The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: The Books (page 2 of 5)

A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 9)

“One of the great gifts of Scripture is that it creates for us categories of thought that help us grasp more truth” (Piper, p. 152).  That statement prepares us for this chapter as we follow John Piper in answering the question, “Is the Bible true and the standard by which all other claims to truth should be measured?”  In this chapter, Piper argues that Scripture possesses a divine glory which authenticates it as God’s word.

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]

Piper’s aim in this chapter:  “to shed as much light on the process of divine illumination as I can by means of four analogies . . . In other words, I am asking, what is it like to experience the miracle of 2 Corinthians 4:6?”  (Piper, p. 152).

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.


The physical human body— the movement of all its part and its speech from vocal chords and brain, etc.—convinces us that it’s not just a physical body.  Behind it lies a rational soul.

So it is, Piper argues (with a too-long-to-insert-here quote from Jonathan Edwards), with the Scripture.  It is analogous to the physical body.  Behind it (or better, in profound union with it) is a divine mind.

“The union in both cases is so profound that when we see the acting human body as we ought, and we see the meaning of the Scriptures as we ought, there is no conscious inferring.  There is immediate light.  This is a rational person, not just a body.  This is the word of God, not just of man” (Piper, p. 154).


Consider the analogy between knowing God is the author of Scripture and  knowing “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” was painted by Rembrandt.  (Inserted because I think it’s powerful.)

File:Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee.jpg

Cover Rembrandt’s painting with paper leaving only a pinhole, and you couldn’t identity him as the painter.  So with Scripture.  Just a letter or even single word here and there wouldn’t identify God as author.

The glory of God to be seen there lies in Scripture’s meaning.  And to grasp that meaning and see that glory requires a sufficient account of Scripture.  How much?  That depends, first, on which part of the Book one looks at.  Job, with its lengthy dialogues, requires a much broader view then, say, the Gospel of John or Romans.

Second, it depends on the reader’s familiarity with the Bible.  The glory in the Scriptures transforms the reader’s heart and mind.  The more glory, the more transformation.  The more transformation, the more that glory is seen.  “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).


This analogy springs from Psalm 36:9 (“in your light do we see light”) and from C.S. Lewis’ famous quote:  “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” (p. 158).

Ordinarily, when we want to evaluate some claim to truth, we try to make sense out of it based on all our experience.  Does it line up with what we already know to be true?  “But what happens when we encounter a claim that says, ‘I am the Standard, the Arbiter, the Truth’? . . . When the ultimate Measure of all reality speaks, you don’t subject this Measure to the measure of your mind or your experience of the world . . . When the ultimate  Standard of all truth and beauty appears, he is not put in the dock to be judged by the prior perceptions of truth and beauty that we bring to the courtroom . . . The eternal, absolute original is seen as true and beautiful not because he coheres with what we know but because all the truth and beauty we know coheres in him . . . He does not make sense, and thus have plausibility in the light of this world.  He brings sense to the world” (Piper, p. 158,159).

When God’s Son came into the world, the “original, the source, became part of the stream of creation that flows from him . . . He is really creature, and really Creator . . .  we know him to be true, not because our light shows him to be so, but because his divine light shines with its own, all-enlightening, all-explaining glory” (Piper, p. 160).

It’s the same with the Scriptures “which are organically related to the incarnate Word” (Piper, p.160).  Herman Bavink (19th century Dutch Reformed theologian) said, “[Scripture] is the product of God’s incarnation in Christ and in a sense its continuation” (p. 160).  Piper adds, “Thus we know the Scriptures to be true, not because our light shows them to be so, but because that divine light shines with its own unique, all-enlightening, all-explaining glory” (p. 160).


How did Peter see Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God?” (Matthew 16:16).  Jesus explained . . .

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For  flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).  All genuine followers of Jesus experienced the same:  “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God . . . ” (Luke 8:10).

This is how anyone comes to know Christ’s truth and beauty.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.  “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:25-27).

In this analogy, Judas represents people who come to the Scriptures with mind and heart completely out of tune with their meaning that they can’t hear them for what they are.  Peter represents people who come with mind and heart humbled by the Holy Spirit and “open to the beauty and truth of God’s glory shining through the meaning of the text” (Piper, p. 164).


These four analogies illustrate how the Scriptures are seen to be God’s word by revealing his glory.  “As the gospel carries in it a real, objective, self-authenticating divine glory, so . . . the Scriptures . . . evidence their own divine authority” (Piper, p. 165).

* * *


Father in heaven, even though we believe the Scriptures are true (and our faith is being reinforced by this study), we sometimes read without being captivated by your truth, beauty and glory revealed there.  Sometimes the words are dull and drab.  Please awaken the Holy Spirit within us to open the eyes of our heart.  We don’t want to just read words or commands or doctrine.  Open our spiritual eyes, so that in the meaning of your words we see your beauty and your glory.  And so may we love your Scriptures and love you as the greatest treasure in the world.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.




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A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 8)

Up to now, we’ve followed Piper as he’s examined the Bible’s claim for itself that it’s the true and trustworthy word of God.  But is that claim true?

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]

This book is also available to be read free online at


Is the Bible that?  And, therefore, should we bring our lives into line with what it teaches?  Piper answers both with a resounding YES.


How do we know this?  That’s an urgent question, because “the Bible teaches . . . the way to escape the wrath of God and enter into eternal life and . . . [it] shapes the way we live in this life” (Piper, p. 128).  It doesn’t teach merely job training skills or money management.  It deals with eternal issues.


Piper recalls the season in his life he spent studying the historical reasoning of scholars.  What do they teach about how we can know the Bible is the true word of God?  But then he realized most people won’t have the training or time to study such arguments in support of the faith.

Yet, “the Bible assumes there is a basis for firm and justified knowledge that what it teaches is true.  For example . . .

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may KNOW that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

“If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will KNOW whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17).


“If historical reasoning is the only way by which men can attain faith, then faith becomes the possibility for only the few who can think historically, and faith for the common man is possible only if he is willing to commit himself to the authority of a priesthood of historians” (Daniel Fuller, Professor Emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary).


Is there another way for “ordinary” people to have firm knowledge that the Bible is true apart from scholarly, historical training?  Jonathan Edwards (17th century Puritan theologian) maintains that people can have “a certainty of divine things” founded on “real evidence” and “good reason” (Piper, p. 134)—yet apart from historical, scholarly reasoning.


“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).

“As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,’ he said” (Acts 17:2,3).

Piper concludes that Paul thought that reasoning and explaining were proper ways to lead people to a well-grounded faith.  Reasoning and explaining shouldn’t replace faith, but serve as a foundation for faith.


Piper:  “ . . . the nature of the object of faith dictates the nature of the ‘real evidence’ for its reality.”  For example, if the object of faith is honey, the nature of the real evidence would be taste.

According to Jonathan Edwards, “ . . . the object of true saving conviction is ‘the great things of the gospel’” (Piper, p. 137).  But (and this is crucial), for Edwards “the object of our faith is not merely the factuality of the gospel, but also ‘the holy beauty and [loveliness] that is in divine things’” (Piper, p. 137).  “Holy beauty and loveliness” in “divine things” constitute the nature of faith’s object.


“ , , , the nature of what we need to know determines how we can know it. If the glory of God in the gospel is what we must know . . . then the eyes to see this glory are not merely the eyes of our head, but ‘the eyes of our heart’” (Ephesians1:18) (Piper, p. 138).

Well-grounded faith, then, is not only reasonable, but spiritual—that is, enabled by the Holy Spirit.  We need what Peter experienced . . .

“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven’” (Matthew 16:16,17).


“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

The mark of the unbeliever is blindness to “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ”.  He may know the facts of the gospel, but he cannot see the glory.  So we need spiritual intervention to see the gospel’s glory.


The glory of Christ in the gospel is not subjective (we bring glory to it), but objective (it is really there).

“Edwards asks, ‘What is the basis for firm and justified knowledge of the truth of the gospel?’  He answers, ‘The glory of God’s moral perfections’ shining truly and objectively ‘in the face of Jesus Christ’ in the gospel—’the doctrines there taught, the word there spoken, and the divine counsels, acts and works there revealed’” (Piper, p. 142).


What is the “glory of God’s moral perfections shining in the face of Jesus Christ?”  Piper answers . . .

The glory that the disciples saw in Jesus, and that we see when he is faithfully portrayed, was the moral beauty of a man whose food was to do the will of his Father in heaven (John 4:34).  He never desired to seek his own glory at anyone’s innocent expense, but always sought his Father’s glory, even to the point of death . . . It is this beautiful, self-emptying allegiance of Jesus to the Father’s glory that stamps him as true and confirms our faith (p. 143).


The one who proclaims the beauty of Christ embodies the beauty of Christ.  He surrenders his freedom and becomes a slave to serve others . . .

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (Philippians 2:5).


“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, ‘ Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

Piper asserts that verse 5, sandwiched between 4 and 6 reveals that people come to a well-grounded, saving knowledge of the truth “by a combination of human communication and divine illumination of God’s glory” (p. 145).

The unbeliever is ignorant of the truth because he is demonically, spiritually blind.  By God’s grace he “comes to his senses” and sees the truth.


Piper explains that his reference to “the gospel”  is just a “shorthand way” of speaking of  all  Scripture.  “The path we have been describing toward a well-grounded conviction of the truth of the gospel is the same path that leads to a well-grounded conviction of the truth of the Scriptures” (p. 147).


2 Corinthians, then, reveals that the presence or absence of saving faith depends on spiritual blindness or sight.  This, then, is the “good reason” or “just ground” for authentic faith in the gospel/Scriptures.

* * *

 Thus, coming to the Scriptures, whether to listen or read, we’re dependent on God the Holy Spirit.  Intellect and scholarly knowledge alone won’t convince anyone the Bible is the true Word of God.   Nor will it give us a reverent heart to humbly receive the words as God’s. This explains why many intelligent, well-educated people can read it and dismiss it.  It also explains why ordinary people like us “get it”.

It’s all of grace.

The skeptic may argue, “That’s a convenient argument.  You claim you have special insight because God gave it to you!  If that’s the case, why you and not me?

Our only response is to bow before God’s sovereignty.  And to thank him for the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to see the words on the page of the Book as God’s  words to us.








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A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 7)

With this book, we’re asking one of the most profound questions possible: Is the Bible so trustworthy in all that it teaches that it can function as the test to all other claims to truth?

We have to know the answer because we appeal to the Bible as the final authority:  “The Bible says . . . “  What Piper provides isn’t courtroom-proof, but assurance for our faith.


A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]

In this chapter, he deals with the claims the apostolic writings make for themselves . . .


Jesus Christ has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18; see also Matthew 7:28,29; 11:27; 16:18; 24:35; 25:31,32; Luke 4:35,36; 8:24; John 14:6).  Therefore, all apostolic authority derives from him.

Jesus is Lord of all (Acts 10:36).  Jesus is God (John 1:1).  The words the Old Testament applied to Yahweh, the apostle applies to the risen Jesus (Romans10:11; 1 Corinthians1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17; Ephesians 4:8; Philippians 2:10).


“Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ witness is considered divine, true, infallible.  He is the Logos who makes known the Father (John 1:18; 17:6), the faithful and true witness (Revelation 1:5; 3:14; cf. Isaiah 55:4), the Amen in whom all the promises of God are ‘Yes’ and ‘amen’ (Revelation 3:14; 2 Corinthians 1:20).  There was no guile . . . on his lips (1 Peter 2:22).  He is the apostle and high priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:12; 1 Timothy 6:13).  He does not speak [from himself] like Satan who is a liar (John 8:44), but God speaks through him (Hebrews 1:2).  Jesus was sent by God (John 8:42) and bears witness only to what he has seen or heard (John 3:32).  He speaks the words of God (John 3:34; 17:8) and only bears witness to the truth (John 5:33; 18:37).  For that reason his witness is true (John 8:14;14:6), confirmed by the witness of God himself (John 5:32,37; 8:18)” (Herman Bavink, Dutch Reformed Theologian of the Free University of Amsterdam; Piper, p. 117).  This is the place Jesus held in the minds of the New Testament writers.


“Jesus’ purpose was to spread a movement, in his name and for his glory, to all the peoples of the world (Matthew 28:18-20).  He aimed to gather a redeemed people into churches (Matthew 18:17).  And he aimed that they would live under the authority of his teaching until the end of the age (Matthew 7:24-27) . . . From the beginning of his ministry Jesus was preparing for the transmission of his authority to his church through authorized spokesmen who would teach with his authority, commit their teachings to writing and leave a body of inspired writings through which Christ would govern his church until his return” (Piper, p. 117,118).


“He appointed twelve–designating them apostles–that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14) . . . “ . . . [Father,] I gave them the words you gave me” (John 17:8a).


“ . . . the way Jesus secured the reliability of the apostles’ representative work was to promise them the special help of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth . . . “ (Piper, p. 120).

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:25,26).


The apostles spoke, not on their own or of their own ideas, but as men under authority.

“Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God” (2 Corinthians 2:17).


After Judas’ death, he was to be replaced according to the following criteria . . .

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:21,22).

Their ministry was foundational . . .

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19,20).


Paul saw his apostolic authority as given by the Lord himself.

“For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it” (2 Corinthians 10:8).

Paul saw the gospel he preached was foundational and the truth over against all other “gospels”.

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:8-10).

Paul held that he preached, not the word of men, but the word of God.

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Piper concludes:  “Paul claims that in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send his Spirit to guide the apostles into truth (John 14:25,26), he was inspired by the Spirit to write truth that was essentially on a par with the inspired and authoritative Old Testament Scriptures” (p. 123).


“The claim of the apostles to speak with unerring truthfulness in Christ by the Holy Spirit is the organic outgrowth of the Old Testament hope and of the incarnation of the Son of God as Jesus the Messiah” (Piper, p. 124).

* * *

We commonly consider people who claim to speak for God nut-jobs.  So what to do with these apostles?

Furthermore, they claimed Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled Old Testament messianic prophecies and was (is) the eternal Son of God.  From him they believed they derived their authority to write God’s words. 

We mustn’t let a casual reading of the New Testament lighten the weight of their claim.  Either we believe what they believed or we reject it.  They haven’t left us any more-comfortable, middle ground.









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A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 5)

What do the Scriptures claim for themselves?  That’s John Piper’s question in the next few chapters. In chapter 5 he asks the question of the Old Testament.

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]


Piper wants us to know that he’s not claiming the Scriptures are true simply because they claim to be.  At the same time he’s not denying the importance of what God himself says about his Word.

“I will argue that those truth claims are threads in a tapestry whose divine glory is self-authenticating” (Piper, p. 90).  But in this chapter and the immediately following, he wants us to see those threads as clearly as possible.


The writers were aware God was speaking to and through them, but they never commented on the Old Testament from outside the whole.  Instead, they were actors on the stage God was directing.

The writers tell us “about the way God was revealing himself to them and to others through them” (Piper, p. 91).

Piper alludes to God’s greatness in holding galaxies in place and calling billions of stars by name (Isaiah 40:26)—and that he condescends to speak to us.  It’s astonishing, Piper muses, that God wills to speak to us in human language.


When he speaks, he speaks to humans directly . . .

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (Genesis 12:1).

“God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’” (Exodus 20:1,2).

The Scripture never explains how God speaks.  Furthermore, notes Piper, it’s doubtful that we could make sense of his “explanation”.  This has led some to be skeptical that God actually speaks at all.  Rather, they see God communicating through events.

But,  the late James Barr (Scottish Old Testament scholar) protested:  “If we persist in saying that the direct, specific communication must be subsumed under revelation through events in history and taken as subsidiary interpretation of the latter, I shall say that we are abandoning the Bible’s own interpretation of the matter for another which is apologetically more comfortable” (Piper, p. 92).


Example:  God said to the prophet Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:  Would you build me a house to dwell in?’” (2 Samuel 7:5).

Example:  God said to Isaiah, “Go and say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father:  I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life’” (Isaiah 38:5).

Instead of speaking directly to David and Hezekiah, the LORD speaks to them through a prophet.  Again and again he does this.  However, the words remain the very words of God . . .

“You shall speak my words to them whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 2:7).

They are God’s words because God directs the prophet’s speaking so his mouth is like God’s.  We see this ideal in the prophecy of the ideal prophet to come . . .

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers.  And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18).

Often in this connection between God’s words and the prophet’s words, the prophet speaks in first person singular as if God himself were present speaking in person . . .

“I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5).

“The Old Testament is saturated with the explicit claim that our Creator and Sustainer and Redeemer is actually speaking intelligibly to the world he has made” (Piper, p. 94).  “Thus says the LORD” occurs 417 times and the phrase “declares the LORD” occurs 358 times in the Old Testament.  Stunning.

Equally stunning:  that the eternal, infinite Creator actually speaks in a way mere creatures can understand.


He says to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book . . . “ (Exodus 17:14).

Again: “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” (Exodus 34:17).

Similarly, the prophetic books begin by indicating they are a composition of the prophet’s revelations from God . . .

“The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah . . . “ (Jeremiah 1:1). . . “The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah . . . “ (Micah 1:1). 


“What emerges from this survey of the Old Testament’s self-attestation is a culture in Israel that know itself confronted by God through his all-authoritative word, which comes not directly to every individual, but through persons chosen by God and enabled to speak his word reliably, including its written form . . . And as this collection of writings emerges, it would be handled with extraordinary care, because not only did the writings claim to be the word of God, but they also made explicit one of the clear implications of that fact, namely, their complete truthfulness” (Piper, p 96).

God is not a man, that he should lie,
or a son of man that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19).


Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  Therefore, we are highly expectant as we ask, What was his estimate of these writings?

* * *

We are asking, “Is the Bible the word of God—true and trustworthy and free from error?”  Answering isn’t a simple process and sometimes not spine-tingling.  But we’re wise to endure it, because haven’t you sometimes asked the question?  Maybe when its teaching is radically counter-cultural.  Or when you’re suffering and God’s promises seem a fantasy.

This study isn’t meant to answer every question.  But it’s meant to offer a preponderance of evidence on which to ground our faith.  This evidence—the claims the Old Testament makes for itself—is a big chunk toward that end.



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A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 4)

God inspired the very words the biblical authors wrote.  This wasn’t dictation. “Men spoke from God (using their own personalities and styles) as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Do we have those very words—the original Hebrew and Greek words–of the biblical authors?

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]


After his resurrection, Jesus rebuked Peter: “’If it is my will that [John] remains until I come, what is that to you [Peter]?  You follow me.’  Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that [John] would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?'” (John 21-23).

Right words were important to Jesus and John, as the familiar passage below confirms . . .

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17,18).


Peter warns against those who distort Paul’s words . . .

“[Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position” (2 Peter 3:16,17).

Peter is saying getting the very words of Scripture right is important.


Paul used an ”amanuensis” (a kind of secretary) to write one or many of his letters.  However, he often took up the pen to assure his readers the words were his . . .

“I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17).

“[Paul] was eager not only that his readers have his very words but that they know they have them” (Piper, p. 73).


Not only are prophets divinely inspired, so are words . . .

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17).

Paul was referring to the Old Testament, since at that time there was no New.


Paul claims his own writings—the very words–to be Holy-Spirit-inspired . . .

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:12,13).


Sinclair Ferguson (Scottish theologian and professor at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas) writes:  “Undoubtedly the human writers of Scripture were conscious that they were expressing their own thoughts as they wrote.  But at the same time there were under the sovereign direction of the Spirit.  Theologians call this two-dimensional reality ‘concurrence’.”


We don’t have the original manuscripts the New Testament authors wrote.  Hence, the question.  Piper illustrates the answer. Suppose he writes you a letter (on paper) with directions to his house for an important meeting he wants you and others to attend.  You scan his letter to make copies on two different days.  But the scanner copies incorrectly on the second day.  The original letter is lost.  When guests compare letters they realize the error.

“Now everyone getting to the meeting depended on the firm belief that the original letter was accurate and that every effort to get back to that wording was crucial—even though the original letter no long existed.  Similarly, if the wording of Scripture in the original manuscripts is not affirmed as inerrant, there would be little incentive to try to get back as close as possible in our text-critical studies, which form the basis for all of our translations” (Piper, p. 78).


“Our Greek and Hebrew versions and our translations are inerrant to the degree that they faithfully render the divine meaning carried by the inspired human words of the original manuscripts” (Piper, p. 78).

This historical reality is an objective standard that we can approach through textual criticism.  Without this conviction, today’s versions and translation are awash in subjectivism.


Recently, most attacks on the Christian faith have come in textual criticism.  But Piper writes, “I am convinced that in the end none of us settles the issue of biblical authority decisively on the basis of historical arguments . . . I will argue in the coming chapters how ordinary people with little chance of following complex and obscure textual arguments may discern whether the Christian Scriptures are the word of God” (p. 79, 80).


Piper’s story comes from graduate school at the University of Munich where he did his doctrinal studies.  I’ll skip the story for space.  Conclusion:  many mainline scholars are assured that text-critics have provided us with reliable Hebrew and Greek texts that we use today.


We have about 5800 Greek New Testament manuscripts (no originals—copies). You can see many at  This is far more than any other ancient documents.  For example, “The average classical author’s literary remains number no more than twenty copies.  We have more than 1,000 times the manuscript data for the New Testament than we do for the average Greco-Roman author.  Not only this, but the extant (surviving) manuscripts of the average classical author are no earlier than 500 years after the time he wrote.  For the New Testament, we are waiting mere decades for surviving copies” (Daniel Wallace, regarded as “evangelical Christianity’s premier active textual critic today; Piper, p. 81).

“No other ancient book comes close to the kind of wealth of diverse preservation that we have for the New Testament” (Piper, p.82).


Simple answer:  yes.

D.A. Carson (Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) summarizes: “What is at stake is a purity of text of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be doctrinally true, and nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants” (Piper, p. 82).


Muslims claim the New Testament presents a supernatural-Son-of-God Jesus who died for our sins and was raised because Christians changed original writings.  “But there is no evidence that such writings existed, which means that the Muslim claim is an inference based on Mohammed’s view of Jesus” (Piper, p 83).


This chapter’s aim has been to show that our Greek and Hebrew Scriptures are essentially the same as the ones written by the original authors.

*  *  *

Dry, I know.  Congratulations for plowing through!  What does it all mean?  The Bible (leather ones, especially) looks holy.  But we need more than that to trust it.  This chapter offers one reason.  A book written over 1500 years, the last “book” of it 1900 years ago.  No originals remain.  But the discoveries and studies Piper mentions in chapter 4 assure us we hold what the original authors wrote.  That means we can say, “The Bible says . . . ” with confidence that this is the very Word of God.










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A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 3)

When Jesus was born, the Hebrew Scriptures held supreme authority over Jewish lives and was a closed canon.  There was no New Testament.

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]

 New Authority–the Living Word–Comes into the World

“What opened the way to a new canon of authoritative writings was not the arrival of new spokesmen for God . . . but rather the arrival of God himself” (Piper, p. 52,53).  Jesus’ staggering self-claims created a new authority that reached beyond the Hebrew Bible.

In the Sermon On the Mount, for example, Jesus claimed to be the judge of the universe . . .

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Again in the Sermon On the Mount, Jesus explained he’d come not to confirm the Hebrew Scriptures, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).

“The point is that the divine majesty of the person of Jesus is woven inseparably into every layer of the teachings of Jesus.  There is no portrait of Jesus in the New Testament as a merely human teacher of ethics.  There is only the Lord of glory.  The fulfiller of history.  The judge of the universe” (Piper, p. 55).

As a result, the early church recognized Jesus as having authority equal to and beyond the Hebrew Scriptures.  The person and teaching of Jesus, therefore, led inevitably to the canon’s expansion.  Centuries being governed by their Scriptures, now they’re confronted by the Author.  His glory created a new canon.

Jesus’ Preparation for the New Testament Canon

Jesus prepared the church for a new canon by which he would govern the church after he was gone.  He’d provide for it through authoritative “apostles” whom he promised to guide by the Holy Spirit.  They, in turn, would become the foundation of a new Israel.

Jesus Promises the Spirit of Truth

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25,26).

“The promise that the Holy Spirit would reveal the glory of Christ alerts us to the way Scriptures would be confirmed in the life of the early church.  The light of that glory would shine through the inspired word into the hearts of God’s people and verify the divine origin and character of the Scriptures” (Piper. p. 59).

Paul and the Twelve

Paul, not one of the Twelve (though he authored 13 of the New Testament’s 27 books), claimed to be an apostle “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1).  After some hesitation, the Twelve accepted him as genuine (Galatians 2:7-9).

Paul as a Writer of Scripture

Paul’s claim of authority was rooted in his seeing the actual risen Jesus, who commissioned him as an apostle (Acts 9:1-19).  Consequently, he claimed to be inspired by the Spirit in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise . . .

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:12,13).

A Foundational Authority for All History

“The risen Christ was continuing to shepherd his flock through the mouth of the apostles.  He would provide a foundation for the church through their writings so that a canon of writings would emerge that would have the authority of the Lord Jesus till he comes again” (Piper, p. 63).

The New Scriptures

Without canceling its truth, the New Testament completed the Old.  Already the writings of the apostles were considered equal in authority with God’s inspired Old Testament writings.  For example, here’s Peter’s comment . . .

“[Paul wrote to you] as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters.  There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).

Discerning Which Books Were Apostolic

Many writings existed.  Which were “inspired”? The key, of course, was which were genuinely apostolic?

Piper writes, ” . . . apostolicity . . . probably means more than ‘written in close association with an apostle.’  What the apostles possessed from the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit was a supernatural spiritual wisdom both to understand things incomprehensible to the ‘natural man’ and to teach them in words ‘taught by the Spirit'” (see 1 Corinthians 2:11-13).

Apostolicity as Supernatural Communication

Apostolicity is “the supernatural transmission of naturally incomprehensible reality to spiritually discerning people” (Piper, p. 64).  What was involved was not purely historical process or ecclesiastical selection; but “the process of canonization was governed by the spiritual and supernatural reality of the books and by the spiritual discernment of the church . . . The New Testament books were considered authoritative not because the church declared them to be so, or even because they were written directly by an apostle, but because they were understood to bear the essential apostolic deposit” (Piper, p. 65).

The list of books considered authoritative:  Matthew (apostle), Mark (Peter’s interpreter and assistant); Luke & Acts (close associate and partner of Paul); John (apostle); Thirteen letters of Paul (apostle); Hebrews (from Paul’s circles of associates); James (Jesus’ brother closely associated with the original Twelve); 1 & 2 Peter (apostle); 1,2, & 3 John (apostle); Jude (brother of Jesus and James); Revelation (John the apostle).

Compelling Allegiance

Jesus was God in the flesh.   He confirmed, fulfilled and superseded Old Testament authority.  The New Testament grew organically out of that new authority in the world.  He sent his Spirit to assure that the apostles would be led into all truth.  They would speak from that authority and the manifestation of his glory would confirm to the church–then and today–that these writings are God’s words.

* * *

A skeptic might ask, “Dr. Piper, aren’t you asking us to trust the truth of the Bible based on what the Bible says?  Isn’t that circular reasoning?”  Piper might answer, “Good question.  But remember, it was the glory of Jesus himself that gave the New Testament its authority.  Furthermore, if some other writing successfully marked the New Testament as authoritative, that writing would hold authority over the Bible.  Be patient, if you can.  I’ll have more to say about this in chapters 8-17.”

Piper’s presentation is compelling.  Not only does the New Testament’s authenticity stand on the glory of Jesus Christ.  The Spirit also bears witness with my spirit (Romans 8:17) that the the New Testament is true and trustworthy.

We can be assured we hold in our hands the New Testament books the early church held as manifesting the very glory of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

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A Peculiar Glory (Intro.)

“The Bible says . . . ”  So goes our authoritative, argument-settling assertion.  But is it?

John Piper, founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, asks in his book, A Peculiar Glory, “Is the Bible completely true?  Is it so trustworthy in all that it teaches that it can function as the test of all other claims to truth?” (p. 11).

Piper’s approach is unique.  Many books on the subject approach the topic like a defense lawyer.  I just googled “books on the inerrancy of Scripture and found among them two books with the same title–Defending Inerrancy.

Piper, on the other hand, writes, “My seven decades of experience with the Bible have not been mainly a battle to hold on.  They have been a blessing of being held on to, namely, by beauty–that is, by glory” (p. 11).  ” . . . the Bible has not been for me like a masterpiece hanging on the wall of an Alpine chalet but rather like a window in the wall of the chalet,  with the Alps on the other side” (p. 18) . . . “I am a captive of the glory of God revealed in Scripture” (p. 11).

Product Details

This book is also available free for online reading at . . .

In the Introduction, Piper argues that God’s glory is the ground of both faith and knowledge.

First, it teaches us all that God exists and is to be thanked . . .

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1).

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,  since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:18-21).

Second, glory is how Jesus’ first followers knew he was the Messiah . . .

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Third, glory is how people know the gospel is from God . . .

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God . . .  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:4,6).

And fourth, glory is how we know the Scriptures are God’s word.  This is what Piper’s book is about.  Toward that end, Piper divides his book into five main parts . . .

.Part One:  A Place to Stand (his personal story)
.Part Two:  What Books and Words Make Up the Christian Scriptures?
.Part Three:  What Do the Christian Scriptures Claim for Themselves?
.Part Four:  How Can We Know the Christian Scriptures Are True?
.Part Five:  How Are the Christian Scriptures Confirmed by the Peculiar Glory of God?

“My argument,” writes Piper, “is that the glory of God in and through the Scriptures is a real, objective, self-authenticating reality” (p. 15).  Interesting argument, especially since many books arguing for the truth of Scripture become dry, weighty theological tomes guaranteed to get you yawning by page 3.  Of A Peculiar Glory, on the other hand, the publisher writes . . .

God has provided a way for all people, not just scholars, to know that the Bible is the Word of God.  John Piper has devoted his life to showing us that the glory of God is the object of the soul’s happiness.  Now, his burden in this book is to demonstrate that this same glory is the ground of the mind’s certainty.

Over the next few months, I’ll summarize Piper’s book.  I hope you’ll make time to read.  I know of no other topic more important to Christians who look to the Bible for authoritative truth.  And I know of no better author to write about the glory the Bible contains.


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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (16)

“The erosion or loss of hope is what makes suffering unbearable” (Keller, p. 313).  But here’s God’s ultimate remedy as the apostle John saw it  . . .

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth disappeared, and the sea vanished. And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and ready, like a bride dressed to meet her husband. I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: “Now God’s home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.” Then the one who sits on the throne said, “And now I make all things new!”  (Revelation 21:1-5a, GNT).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by [Keller, Timothy]

Those words were written to Christians suffering persecution toward the end of the first century A.D.  As they were ripped apart by beasts, they sang hymns.  As they were tortured, they forgave their torturers.  Future hope determined how they lived and how they died.

African-American slaves suffered.  But they sang their “spirituals”, believed that all injustice would eventually be judged and all their desires fulfilled.

In 1927 African-American scholar Howard Thurman wrote of them . . .

“The facts make clear that [this sung faith] did serve to deepen the capacity of endurance and the absorption of suffering . . . It taught a people how to ride high in life, to look squarely in the face those facts that argue most dramatically against all hope and to use those facts as raw material out of which they fashioned a hope that the environment, with all its cruelty could not crush . . . This . . . enabled them to reject annihilation and to affirm a terrible right to live” (p. 315).

How can we be sure this future is also for us?  Keller:  “The answer is—you can be sure if you believe in Jesus, who took what we deserve so we could have the heaven and the glory he deserved” (p. 317).  Keller tells the story of Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for many years.  Barnhouse lost his wife when his daughter was still a child.  He was trying to help his daughter and himself process this terrible loss . . .

“Once when they were driving, a huge moving van passed them.  As it passed, the shadow of the truck swept over the car.  The minister had a thought.  He said something like this, ‘Would you rather be run over by a truck, or by its shadow?’  His daughter replied, ‘By the shadow of course.  That can’t hurt us at all.’  Dr. Barnhouse replied, ‘Right.  If the truck doesn’t hit you, but only its shadow, then you are fine.  Well, it was only the shadow of death that went over your mother.  She’s actually alive—more alive than we are.  And that’s because two thousand years ago, the real truck of death hit Jesus.  And because death crushed Jesus, and we believe in him now the only thing that can come over us is the shadow of death, and the shadow of death is but my entrance into glory’” (p. 317). 

Keller tells of the day his cancerous thyroid was to be removed, followed by radiation treatment.  He and his family were shaken by it all.  After his wife and sons left, he was ready to be prepped.  In those moments, Keller prayed—and he tells how, to his surprise, “It seemed to me that the universe was an enormous realm of joy, mirth, and high beauty . . . And within this great globe of glory was only one little speck of darkness . . . and soon that speck would fade away and everything would be light.”  He thought, then, that it didn’t matter how surgery would go.  Everything would be all right (p. 318).

C.S. Lewis wrote . . .

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door.  We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure.  We cannot mingle with the splendors we see.  But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so.  Someday, God willing, we shall get in” (p.318,319).

I write . . .

Hope is here.  Revelation 21 will become a reality.  Why, then, do I sometimes feel  the unbearableness of suffering without hope?  Because I have to fill my mind with it until it reaches my heart.  “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” helps.  Here’s the last stanza . . .

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Keller explains what that means.  It’s like saying . . .

“Come on, crosses,
The lower you lay me

The higher you will raise me!
Come on, grave,
Kill me

And all you will do is make me better than before.”

“If the death of Jesus Christ happened for us and he bore our hopelessness so that now we can have hope–and if the resurrection of Jesus Christ happened–then even the worst things will turn into the best things, and the greatest are yet to come” (Keller, p. 318).

That hope makes suffering bearable.  Listen and let hope fill your heart . . .





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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (15)

Tim Keller calls Paul one of the Bible’s most prominent sufferers.  Paul catalogues his sufferings in Romans 8:35; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 4:8,9; 6:4,5; 11:23-39;  and12:10.  How did he cope with it all?


Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by [Keller, Timothy]


We learned how Paul coped by reading how he comforted others.  First, Philippians 4:4-12 . . .

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me– put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Keller defines peace as “an inner calm and equilibrium” which Paul says he learned (p. 296).  Second, this peace isn’t the absence of turmoil  but the presence of God–“a living power that comes into your life and enables you to face ” affliction.  God’s presence is “a sense that no matter what happens, everything will ultimately be all right” (p. 297).

How does one learn this?


“Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure . . . think about such things” (Philippians 4:8,9).  Keller explains that Paul is not urging us “to general loftiness of mind . . . [but to] think hard and long about the core doctrines of the Bible . . . about God, sin, Christ, salvation, the world, human nature, and God’s plan for the world” (p. 298).

How different is that from self-help books that typically offer techniques for relaxing.  That, Keller argues, is because our society “operates without any answers to the big questions” (p. 299).  But Paul calls us to think about that very thing.

In Romans 8:18 he writes, “I reckon that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed in us.”  So, Keller counsels, “Think about the glory coming until the joy begins to break in on you . . . Think big and high.  Realize who God is, what he has done, who you are in Christ, where history is (p. 299,300).


In Philippians 4:6, Paul puts thanking over against worrying–“Don’t be anxious; but make requests to God with thanksgiving.”   Thank him before you know his response!  “Paul is essentially calling on us to trust God’s sovereign rule of history and of our lives.  He is telling us that we will never be content unless, as we make our heartfelt request, we also acknowledge we are in his hands, and he is wiser than we are” (Keller, p. 301).

In Romans 8:28 Paul tells us that “all things work together for good for those who love God.”  Keller insists this doesn’t mean every bad thing has a “silver lining.”  Rather “all things–even bad things–will ultimately together be overruled in such a way that the intended evil will, in the end, only accomplish the opposite of its designs–a greater good and glory than would otherwise have come to pass” (p. 301).  This, of course provides dynamic ground for giving thanks.


In Philippians 4:8 (“whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things”) Keller argues Paul is calling us not only to think about right things, but to love them.  And, to aid in suffering, what we love must be immutable.  That brings us to God and his love. The only way to find contentment and peace is to love God supremely.


In Psalm 3 David’s situation is so hopeless that his own people are whispering that God has deserted him.  David writes . . .

“But you, Lord are a shield around me, my glory and the One who lifts my head high” (3:3).  To walk with “head high” is to walk with confidence.  The Lord as “my glory” implies the “comparative unimportance of earthly esteem” (Keller quoting commentator Derek Kidner, p. 306).

Often in suffering something we consider too important is taken from us.  David “recommitted himself to finding God as his only glory–something that can be done only in prayer, through repentance and adoration” (Keller, p. 306).

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Lord as a “shield”.  A shield protects us by taking the blows that would have battered us.  That’s what Jesus did on the cross.

Therefore, suffering can’t touch what Keller calls “our Main Thing–God, his love and his salvation” (p. 307).


Suffering often identifies and calls us to cast away those things on which we have placed too much importance.  Suffering, then, functions like a furnace, burning those things from us.  John Newton’s hymn, “These Inward Trials” captures that process.  Here’s just one verse . . .

These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayest seek thine all in me.


Keller asks, “How can we bring ourselves to love God more?” (p. 310).  His answer:  God can’t be an abstraction; we have to look at Jesus.

Horatio Spafford lost all he had in the Chicago fire of 1871.  Two years later, he sent his wife and four daughters on a ship from America to England.  Their ship collided with another and sank.  Their four daughters were lost.  Spafford penned the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.”  Here’s one verse . . .

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.”

What’s the point?  Keller says that when things go wrong, we might think we’re being punished.  But look at the cross!  And hear God say “I have lost a child too, but not involuntarily–voluntarily, on the cross, for your sake.  So that I could bring you into my family” (Keller, p. 312).


What hit me–hard–is the realization that I’ve loved my health–especially the ordinary ability to walk–more than God.  Hence my discontent, frustration, and even anger at times with God.  He sent or allowed the “furnace” that took away walking on the beach with Lois, walking to our back pasture to feed Stormy (horse), even walking to take the garbage out!

I’ve got  to repent of loving walking more than God.  But that, by itself, isn’t enough.  God must change my heart . . .

“Father, my disappointment and anger with You shows that I love my health–my ability to walk and live without physical limitations–more than I love You.  I repent.  But naming my sin and determining to turn from it won’t produce a heart-change.  Only You can do that.  I pray You will, so I will love You more than being able to walk.  Doesn’t that sound lame on my part!  I love walking more than You, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Yet, such are the idols of my heart.  Change my heart, O God!”


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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (14)

About the Book of Job, Rabbi Abraham Heschel observed:  “God is not nice.  God is not an uncle.  God is an earthquake.”  So begins Chapter 14 of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.

In this final section Keller suggests how we can actually get through suffering–weeping, trusting and now, with Job’s help.


Why do so many people suffer affliction when “bad” people live in comfort?   The Book of Job examines the problem through this good man’s agony.

The traditional answer to “Why suffering?” is:  the sufferer must have done something wrong.  The secular answer:  No good reason.  God doesn’t exist or, if he does, he’s cruel.  Job’s response:  both answers are wrong.  Keller says, “Job’s difficulties came upon him not despite his goodness but because of it” (p. 271).


In his book, Job is introduced as “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1).  Suddenly  he loses everything–wealth, family, health.  Why?  Readers are shown what Job isn’t.  Satan approaches God, who calls Job his most faithful servant.  Satan replies, “God worships you only for the benefits.  Take them away and he’ll curse you.”  “Do it,” God answers.


Why does God allow Satan to test Job?  Keller answers that, though Job truly loved God, his love had to be refined “in a way that would do enormous good down through the ages” (p. 273).  That raises the question, “What would it take for us to love God for himself, not for the benefits received?”  Answer:  suffering,   hardship,  affliction.


We mustn’t miss the philosophy here.  Job doesn’t give us a worldview where good and evil are equal competing forces.  Rather, God has complete control over evil personified in Satan.  God allows evil, to be sure.  Be he doesn’t delight in it.  After Job loses his wealth and family, he loses his health.  That suffering moves him to blame God (3:23).  Though he doesn’t “curse God and die”, he feels like God has treated him unjustly.


Three long speeches comprise the book’s middle.  Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar wound Job with their “comfort”.  Eliphaz: Think back now. Name a single case where someone righteous met with disaster. I have seen people plow fields of evil and plant wickedness like seed; now they harvest wickedness and evil.  Like a storm, God destroys them in his anger (Job 4:7-9).

Eliphaz’s words carry much truth.  Moral order does rule the universe.  Painful consequences do follow bad behavior.  We shouldn’t assume we’re always in the right.  But, as Old Testament commentator Francis I. Anderson writes, “True words can be thin medicine for a man in the depths” (p. 277).

Eliphaz observes,  “Hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground” (Job 5:6).  True.  But, as Keller observes, Eliphaz “shows an ignorance of the teaching of Genesis 3:16  (“And [God] said to the woman, ‘I will increase your trouble in pregnancy and your pain in giving birth. In spite of this, you will still have desire for your husband, yet you will be subject to him'”) which implies “the world is broken by sin, and bad things do happen to people regardless of how well they live” (p. 277).

Job is not being punished or corrected.  Francis Anderson writes that the purpose of Job’s suffering is “enlarged life with God” (p. 279).


When God appears he thunders:

“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set; or who laid its cornerstone–
while the morning stars sang together and the angels shouted for joy?”
(Job 38:2-7)

Despite his thunder, God has come with grace.  God is reaching out to a relationship with Job.  God comes “in a storm”, an overwhelming force, but at the same time in grace as a personal God.  How can God be both?  “Only in Jesus Christ do we see how the untamable, infinite God can become a baby and a loving Savior . . . The gospel, then, explains how God can be both the God of love and of fury that Job meets on the dark and stormy day” (Keller, p. 282).


“Answering” Job, God doesn’t really answer.  He doesn’t explain Satan’s role and his own purpose in the “contest”.  Instead he discourses about the wonderful natural world.  Again, Francis Anderson comments:  “God thrusts Job into an experience of dereliction to make it possible for Job to enter into a life of naked faith, to learn to love God for himself alone.  God does not seem to give this privilege to many people, for they pay a terrible price of suffering for their discoveries” (p. 283).

Keller comments:  “We do not find our hearts fully satisfied with God unless other things are also going well, and therefore we are without sufficient roots, blown and beaten by the winds of changing circumstances.  But to grow into a true ‘free lover’ of God, who has the depth of joy unknown to the mercenary, conditional religious observer–we must ordinarily go through a stripping.  We must feel that to obey God will bring us no benefits at all.  It is at that point that seeking, praying to, and obeying God begin to change us.” (p. 283).

So, never being told the “why” of his sufferings, never being shown “the big picture”, Job comes to love God simply because he is God.  Satan want to discredit Job; “God allows evil just enough space so it will  defeat itself” (p. 284).


God gives his wonders-of-the-natural-world discourses at the end of Job to remind humans we have only an infinitesimal knowledge of God.  We are not God.  “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him (Job 40:2)?  Job can’t run the universe better than God.  Only God is God.

Anderson says:  “There is a rebuke in [Job} for any person who, by complaining about any particular events in his life, implies that he could propose to God better ways of running the universe . . . ” (p. 286).


Job’s friends expected God to condemn him as a sinner.  Instead, God vindicated him.  Why?

God is gracious and forgiving.  Through all his complaints and yelling, Job never stopped praying, never turned away from God.  Instead, he allowed his suffering to draw him near God.  Because he persistently sought God, Job triumphed.

Thus, writes Keller, the lesson for us.  Even if we don’t feel him, God is there.  God is near “to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).  Keller urges, “Read, pray, study, fellowship, witness, serve, obey”  (p. 288).  Psalm 42 is one of the most helpful texts. Read especially Psalm 42.  “Then end on this great note:  defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil, and defy the whole world, and say to yourself with the [psalmist}, ‘I shall yet praise him . . . for he is my God'” (Keller, p. 290).


“I know, Lord, that you are all-powerful; that you can do everything you wantYou ask how I dare question your wisdom when I am so very ignorant. I talked about things I did not understand, about marvels too great for me to know.  You told me to listen while you spoke and to try to answer your questions.  In the past I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.  So I am ashamed of all I have said and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

All Job’s concepts of God have now come to grip his heart.  Job repents.  The word in Hebrew can also mean “retract”, which seems to better fit the context.  Job “takes back” his self-justification, his demands, and bows to love and serve God alone.


God never condemns Job.  God’s silence is an assurance of his love.  How can we have that assurance?  We don’t need a voice out of the storm, Keller asserts.  We need to remember how Jesus Christ bowed his head into the storm of God’s justice.  Jesus is the greater Job who lost everything,–even God–for us.

” . . . when you suffer without relief, when you feel absolutely alone you can know that, because he bore your sin, he will be with you.  You can know you are walking the same path Jesus walked, so you are not alone–and that path is only taking you to him” (Keller, p. 293).


I’m not sure I’d call God an earthquake;  but I would say he’s untameable.  Despite my desires and prayers I can’t keep him boxed in the box of my making.  He’s got his own agenda into which I must fit, not him into mine.

For one thing, as I learn from Job, God wants me to love him, not for his benefits, but for himself.   That’s rather selfish of him.  (My first thought.)  But then I think, No, it’s not selfish at all.   Don’t we all want to be loved for ourselves, not what we can give?

What of the son who loves his father mainly for the car he buys him?  Or the daughter who loves her father mainly for the wardrobe of clothes he provides.  Intuitively we find that love at best lacking, at worst not true love at all.  Such “love” hurts, not only the father, but the child.  Both are left without the deep joy of real love.

So with us and God.  He wants us to freely love him–not for what he gives but who he is.  He deserves real love, because he’s God.  And we need such love, because we can’t enjoy what we were created for without it.

I just loathe the suffering process it takes to get me there.


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