What Are God’s Purposes in a Recession?
2020 — the year of the “Great Lockdown,” leading to what some are now calling the “Great Coronavirus Recession.” It was triggered by a strategic wager: sacrifice economic momentum in order to physically distance people, all with the goal of starving and killing off a spreading virus. It was a huge gamble and it hurt.
Our Great Coronavirus Recession has been compared to the Great Recession of 2007–2009, even to the Great Depression of 1929–1933. Looking forward, some think the economy will bounce back to normal as soon as the virus is under control. Others are less optimistic and see a long road ahead. But the recession is here, and it will remain until God is done with it.
We talked about this a couple of weeks back when I mentioned John Piper preached a sermon titled “What Is the Recession For?” He preached it on February 1, 2009. The Dow had been dropping but had not yet bottomed out. The entire sermon is worth returning to, but I especially want you to hear the beginning of that sermon. Here’s Pastor John.
Father, our hearts’ desire now is that we not waste this recession. Forbid that we would let it go by with a preoccupation of anxiety or grumbling or clever financial maneuvering. O God, grant, I pray, that our ears would be open to what you are saying to the world, in France, in Tokyo, in New York, in Brasília. May our eyes be open to what you are saying and doing. Don’t let us sleep through the recession. May we learn, may we grow, may we hear, may we know your plan. Come, be our teacher in these days. I pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.
Sovereign over Recession
This is a message about the recession and God’s purposes in it. And when I use the term recession, I don’t have any careful, sophisticated definition in mind. I don’t even know what the definition of a recession is. I just hear it on the radio, so I think I know what they’re talking about.
“God is up to billions and billions of things that we won’t know about till we get to heaven.”
I mean the financial setbacks like business slowdown, decreasing profits, massive layoffs, joblessness, thousands of foreclosures, personal and business bankruptcies, loss of retirement funds. I got a letter from the denomination today — my little white sheet — 29.97 percent lower than the last white sheet I got from the retirement people at the denomination. That’s the sort of thing I mean by recession. And now more and more, there are social and political upheavals that will accompany it. Witness France, for example, and probably more on the way.
God is sovereign, which is why you can speak in terms of purposes. God is sovereign over these things. He foresees them all. He causes or permits them all. And when he foresees and he causes or permits, it is always by design. So, whatever comes to pass comes to pass by God’s design, however it comes to pass.
- “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” — in Las Vegas (Proverbs 16:33).
- “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” — on Wall Street (Proverbs 19:21).
- “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples” — in Switzerland (Psalm 33:10).
- The Lord declares “the end from the beginning . . . saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” — everywhere (Isaiah 46:10).
So, this is the foundation of understanding that we have when we ask, “God, what are you up to today?” What are the purposes of God in the recession? And we’re not left without an answer.
Five Purposes of God in Financial Trouble
We have many answers, but not all of them. God is up to billions and billions of things that you don’t know about, I don’t know about, and we won’t know about till we get to heaven. We trust him for those, but he’s up to five or six or a hundred things that we do know about because they’re in the Bible.
So, those are the ones I want to talk about, because those are the ones we have some authority to talk about, and they’re not unclear. I have time, perhaps, to do five. Here they are. I’ll state them and then we’ll unpack them.
1. He intends in this recession to expose hidden sin and to bring us to repentance and cleansing.
2. He intends to wake us up — I’m thinking of us in the West in particular — to the constant and desperate condition of the developing world, where they always have mega recession and nothing else.
3. He intends to relocate the roots of our joy in his grace, not in our goods; in his mercy, not in our money; in his worth, not in our wealth.
4. He intends to advance his saving mission in the world and spread the gospel like wildfire and grow his church precisely at a time when they have the least resources to do it.
5. He intends for the church to care for its hurting members, and to grow in the gift of love, so that no one is in need in the church of Jesus Christ. Period.