of God. If you tell a 4-year-old God totally controls the world and he’d knock Satan out like Goliath gets knocked out, they’ll love it, especially boys. They love God to be strong. Little girls and little boys have no problem with God being totally strong, stronger than the devil, stronger than anybody, to take care of us.

And then you introduce the thought, “What does it mean when you do get sick and when the car accident does happen?” And then you introduce the complexities of God’s sovereignty and how he still controls everything, and then you show them how he uses suffering. Little children are capable of learning what I’ve been teaching here quickly and deeply. They won’t put up nearly the objections that your Sunday school class will have if you just give them the whole ball of wax and use children-level analogies and examples. They will embrace it and then they’ll be much more ready when they die of leukemia at age 11 than they would’ve been had you not helped them be ready. “How do we make sure that there’s ballast in their boats?”

What do you say today in this moment to these people at the conference who are suffering? We just lost our infant child. We can hardly bear the ache. God seems so distant amidst the pain.

I am glad you used the word “seems.” That’s the first thing I would say. I’m assuming you’re a believer. It sounds that way. He isn’t distant. Underneath, feel them or not feel them, are the everlasting arms. Our feelings are not good measures at this moment of his nearness. Let the Bible be the measure. And the Bible says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He says, “I will be with you to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He will stick closer to you than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). Hold fast to what you know from the Scriptures until the darkness lifts. It will, it will. God plus grace plus time is a great healer.

How much time? I met a man in Orlando one time whose son was born with a disability to the effect that he would never have a mind more intelligent than a 18-month-old. When I met him, the boy was in a wheelchair in a van and just smiled all the time. He was years old. He said, “It took us about eight years to come to terms with that.” God plus grace plus time. And he said, “Now we would not trade him for any son. His ministry at our church in this wheelchair with his smiles is incomprehensibly great. He is doing things that no other person on the planet could do.”

Our lives are filled with trouble and difficulty. So give people time and give yourself time. When an amputation happens, every loss is like that. This is the most helpful analogy for me. When my mother died, a human being was amputated from my soul. Now amputations heal. They may take a year to heal or two years to heal if they were serious amputations. They heal, and at a point they’re not sensitive anymore. You can touch the wound. I had surgery for my prostate cancer. They made six holes in my belly here with one of those things, and one of them is still tender right here. That’s two years later. So for two years, three years, or whatever, the amputation is tender.

But what never changes is that you try to scratch the knuckle of the amputated arm and it’s not there. She’ll always be missing. I still ask her questions about my sons that she never was there to answer. I can cry in a minute over my mother. Isn’t that strange? It’s been 34 years. But it healed. It healed.

How do I help my disabled child understand God’s goodness in suffering when he bears not only the physical pain, but also the emotional pain of ridicule from peers?

There is a woman named Vicki Anderson who is a good friend that was born with a condition that I can’t pronounce and probably has had 20 or 30 surgeries in her life to become as remarkably presentable as she is today. There were triumphs and horrors in her upbringing, especially disfigurements. It’s disfigurements that make it so hard for a child because children are brutal to each other.

The day when she had her last surgery and they did the best they could, she went out of the room, looked at herself in the mirror, and resolved, “I’m not having any more surgeries. I’m done. I don’t care. It’s too painful.” She got in the car with her mother and headed home. Her mother pulled in to some store. She started to get out and she saw the door open on the other side. This had never happened before. Got out and she knew a new day had dawned. She walked right into the store. And from that day on, Vicki has been one of the most bold, strong lovers of the sovereignty of God that I’ve ever known. And life has not been easy for her. I think you should preach to this child that she’s not an accident. Now you have problems when you do that because she’s going to say, “Why did he make me this way?” But that’s better than saying, “God didn’t have anything to do with this and he can’t use his sovereignty to make much of it either.”

If you know that God is sovereign and can control this coming into being, he can now make you useful. He can show you why, and he can give you a ministry. That’s easier said than done, I know.

My unsaved friend’s suffering is pushing her away from God. What should I do?

Take her to Christ. Take her to the cross. That’s where all of us go. She needs the gospel. She doesn’t need a theodicy right now. She doesn’t need mainly a big, overarching Job picture of why there’s evil in the world. She needs the gospel for her own soul. And the gospel, interestingly, is a place of unbelievable suffering. Show her that the Son of God suffered more than her husband is suffering and did it so that she would believe and have hope for herself and her husband.

My wife and two young daughters were tragically killed. Years later I’m still not sure about God’s specific good purposes in doing that. What should I do?

Neither am I sure. I can think of a dozen good reasons why my mother should not have been taken, and you can think of 100 good reasons why your wife and daughter should not have been taken. We do not know the specific good purposes of God. There are a few things that the Lord reveals to us in his word about why pain comes into our life, a few. But there are thousands of reasons for things that he does not reveal to us and that we do not know. The question is, “What should I do?” And the answer to that is to immerse yourself in God’s goodness and kindness. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Therefore, earnestly, like a baby, desire the sincere spiritual milk of the word that by it you might grow up into salvation.

In my most painful moments, there’s only one place I go. I go to the Bible. It is so magnificently suited to all my needs. It is a rock under my feet. It’s water to my thirsty soul. It’s honey for my craving for sweetness. It’s a compass through the thickets of so many trees. It’s a bell sounding out in the middle of the night. It’s a lightning bolt into the darkness of my days. There is no other place to go than to God through his word because John Piper does not have the answers for your life. God has the answers, and they are in the Bible. The ones that you need are there. The ones that you want, you may not have until you meet him face-to-face to find out. But in the Bible you will get mighty answers.