A Message by John Piper given May 2017 to the Suwon Central Baptist Church | Suwon, Korea
So we ask: “Why, Lord? Why is the world you made like this? If you are God why is this world so full of terror and trouble?”
We turn now from wrong arguments for the existence of evil in the world to the reasons the Bible gives for why there is a world like ours.
1. The reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is because God planned the history of redemption, and then permitted sin to enter the world through our first parents Adam and Eve.
In 2 Timothy 1:9 the apostle Paul said, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
In other words, before there was any world, or any sin in the world that needed grace, God planned saving grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That means that God knew Adam would sin. He was already planning how he would save us.
Therefore, Adam’s sin was no surprise to God. Permitting that sin was part of God’s plan so that God could reveal his mercy and grace and justice and wrath and patience and wisdom in ways that could have never been revealed, if there were no sin, and no Savior, and no history of salvation.
God’s aim in this fallen world is that he be known more fully than he could have been known any other way, because knowing God most fully is what it means for us to be most fully loved. If you turn to Christ, you will discover in God more wonders of grace and justice in this fallen world than could be imagined in any other world.
2. The reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is because God subjected the natural world to futility.
“Physical pain is God’s trumpet blast to tell us that something is dreadfully wrong in the world.”
That is, God put the physical world under a curse so that the physical horrors we see around us in diseases and calamities would become a vivid picture of how horrible sin is. In other words, physical evil is a signpost pointing to the horrors of moral evil.
Listen to Romans 8:18–21:
The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
In other words, God subjected the creation to futility and bondage to decay and misery and death. He disordered the natural world because of the disorder of the moral and spiritual world — that is because of sin. In our present condition blinded by sin and dishonoring God every day, we cannot see or feel how repugnant sin is. Hardly anyone in the world feels the horror that our sin is against God is.
But Oh, how we feel our physical pain! Physical pain is God’s trumpet blast to tell us that something is dreadfully wrong in the world. Diseases and deformities are God’s pictures in the physical realm of what sin is like in the spiritual realm. That is true even though some of the most godly people bear those deformities. Calamities are God’s previews of what sin deserves and will one day receive in judgment a thousand times worse. They are warnings.
Oh, that we could all see and feel how repugnant, how offensive, how abominable it is to treat our Maker with contempt, to ignore him, and distrust him, and demean him, and give him less attention in our hearts than we do tires on our cars.
We must see this, and feel this, or we will not turn to Christ for salvation from the ugliness of sin. We may want to escape the penalty of sin. But will we see and hate the ugliness of sin, if we do not see the ugliness of its image in physical pain?
Therefore, God mercifully, shouts to us in our sicknesses and pain and calamities: Wake up! Sin is like this! Sin leads to things like this (see also Revelation 9:20; Revelation 16:9, 11). The natural world full of horrors that wake us up from dream world of thinking sin is no big deal. It is a horrifically big deal. And all the physical pain in the world points to that.
3. The reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is so that followers of Christ can experience and display this truth: Jesus Christ is more precious and more satisfying than all the pleasures and comforts and treasures of this world.
The apostle Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). The superior worth of Christ is magnified because in all Paul’s losses, he experiences Christ as all-satisfying.
The prophet Habakkuk said it with amazing and painful beauty:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17–18)
Famines, pestilence, persecution — these happen so that the world might see in the followers of Jesus, and discover for themselves, that God made us for himself and that he is our “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4), and “at his right hand are pleasures for every more” (Psalm 16:11). The losses of life are meant to wean us off the poisonous pleasures of the world and lure us to Christ as our everlasting joy. The sorrows of the world make it possible for us to rejoice in sorrow and show that Jesus is more valuable than all the world.
4. Finally, the reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is to make a place for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to suffer and die for sinners.
The reason there is terror is so that Christ could be terrorized. The reason there is trouble so that Christ could be troubled. The reason there is pain is so that Christ could feel pain. This is the world God prepared for the suffering and death of his Son. This is the world where God made the greatest display of his love in the suffering of his Son.
Romans 5:8: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” All his suffering was the plan of God to reveal redeeming love. The sovereignty of God, the evil of the world and the love of God meet at the cross of Christ.
Listen to this amazing statement from Acts 4:27–28 about God’s plan for the suffering of his Son — for you!
Truly in this city [Jerusalem] there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
All the scheming, all the flogging, all the spitting, all the beating with rods, all the mockery, all the abandonment by his friends, all the thorns in his head, all the nails in his hands and feet, the sword in his side, weight of the sins of the world — all of it according to God’s plan. For you. In other words, none of the evil took God by surprise. It was appointed for his Son. It was to show the depth of his love for us his people.
Evil Exists to Display God’s Greatness
In summary then, the pain and evil of this world do not exist because God is powerless or evil. He is, in fact sovereign and righteous. The reason such a painful and evil world as ours exists is this:
This world of pain and suffering exists because God planned from eternity to permit this so that we could know the fullness of God’s justice and power and wrath and patience, and grace and love which we would not have known without such a world.
This world of pain and suffering exists because the horrors of physical evil and suffering are a parable of moral and spiritual evil — a parable of sin. And we need the parable because we don’t know and feel how ugly and outrageous our sin is.
This world of pain and suffering exists because the suffering and losses of this world show how precious Christ is when God’s people are willing to suffering anything to have Christ.
This world of pain and suffering exists because without such a world Christ could not have died to show us the greatness of the love of God for sinners.
God’s deepest answer to terrorism and calamity and death in this world is that God intended to have a theater for the suffering and death of his Son. He entered into our fallen world of sin and misery and death. He bore in himself the cause of it all — sin. And he bought by his death the cure for it all — forgiveness and everlasting joy in the age to come.
And so on his behalf, I invite you — I urge you — to trust him in all his sovereign goodness, as your Savior and your Lord and the supreme Treasure of your life.
This is not an absurd or meaningless world. It exists to make plain the horrors of the sinful heart and the wonders of the sovereign Christ. If you embrace him as the greatest Treasure, God will set you free from bitterness and make you an emissary of his love.
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, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.