Daily Light – February 4, 2020

Let Not Violence Entertain You

Article by Dr. Kathryn Butler, Regular Contributor to desiringGod.org, and an author.

I trusted the friend who’d recommended the movie. When the opening scene depicted a murder in graphic detail, I shot her a nervous glance. A chase sequence ensued, with innocent bystanders slashed and bludgeoned. Then the vigilante protagonist tortured the villain with pliers.

My friend, enrapt, elbows on her knees, leaned toward the screen as I shrank into the couch. The directors had crafted a retribution narrative designed to stir up adrenaline. We were supposed to glory in the vengeance and the gore, to cheer with the disarticulation of each bloodied finger. They’d disguised brutality as entertainment.

“Please turn it off,” I blurted.

My friend laughed, assuming I was joking. When I repeated my plea, her eyes widened.

“You’re a trauma surgeon!” she cried. “Surely, you’ve seen worse than this!”

I gritted my teeth. I hadn’t seen worse, but I’d seen more. Blood-and-guts movies like this didn’t reveal the full aftermath of tragedy. They didn’t explore how blades, shrapnel, and shattered windshields meant grieving wives and orphaned sons. They didn’t elaborate on the language of wound edges, how the ragged tissue in blast injuries guaranteed months of future surgeries, how the clean margins of a bullet wound could hide a death sentence.

I’d seen the anguish that lingered among the heartbroken long after we’d cleaned the blood from the trauma bay. I’d witnessed the power of a trigger pull to demolish lives.

“I’ve seen enough,” I said. “Please turn it off.”

Does Violent Media Harm Our Kids?

Debates about violence in the media have broiled in the scientific community for over half a century. A decade ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued its statement alerting parents and pediatricians to a link between violent media and aggressive thoughts. Studies since then have reinforced their concerns, correlating violent film and video game exposure in young people with anger, desensitization to real-world violence, and diminished compassion.

And yet, while ardent, opinions on this issue aren’t unanimous. Some critics accuse organizations like the AAP of proclaiming unfounded conclusions. In particular, they note that most studies on violent content have focused on thoughts and feelings elicited in the laboratory, with comparatively little data about how media exposure affects real life behavior. Although watching gory movies can stir up aggressive thoughts, no study proves that these thoughts inspire violence against others. Without such data, skeptics argue, stern warnings about media are unsubstantiated.

The contentiousness in the medical community spills over into the public sector. Last year, when a series of high-profile shootings stunned the nation, politicians cited movies and video games as potential contributors. The backlash was swift and vehement, with protests riddling the internet. After the assaults, Universal Studios canceled release of its horror film The Hunt to avoid inflicting further grief. A few months later, the film Joker sparked controversy for its potential to inspire copycat killers. The dispute churns on, with tempers flaring on either side.

When Entertainment Harms Love

How does a disciple of Christ respond to this controversy? When our screens offer atrocities as entertainment, do we watch, or should we look away?

While no data links violent media to malicious actions, the current evidence should still give us pause. One systematic review states the following: “Violent media can also desensitize people to violence, making them less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.” Even if a bloody scene in a film doesn’t inspire us to commit violence, it can deaden compassion.

As followers of Christ, this should grab our attention. Our two primary calls as disciples are to love God, and to love our neighbors:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37–40)

Loving neighbors requires that we view others as image-bearers, infused with inherent worth and dignity. We’re called to extend compassion toward those who, like us, buckle beneath the burden of sin and cry out for help. As Christ loved us, so we also are to love one another (John 13:34–35). As the apostle John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for others. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:16–17).

When we indulge in gratuitous violence on screen, we risk detaching ourselves from the plights of our suffering brothers and sisters. We threaten our ability to love them. We exchange open hearts for a perverse CGI thrill.

Pain After the Credits

Not all media violence corrupts. When designed to convict, rather than to entertain, cinematic realism can confront us with our own depravity. Films that depict war truthfully, unveiling its power to destroy both body and soul, can unsettle us into contemplation, and emphasize our need for a savior. When approached with honesty and sensitivity, rather than recklessness, realistic film can prod us to repentance.

Too often, however, films exploit brutality, rather than condemn it. They treat it as a forbidden fruit, a rousing spectacle, rather than as sin unleashed. While graphics technology depicts exploding tissue and splattered blood in unprecedented relief, they gloss over the impact of such travesties on the soul, mind, and heart.

They don’t explore what any clinician in an emergency department knows: that violence leaves children maimed, and infants fatherless. That the easy pull of a trigger afflicts the grieving for decades. That a single outburst of anger can destroy the lives of people who love, and dream, and hope, not just for a moment, but for generations. That rather than cause for excitement, inflicted wounds are signatures of evil: God’s workmanship torn open, the Adversary’s handiwork in flesh and blood.

How to Know What to Watch

For guidance when we gaze upon media, be it film, video games, or print, we can turn to Philippians 4:8. In a beautiful exposition of discernment, Paul advises, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.”

When we watch a violent film, does it elaborate upon what is honorable and true? Does it reflect what is pure, lovely, and commendable? Can we discern excellence in its frames?

Do its unsettling images convict us, and drive us to repentance? Do they enlighten us? Do they enhance our compassion for others? If the answer is “yes,” then with discerning eyes, minds turned to Christ, and hearts open to other, watch on. If the answer is “no,” then out of love for your neighbor, turn the screen off, and feast your eyes, instead, upon what is true and lovely — on what accords with God.

Kathryn Butler is a trauma and critical care surgeon turned writer and homeschooling mom. She is author of Between Life and Death: A Gospel-Centered Guide to End-of-Life Medical Care. She lives north of Boston, and writes at Oceans Rise.

Daily Light – February 3, 2020

Hell Will Not Unsettle Heaven

The Horror of Judgment and Promise of Joy

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

How many of us, if we’re honest, can barely stomach the thought of divine judgment?

We may genuinely believe the Bible, and acknowledge the reality (and rightness) of God’s wrath and an eternal hell, while mostly trying to avoid the subject. In a way, we tolerate God’s judgment, but our instinct is to turn away. At bottom, we may be a touch embarrassed by it. We celebrate Jesus’s self-sacrifice at the cross, but talk as little as possible about hell, even when sharing the gospel.

The idea that we might someday enjoy God’s justice and power on display in his judgment seems almost imponderable — much less the thought that we might actually appreciate him for it, even now.

Reconsidering Wrath

When we avoid hell, though, we miss deeper and wider vistas on the glory of God. We overlook, minimize, or neglect significant facets of who God is.

The wrath of God, and the reality of divine judgment, is one of Christianity’s most offensive claims today. Yet, as Tim Keller writes to skeptics, and to all of us, “If Christianity were the truth, it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place. Maybe this is the place, the Christian doctrine of divine judgment” (The Reason for God, 73).

What if our shyness about divine judgment actually erodes our joy in God, rather than preserving it? Healthy hearts, of course, are not warmed at the prospect of unbelieving loved ones facing omnipotent wrath for all eternity. And yet if we follow God’s revelation of himself to us in the Scriptures, many of us will find more joy to be had, even now, not only in his love and grace, but also in his wrath and justice. Take just two glimpses, among others, in pondering the possibility.

Judgment and Joy at the Exodus

In Exodus 14, God’s people were backed up against the Red Sea, and they could see Pharaoh’s army coming for them. They seemed trapped, and began to experience a collective panic. Speaking into their great fear, Moses promised, “The Lord will fight for you” (Exodus 14:14), and as Pharaoh’s army approached,

The angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. (Exodus 14:19–20)

God, manifesting his presence in the pillar, moves to stand between his people and their enemy. This is an act of war. He steps forward to shield his own. He puts himself in the middle. He says, in effect, I’ll take this fight. I’ll protect my people from their aggressors. Let me have the Egyptians.

DIVINE MAN OF WAR

Then, after he has parted the sea, and as the Israelites are walking across, with the Egyptians coming in after them, God ends the battle with terrifying force:

In the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” (Exodus 14:24–25)

Moses stretches out his hand, the waters return to their normal course, and Exodus 14:27 reports, “The Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea.” God indeed has fought for them. He took their battle. He utterly destroyed their oppressors, and so, they break into song to celebrate their God, that “he has triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:1). They sing, “The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name” (Exodus 15:3).

Exodus 14–15 will not be the last time we see God as a divine warrior against the enemies of his people (see also Deuteronomy 1:303:2220:4Joshua 23:102 Chronicles 20:1732:8Psalm 35:1Isaiah 30:3231:4Zechariah 14:3). However, note in particular here at the exodus: he is not only a “man of war,” but his people praise him for it. They don’t cringe. They’re not embarrassed. In fact, they delight in his wrath. They sing. They even dance (Exodus 15:20). Why? Because he destroyed their oppressors.

WRATH SERVES LOVE

The people celebrate God’s love (Exodus 15:13) — but not only his love. They also celebrate his fury against their enemies. They enjoy the protection of his wrath:

Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,
     your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
     you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. (Exodus 15:6–7)

In the same moment, in the same action, God’s people are the object of his undeserved love, while his enemies are the objects of his well-deserved judgment. God’s demonstration of his wrath toward the Egyptians makes known his steadfast love to his people. He may patiently endure their mistreatment for a time, but in the end, his love compels the execution of justice against the wicked. Divine wrath serves divine love, and in this way, love wins.

Judgment and Joy at the End

We not only look back, though, to the exodus, but also forward to the final judgment. More blood flows in the pages of Revelation than anywhere else in the Scriptures. And yet what is the defining tenor of God’s people from beginning to end? They worship (Revelation 4:105:147:1111:16; and more). Their joy in God overflows in praise.

As God’s horrific judgments fall one after another on the wicked, the torments of the damned do not diminish the delight of the saints in heaven. In fact, God’s judgments inspire the praises of his people. They rejoice, and know themselves recipients of his grace, precisely as his justice descends on those who endure in their rebellion against their Maker.

When the clouds roll back, and we peek into heaven, we see martyrs cry out for justice: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10). We hear an angelic call to worship “because the hour of his judgment has come” (Revelation 14:7). We hear yet another “song of Moses,” in which the saints in heaven proclaim, “All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4).

JUDGMENT AGAINST THEM, FOR YOU

The worship of the heavenly hosts commends the justice of God’s judgments:

Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
     for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
     and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve! (Revelation 16:5–6)

Heaven’s praises culminate in Revelation 18 and 19 with the final destruction of the wicked. God’s judgment displays his might for the watching eyes of his worshiping people (Revelation 18:8), and the destruction of Babylon summons his saints to worship:

Rejoice over her, O heaven,
     and you saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her! (Revelation 18:20)

“For you,” it says to the saints. Divine judgments against the wicked are for you.

HALLELUJAHS OVER HELL

The climactic moment comes in Revelation 19:1–6. Here, at the height of God’s judgment, his people break forth in four hallelujahs (verses 1, 3, 4, and 6) — the only four in this book transfixed on heaven’s worship. Why hallelujah now? God’s people praise him for the judgment through which he saves them:

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute [Babylon] who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants. (Revelation 19:1–2)

Then, once more, they cry, “Hallelujah!” and declare, “The smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 19:3).

The day is coming when the people of God will rejoice that his judgment has fallen on the wicked (so also Psalm 48:1158:1096:11–13). Then we will know in full what we perhaps only know and feel in part, for now.

What About the Wicked We Love?

Knowing that the eternal destruction of the wicked will not encumber, but in fact stir our eternal, ever-increasing joy in God Almighty does not mean we experience that joy fully now.

Jesus himself wept over the lostness of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37), and the apostle who knows these truths as well as any wrote of his “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for his unbelieving “kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2–3). Yet in the very same chapter, he was able to exult in wonder before the God who “desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:22–23). That Paul can hold together both such sorrow and such glory gives us a glimpse of what our souls might be capable of, even in this life.

The horrors of hell will not spoil the joy of Jesus’s bride. And imponderable as it may seem to us now in this disorienting in-between age, the decisive and eternal demonstration of God’s justice and power in the eternal destruction of the wicked will occasion the praise and joy of God’s people.

Joy in the End — and Now

We can indeed find eternal joy in the God of eternal wrath. In fact, we would not be able to find eternal, ever-increasing, ever-deepening joy in a God who was unjust. Deep down we all know we do not want a God who has no wrath and power. We do not want a God who affirms the wicked, or simply leaves them be, while they mount their eventual attack on God and his people. In the end, we do not ache for a God who stands idly by and doesn’t love his people enough to protect them from evil.

In the end, the shades of grey will be gone, and those outside of Christ will be revealed for who they are: rebels against their Creator. Haters of the God we love. Abhorrers of the Christ we adore, and of his bride. There is an all-stakes war going on for the cosmos, and we have ignored it to our own peril.

Our inability now to see how the eternal destruction of the wicked will one day soon be a cause for joy does not mean we will remain unable forever. In fact, we can grow and mature even in this age. And what we can’t feel now, we will soon enough. If not here in fresh tangible measures, then certainly in the age to come. We will not cringe. We will cry hallelujah. We will not dodge the truth but delight in it. No more will we wonder how these things can be so. We will know, and we will worship.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Daily Light – January 31, 2020

Ask God for the World

The Missing Prayer the Nations Need

Article by David Platt, Pastor, Washington, DC

God’s end goal in the world is that his glory would be known and enjoyed among all the nations. This reality is evident from cover to cover in the Bible, from the creation of man and woman in God’s image to the consummation of God’s kingdom in a multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language worshiping him for the salvation and satisfaction found in him (Genesis 1:26–28Revelation 7:9–17).

If this is the end goal of God — the spread of his glory among all the nations — then this should be the end goal of every Christian in whom the Spirit of God dwells. If the Spirit of God wants the world for Christ, and you have the Spirit of God living in you, then you will want the world for Christ. Global mission is apparently not a program in the church for a select few who are called in a special way. Global mission is the purpose for which we all have breath. Every Christian lives and dies for the spread of God’s glory among all the nations. This means that every Christian, at least in theory, prays for the spread of God’s glory among all the nations.

But what about in practice?

If Angels Heard Our Prayers

If someone were to listen in on your prayers over the last week, would they hear a zeal for God’s glory among all the nations? Would they hear concern for the more than two billion men, women, and children who are among groups still unreached by the gospel? Would they hear compassion for imprisoned and endangered brothers and sisters in persecuted countries?

Would they hear prayers for God’s mercy and justice amidst crises in Latin America or conflicts in the Middle East, or on behalf of the starving in sub-Saharan Africa, the trafficked in South Asia, and refugees forced from their homes around the world? Would they hear pleading for the health of the global church in places where it does exist and for missionaries who are planting the church where it does not exist?

If the answer to any (or all) of the above questions is “no,” I simply want to encourage you to incorporate praying for the world into your regular time alone with God. And I want to encourage you in this way because God has invited you to pray in this way. Well, to be more accurate, he has commanded you to pray in this way. But as with his other commands, this is an invitation from God to participate with him in what he is doing in the world.

How to Pray for the World

Just think of it: Before you or I get out of bed in the morning, we can pause and play a part in what God is doing in North Korea. Or North Africa. Among the unreached, among the persecuted, and among the suffering in places where we may never go and in the lives of people we may never meet (at least this side of heaven). And God has not only invited you and me to ask him for requests around the world; he has promised to answer our requests according to his word.

So how do we pray for the world according to God’s word? I offer the following as a biblical and practical guide to get you started:

Pray for the unreached among the nations.

Pray that God would relent of his wrath and show his mercy by saving people who are unreached right now. Pray that God would send laborers to them and from among them (Matthew 9:36–38). Pray that a similar pattern from the ministry of Paul and Barnabas through Acts 13–14 would emerge: that missionaries among the unreached would have confidence in God’s word (Acts 13:4–5), power from God’s Spirit (Acts 13:6–7), victory in spiritual warfare (Acts 13:10–12), success in gospel witness (Acts 13:12), peace with other believers, and favor with unbelievers (Acts 13:14–15).

Pray that the gospel would be clear through them (Acts 13:26–34) and that God would open hearts around them (Acts 13:48). Pray for their joy in the midst of suffering, kindness in the midst of slander (Acts 14:1–2), spiritual power (Acts 14:3), personal humility (Acts 14:4–18), patience (Acts 14:8–18), and perseverance (Acts 14:19–20). Pray that God would use them to make disciples and multiply churches (Acts 14:21–28).

For a useful tool to help in praying specifically for unreached people groups, I encourage you to download the “Unreached of the Day” app from Joshua Project. This is a simple, powerful way to incorporate prayer for the nations into your daily walk with God.

Pray for the persecuted among the nations.

Ask God to strengthen persecuted believers that they might hold fast to the hope God gives, to know the depth of God’s love for them, to experience boldness and strength from the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the gospel faithfully. Pray for persecutors to see and come to know Christ through the lives of those they are persecuting, and for justice (Acts 4:23–302 Timothy 1:8–14).

Pray for the poor among the nations.

Plead for provision of food for the hungry and for safe drinking water for the thirsty. For medical provision for children and adults suffering and dying of preventable diseases. For refugees who have been separated from their homes due to natural and moral disasters. For the church to give generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7–11Proverbs 3:27–28Matthew 25:34–40James 2:15–171 John 3:16–18).

Pray for orphans and vulnerable children among the nations.

For children and their parents in the foster care system. For children and caregivers in orphanages. For foster care and adoptive families. For unadoptable and unadopted children around the world (Deuteronomy 10:17–19Psalm 82:3–4Isaiah 1:17James 1:27).

Pray for the enslaved among the nations.

Pray for salvation, strength, protection, freedom, justice, hope, and healing for victims (Psalm 82:4103:6Luke 19:10). For conviction, repentance, and salvation for oppressors, for criminal networks to be dismantled, and for oppressors to be arrested and persecuted (Psalm 7:9Isaiah 55:7Jeremiah 22:32 Timothy 2:25). For government corruption to cease and for the implementation of just legislation (Deuteronomy 16:19Proverbs 8:15Amos 5:121 Timothy 2:1–2). For the church to advocate and work in unity against injustice (Psalm 133; Proverbs 31:8John 17:23Romans 15:5).

How Jesus Taught to Pray

The above is a starting point, but it’s certainly not the whole story when it comes to all the ways we can pray for the world. And not only can, but must. After all, this is how Jesus taught us to pray. For the hallowing of God’s name in all the earth (Matthew 6:9). For the hallowing of God’s name as King of the nations, Lord of the peoples, Savior of sinners, Defender of his people, Provider for the poor, Father to the fatherless, and Deliverer of the oppressed. Let us pray accordingly.

Let us be done with prayer that merely centers around our lives, our families, and the world right around us. We have been created for so much more. We have been called to join with the God of the universe in spreading his goodness and glory among all the nations. Let’s pray today toward this end — starting today. And as we do, we will experience the pure joy of participating with God in the accomplishment of his end goal for all the world.

David Platt (@plattdavid) is a pastor at McLean Bible Church in the DC area. He is the author of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.

Daily Light – January 30, 2020

Who Is Yahweh?

John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Who is God? I can think of no more foundational question in all the world. So who is this God, this One behind all of creation? Who is this One who made you and me? Who is this One who speaks to us through an ancient book, a book that is as alive as it is old? This is the beautiful topic of Pastor John’s recent sermon delivered in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He opened that message with ten brief answers to the question “Who is God?” Have a listen.

Why did God identify himself as “I Am Who I Am” — I absolutely am (Exodus 3:14)? Now, if we can take off our clouded spectacles of mere religious jargon, like G-O-D, this should come and will come as a bolt of lightning. God is. That’s staggering. What sentence could be more important in any language than God is? So, what did he mean when he said, “I absolutely am — I Am Who I Am”? What did he mean?

No More Tinkering with Religion

And I’m going to linger here longer than you think I should, perhaps, because until God becomes dominant in our thinking and in our feeling — until God becomes the blazing sun at the center of the solar system of our daily lives; until God becomes the Mount Everest in the foothills of all our concerns with this world; until God rests on the souls of the saints in Belfast, and on the churches of Northern Ireland; until he rests on the churches and the people here with ten thousand times more weight than all your political concerns and all your church-growth concerns — then all of our talk about the glory of God and singing and gathering for worship will be just more tinkering and engineering of religion to try to get people to do what we hope they will do in some kind of appropriate way.

The world doesn’t need any more tinkering with religion. It needs God. It needs to see God. It needs to be stunned that there is a God. So, it’s no accident that when Moses says, “Who’s sending me?” God says, “I Am Who I Am.” Period. And we need to linger over that.

Ten Truths About God’s Absolute Being

I’ve got ten things I think it means. They’re very short. It’s not the whole message. It’s introduction.

1. God had no beginning.

God is who he is means he never had a beginning. And that just staggers the mind. Every child asks his parents, “Where did God come from? Who made God?” And every wise parent says, “Nobody made God. He just was always there. Always. No beginning.”

2. God is without end.

God is who he is means God will never end. If he didn’t come into being, he can’t go out of being, because he is being — absolute being. There’s no place to go outside being. There’s only he. Before he creates, he’s all there is. Absolutely.

3. God is absolute reality.

God is who he is means God is absolute reality. There’s no reality before him. There’s no reality outside of him unless he wills it and creates it. He’s not one of many realities before he creates. He is simply absolute reality. He’s all that was — eternally. No space. Space didn’t exist. The universe didn’t exist. Emptiness did not exist. Only God existed forever, absolutely and absolutely all.

4. God is utterly independent.

God is who he is means that God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being. He depends on nothing to support him. He depends on nothing to counsel him. He depends on nothing to make him what he is. He is absolutely independent.

5. Everything depends on him.

God is who he is means everything that is not God depends totally on God. All that is not God is secondary, dependent. The entire universe is secondary reality. Let that sink in, because nobody in this city believes that. And if the church doesn’t, you’re just like them. All the universe is secondary. Humanity is secondary. God is primary, absolute first, last, glorious. Everything else is secondary.

6. Nothing compares to God.

God is who he is means all the universe is, by comparison to God, as nothing. Galaxies compared to God are nothing. All the universe by comparison to God is as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to substance, as echo to thunderclap, as bubble to ocean. All that we see, all that you are amazed by in your land or around the world — all the world, all the galaxies — compared to God, is as nothing. If you put God on one side of the scales and the universe on the other side of the scales, the universe goes up like air or dust on the scale. Isaiah 40:17: “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.”

7. God cannot be improved.

God is who he is means God is constant. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He cannot be diminished. He’s not becoming anything. He is who he is. There’s no development in God. There’s no progress in God. Absolute perfection cannot be improved.

8. God sets the ultimate standard.

God is who he is means he is the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. There’s no law book that he consults in deciding what is right. There’s no almanac to establish facts for God. There’s no guild, no musical guild, for example, to determine what is excellent and beautiful. He’s the standard. He himself is the standard of the right, the true, the beautiful.

9. God always does right.

God is who he is means God does whatever he pleases, and it is always right, always beautiful, always in accord with truth. There are no constraints on God from outside that he doesn’t will to exist, and thus govern. All reality that is outside of him is subordinate to him. So, he’s utterly free. He’s the only free being in the universe, in fact. He is utterly free from any constraints that don’t originate from his own will.

10. Nothing is worth more.

God is who he is means he’s the greatest, the most beautiful, the most valuable, and the most important person in existence. He’s more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all persons and all realities put together, including the entire universe.

The Bible reveals and assumes that God everywhere.

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 Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – January 29, 2020

Is Something Evil Only If It Harms Others?

From an Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

What Evil Really Is

To find your superior satisfaction anywhere else but in God is the essence of evil. The essence of evil, all evil — what makes evil really evil — is that it always involves finding more pleasure in something other than God. Let’s go to Jeremiah 2:12–13: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils.” What are those evils?

“They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.”

“[They have] hewed out [dug out] cisterns [wells] for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

That’s an amazing definition of evil, isn’t it? It goes right to the heart of every evil. I mean, pick an evil. We’re so humanistic, we’re so man-centered that we think real evil is when you hurt somebody. That’s not the real evil. The real evil if you hurt somebody is that they’re in the image of God. Don’t you touch God! Evil has to do with God. What makes evil evil is this: Here he is, and he’s in this room, and he’s offering himself right now as the fountain of living water to every one of you. “I am a never-ending fountain of all-satisfying water.” And if you put your tongue on that fountain and say, “Let me taste you, God — let me taste,” and you say, “I don’t like it; I’m going to dig a well,” you are evil.

Pick an evil person in history. That’s what you are, if you taste God and turn away from the Creator of the universe, who is freely offering this to you at the cost of the life of his Son. So, I want you to know what evil is. Evil is tasting God and preferring something else. And the reason the world is in the condition it’s in is because Adam and Eve committed that evil. And we’ve all inherited it, and we’re born loving other things more than God.

What Do You Desire?

It might be good to read what Adam and Eve did. This is Genesis 3:6: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food” — it’s going to be delicious — “and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” — wiser than God. It’s as if we are saying, “I can make my own decisions, thank you. You can get out of here and leave me alone because I’ve got wisdom now.” “She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Good for food. Delight to the eyes. Desired to make one wise.

Here’s God, the fountain of living water. Here’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And they look and they say, “See you later, God. I want the tree.” That’s what all of us have done — all of us. Every temptation in your life is that temptation: Is he worth it? Is he precious? Is he beautiful? Is the fountain flowing? Am I drinking? Am I being satisfied by God? Or is the world constantly conquering me? That’s one reason why you should pursue joy in God: because it is the essence of evil not to.

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 Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – January 28, 2020

Refresh Your Soul with Humility

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you may have memorized the following verses without trying, simply because you’ve heard them quoted so often:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
     and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
     and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5–6)

This promise is so beloved because it is so freeing. We are finite and there is so much that exceeds our understanding, it can be overwhelming. But in this command to trust the omniscient one, we find a place of refuge that allows us to maintain our sanity. We find peace in the promise that if we are humble enough to obey this compassionate command, God will direct our course.

I wonder why, then, given how less I’ve heard them quoted over the years, we don’t seem to be as familiar with the next two verses:

Be not wise in your own eyes;
     fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
     and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:7–8)

I would think that the promise of God-given refreshment would be nearly as precious to us as God-given guidance.

Similar but Not the Same

It’s clear that the writer meant for his son (Proverbs 3:1) — and the rest of us — to read these eight lines (four verses) together. I doubt he intended them to be separated, because they form the kind of parallelism so common in Hebraic poetry and wisdom literature:

The command, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart”, corresponds with “Be not wise in your own eyes”;

“Do not lean on your own understanding” corresponds with “fear the Lord, and turn away from evil”;

And the promise in verse 6 (“he will make straight your paths”) corresponds to the promise in verse 8 (“It will be . . . refreshment to your bones”).

The genius of this kind of parallelism is that it allows the writer to make related statements that are not redundant. There’s a clear connection between what verses 5–6 say and what verses 7–8 say, but they don’t say identical things. Trusting in God with our whole heart is not the same thing as not being wise in our own eyes (though we can’t have the former without the latter).

What God Gives the Humble

What the proverb is doing is turning the diamond of a profound truth in the light of God’s wisdom so that we see a different refraction of that light. What is this profound truth? We learn more explicitly further down in the chapter: “toward the scorners [God] is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Proverbs 3:34).

Proverbs 3:34 is one of the most quoted verses in the whole Bible. If you don’t recognize it, that’s probably because you are simply more familiar with the Greek translation of the verse (from the Septuagint), which both the apostles James and Peter famously quote: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:61 Peter 5:5).

That is the truth-diamond the writer holds up in this chapter: God gives grace, his favor, to the humble. When he turns it one way, the light of God’s wisdom refracts verses 5–6 (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . . and he will make straight your paths”). When he turns it another way, it refracts verses 7–8 (“Be not wise in your own eyes . . . [it will be] refreshment to your bones”). Guidance in life and soul-restoration are both graces God gives to the humble.

But since we are so familiar with verses 5–6, let’s linger over the refraction of God’s wisdom we see in verses 7–8 and the grace promised us if we heed it.

You Aren’t as Wise as You Assume

First, look at the command: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7).

To be told, “be not wise in your own eyes,” has a different effect on us than “trust in the Lord with all your heart.” It immediately heightens our awareness of and confronts the “pride of life” (1 John 2:16), the pride we all have as part of our sinful natures. This is the pride that assumes we can adequately understand the knowledge of good and evil, and judge rightly between the two. It is a perilous assumption.

The proverbial author knows how seductively deceptive this pride is and warns us against its folly throughout the chapter. What’s so seductively deceptive is how easily choosing evil can appear wise to us because of the benefits it seems to provide those who do. When we read his examples of evil behavior (Proverbs 3:28–34), we might be tempted to think we’re above such behavior. But the fact is, we notoriously underestimate how confusing things can appear in the pressure of real-life situations, when we are afraid or angry or suffering or threatened.

This command is a great mercy for the complex and difficult situations and decisions we all face. There are times when we need the soul-jolting, in-our-face, direct warning not to trust our own wisdom and to turn away from evil more than to be merely told to trust in God. We need to be reminded how untrustworthy our own wisdom is.

Humility’s Restoring Power

Lastly, look at the powerful promise to those who aren’t wise in their own eyes, but fear God and turn away from evil:

It will be healing to your flesh
     and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:8)

Note the words the writer chooses here: “healing” and “refreshment.” These are restorative terms. Why does he use them?

Because this experienced father knows the violence done to the soul by the doing of evil and the temptation to evil. He knows that “a tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30). He knows what David meant when he wrote, “When I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3). He knows how evil violates the conscience and creates terrible conflict with God and man. And he wants his son and all of his readers to experience peace (Proverbs 3:2), or to return to peace if he’s strayed into evil.

And the path to deep, refreshing peace from God is living humbly before God.

Humble Yourselves

The apostle Peter was thinking of the truth-diamond in Proverbs 3 when he wrote,

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5–7)

God gives grace to the humble. To those who humbly trust him with all their heart, he gives the grace of guidance. To those who humbly refuse to be wise in their own eyes, he gives the grace of refreshing peace. To those who humble themselves under his hand, he will give the grace of exaltation. And to those who humbly cast their cares on him, he gives the grace of carrying their cares.

It is good for us to be as familiar with verses 7–8 of Proverbs 3 as we are with verses 5–6. There are times we must remember to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and there are other times we must remember to not be wise in our own eyes. They are similar, related, complementary, yet different refractions of God’s wisdom. And both remind us that cultivating humility before God is among the healthiest things we can do for our souls.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.

Daily Light – January 27, 2020

God Will Be Good Again Tomorrow

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. . . . Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:1–28)

The circumstances in which David wrote these words were anything but good (1 Samuel 19).

When David cried out — “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! — it was despite what he was suffering, not because he was being flooded with blessings. He was resolved, no matter what came, no matter how hard life got, no matter who betrayed or assaulted him, “I will bless the Lord at all times.”

Anything but Good

David had not yet been crowned king (2 Samuel 5). He was being ruthlessly hunted by the current king of Israel, a man of incredible power and resources (and even more jealousy and anger). As the crowds sang, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7), Saul’s blood boiled and gave birth to a craving to kill the prized son of Jesse.

Saul sent men after David to kill him, but they loved David (1 Samuel 19:1). So, in a moment of rage, he launched his own spear at the young man (19:10). David narrowly escapes and flees. If the enemy at home was not enough, he runs into the hands of another in nearby Gath. Achish, the king of Gath, immediately becomes jealous and hostile toward David. So David pretends to be insane so that they will not kill him. As a result, they let him go.

And leaving that city of hostility and heading back out into a world of opposition and danger, David writes, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Refuge with the Lord in the midst of danger is far better than the comfort of safety without him.

Delivered from All Fear

David was facing a thousand more problems than Achish of Gath, but that didn’t keep him from celebrating the grace of God for this answered prayer, for this deliverance. He was able to keep all the cares of the world at bay long enough to say, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

All your fears, David? After he escaped from Gath, Saul slaughtered all the priests at Nob because of David (1 Samuel 22:18). Then Saul pursued David into the wilderness to kill him (1 Samuel 23:15). Eventually, David is forced to return to Gath again (1 Samuel 27:2). They receive him for a while this time, but then the Philistines hated him again and cast him out (1 Samuel 29:11). Then his family and friends were captured in a raid (1 Samuel 30:2), and his own people turned on him to stone him to death (1 Samuel 30:6). God had not delivered David from everything he feared.

But he had delivered him today. Faith in a sovereign and gracious God freed David to rejoice and give thanks in today’s deliverance, today’s victory, today’s mercy — even while tomorrow’s troubles stormed the gates of his mind.

Grace Enough for Today

That is the weak, wounded, and invincible song of Psalm 34. Worship the God of all wisdom and all power, who created and governs the whole universe, and who cares for the daily needs of each of his children. Take refuge in the God whose eyes “are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry” (Psalm 34:15).

When stress and disappointment and fear begin to drown our hope and joy in God, Jesus encourages us to be like King David,

Do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33)

God’s new mercy meets us each morning (Lamentations 3:22–23), and yet we’re often too consumed by tomorrow’s trouble to even notice. David models stopping, even in the midst of ongoing uncertainty and distress, to see daily grace, and he calls us to join him in the peace and confidence that seeing brings.

Taste and See the Good

Like a great Father-King, God plans to pour out everything at his disposal to keep you from everything threatening your eternity with him and to satisfy you fully and forever with himself.

God knows the suffering you carry, he knows the hurdles you face, he knows how insufficient and insecure you feel, and he knows exactly what you need. It may not always be safe or pain-free or clear to you in the moment, but he will bring you to a faith and joy and life through hardship that you wouldn’t trade for anything.

Good will not always feel good. In fact, if you hide yourself in him, you will see and feel the goodness of God more clearly and more deeply in your trials. For now, focus on the ways, small or large, he has lovingly cared for you today — taste and see that he really is good — and trust him for that grace to come again tomorrow.

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.