Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead

Many of our health issues are diet related – probably far more than we realize. I would strongly encourage everyone to watch the movie “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” It is a huge wake up call. It is also a guide to help anyone who struggles with weight loss and health.

Though not specifically “Christian,” God may well use the 94 minutes of this movie to save someone’s life. Check it out here.

God bless,

John

I will spit you out of My mouth

Pastor John, I see very plain statements in the Bible that show that Christ does not lose any of His true sheep. However, I am struggling to understand a passage in Revelation 3 where Christ says “because you are lukewarm… I will spit you out of My mouth.” Are you able to help me understand what these words mean?

Thanks for your question. The phrase you quoted, lifted out of its context, has caused many to doubt the biblical doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. To correctly understand the verse in question, one has to see the broader context and know something of the historical background.

Please allow me to illustrate. Suppose someone 300 years from now, comes across a letter written this year (2013) in which a mother writes, “After the Church service today, we all went to McDonalds and each of the kids had a happy meal.”

Then let us imagine (hard as it may be to do so) that sometime between now and 300 years from now, all the McDonalds restaurants go out of business. I realize that might be a far fetched notion, but lets go along with it for a moment for the sake of illustration.

Then, 300 years from now, someone who has never heard of the McDonalds restaurant chain looks at the words “we all went to McDonalds” and assumes that this meant a Scottish family (rather than a restaurant). They then assume that the phrase “each of the kids had a happy meal” meant that the kids were happy when they ate the food. We can almost laugh at such an interpretation knowing that it misses the mark completely. That is because here in the 21st Century, the words “McDonalds” and “happy meal” are almost universally understood to refer to a restaurant and a special sized meal for children (that includes a small toy for them to play with).

The idea of McDonalds being a Scottish family and that the kids enjoyed their meal, is a possible interpretation, but that is not how these words would normally be understood in our early 21st Century context. It is far more likely that the intended meaning of the words are that the family went to a well known restaurant called McDonalds, and each of the kids had child sized meals which included toys for each child.

I say all this because the words in Revelation chapter 3 had a context, that when known, make the passage easy to understand. However, when historical context is either unknown or ignored, we are likely to misinterpret the intended meaning of the text.

The words you quote are taken from a passage in Revelation chapter 3 (v. 14-22) where the Lord Jesus, through His apostle John, is writing to the Church at Laodicea. The city of Laodicea was located in the Lycus River Valley and was an important commercial center in the first century. The local water supply was not adequate for the many residents of the city and so an underground aqueduct was built.

Two cities were in close proximity to Laodicea and both of them had contrasting types of water. Hierapolis was well known for its hot springs, and Colosse was famous for its cold refreshing water that flowed from a mountain stream. There are great uses for hot water and cold water, however, Laodicea, with only its underground aqueduct, had only tepid (or lukewarm) water. Visitors unaccustomed to Laodicea tasting the water would immediately detest it and spit it out.

In Christ’s 33 years on earth, there is no record of Him traveling to the region in and around Laodicea. Touching His humanity, all we can say about His knowledge of the area can only be mere speculation. However, as the Ascended Christ and in His full deity, Christ knows all things and therefore can address the Laodicean Church with full knowledge of the geographical data. Christ used the historical situation known by all Laodiceans to describe the spiritual condition of the local Church there. The Church in Laodicea was neither cold (outwardly hostile to Christ) nor hot (zealous for Christ and His gospel), but were instead lukewarm – professing faith in Christ but were really hypocrites of the highest order, and certainly, not true disciples of Christ.

Theologians have long made the distinction between the visible and invisible Church. The visible Church is the Church man sees. We see with our eyes all who make a profession of faith in Christ. The invisible Church is the Church that is seen only by God – His true sheep. The Lord knows the identity of His elect, even when we (because we do not see things as He does) are fooled. God, of course, is never fooled. “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19).

We all know that not everyone who professes Christ, truly possess Christ. Many say they know Him, but Christ will say to many professors “depart from Me, I never knew you.” (Matt 7:21ff). Notice that! He does not say, “I knew you at one time but you blew it.” No, He says that He never knew them. There never was a time when Christ was united to them, savingly.

When Christ says to such people, “I will spit you out of My mouth” He was speaking to a Church full of hypocrites. To use another Biblical expression, they honored Christ with their lips but their hearts were far from Him. Just as the Lord Jesus (in the Gospels) saved His harshest words for the religious hypocrites of His day (the Scribes and Pharisees), so the Lord will vomit such lukewarm members of the Church in Laodicea out of His mouth.

He addresses this same exact group (the Church of Laodicea) just a few verses later when He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20) Christ stood outside the Church and through the means of this letter, was knocking on the door. There was not a single true believer in the Laodicean Church, and yet, as Dr. John MacArthur stated, “If one member would recognize his spiritual bankrupcy and respond in saving faith, He would enter the church.” A full explanation of Revelation 3:20 can be found here.

The verse you quote has nothing to do with a true believer losing salvation. It is in fact a word to a Church that seemed to have everything, naturally speaking, but spiritually was completely destitute – poor, blind and naked. That is why Christ exhorts them, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (v. 18, 19)

Now you know something of the background, read through the passage again and see if the meaning now becomes clear:

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

– Revelation 3:14-22

I hope that helps. God bless, John

Debating Predestination, Election and the Will of God

Dr. Michael L. Brown and Dr. James White at Southern Evangelical Seminary, February 14, 2013.

Miscellaneous Quotes (72)

“I simply argue that the cross should be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles but on a cross between two thieves; on the town’s garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek, at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died for. And that is what he died about. That is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen ought to be about.” – George MacLeod, quoted by Richard C. Halverson, Perspective, 6 January 1988.

“For every one hundred men who can stand adversity there is only one who can withstand prosperity.” – Thomas Carlyle

“God would never permit any evil if he could not bring good out of evil.” – Thomas Watson

What will it cost to be a true Christian? “it will cost him his self-righteousness. He must cast away all pride and high thoughts, and conceit of his own goodness. He must be content to go to heaven as a poor sinner, saved only by free grace, and owing all to the merit and righteousness of another.” – J. C. Ryle

“Courage is about doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” – Eddie Rickenbacker

“The religion of some people is constrained, like the cold bath when used, not for pleasure, but from necessity for health, into which one goes with reluctance, and is glad when able to get out. But religion to the true believer is like water to a fish; it is his element; he lives in it and could not live out of it.” – John Newton

“We know how God would act if he were in our place — he has been in our place.” – A.W. Tozer

“God’s sovereignty does not negate our responsibility to pray, but rather makes it possible for us to pray with confidence.” – Jerry Bridges

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” – John Piper

“You cannot slander human nature; it is worse than words can paint it.” – Charles H. Spurgeon

“Now faith cometh not of our free-will; but is the gift of God, given us by grace, ere there be any will in our hearts to do the law of God. And why God giveth …it not every man, I can give no reckoning of his judgments. But well I know, I never deserved it, nor prepared myself unto it; but ran another way clean contrary in my blindness, and sought not that way; but he sought me, and found me out, and showed it me, and therewith drew me to him. And I bow the knees of my heart unto God night and day, that he will show it all other men; and I suffer all that I can, to be a servant to open their eyes. For well I know they cannot see of themselves, before God hath prevented them with his grace.” – William Tyndale

“When we become too glib in prayer we are most surely talking to ourselves.” – A.W. Tozer

“When we see that the whole sum of our salvation, and every single part of it, are comprehended in Christ, we must beware of deriving even the minutest portion of it from any other quarter.” – John Calvin

“Unbelief is actually perverted faith, for it puts its trust, not in the living God but in dying men. The unbeliever denies the self-sufficiency of God and usurps attributes that are not his. This dual sin dishonors God and ultimately destroys the soul of man.” – A. W. Tozer

“There is no greater discovery than seeing God as the author of your destiny.” – Ravi Zacharias

“When the devil accuses us and says, ‘You are a sinner and therefore damned,’ we should answer, ‘Because you say I am a sinner, I will be righteous and saved.’ ‘No,’ says the devil, ‘you will be damned.’ And I reply, ‘No, for I fly to Christ, who gave himself for my sins. Satan, you will not prevail against me when you try to terrify me by setting forth the greatness of my sins and try to bring me into heaviness, distrust, despair, hatred, contempt and blasphemy against God. On the contrary, when you say I am a sinner, you give me armor and weapons against yourself, so that with your own sword I may cut your throat and tread you under my feet, for Christ died for sinners. . . . As often as you object that I am a sinner, so often you remind me of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer, on whose shoulders, and not on mine, lie all my sins. So when you say I am a sinner, you do not terrify me but comfort me immeasurably.’” – Martin Luther, commenting on Galatians 1:4, “. . . the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins.”

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Galatians 3:13

“To the Jews, this was absolute blasphemy: a cursed Messiah on a cursed cross. No wonder the cross was such a stumbling block to them! To put it in the most shocking and yet perhaps the most accurate way, the apostolic message was about a God-damned Messiah.” – Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians (Phillipsburg, 2005), page 115.

“The main condition of spiritual life, according to 1 John 1, is fellowship with God; and the prerequisite for communion with God is ‘walking in the light,’ which may be defined as an honest heart awareness of the truth about the condition of one’s life and the truth of God’s grace, which both covers sin and provides a dynamic of sanctifying transformation. Live orthodoxy is found not among those who wave the flag of commitment to biblicism but among those who live in this focused spotlight of applied biblical truth.” – Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, 1979), page 284.

“God frees us from our bankruptcy only by paying our debts on Christ’s cross. More than that. He has not only cancelled the debt, but also destroyed the document on which it was recorded.” – John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, 1986), page 234.

Molinism

In an article entitled “Molinism 101” found Paul Helm outlines the basics of Molinism.

Ligonier comments: In recent months and years, an old controversy about the nature of God’s knowledge has been re-ignited in certain Christian circles. The doctrine at the center of this controversy is called “middle knowledge” (also known as Molinism). In an effort to help our readers better understand the issues at stake, we have invited Dr. Paul Helm to write an introduction to this important subject.

God’s Knowledge

In thinking about God’s knowledge theologically it was customary for many years, until and including the Reformation, to distinguish between God’s necessary knowledge and His free knowledge. The distinction is obvious and natural. God’s necessary knowledge includes several kinds of truths. It is the knowledge of matters such as the truths of mathematics (for example, 2+2=4). It is also the knowledge of truths such as the whole is greater than the part and no circle can be a square. God’s necessary knowledge also includes His knowledge of all possibilities, such as possible people, the possible lives they could lead, and the whole range of possible worlds. These are known to God immediately and intuitively.

God’s free knowledge, on the other hand, is His knowledge of His decree (of that which, in His wisdom, God freely and unchangeably ordained to come to pass). That which God decrees is obviously a subset of all the possibilities that are known to Him. His decree also has its source solely in His mind and will.

Middle Knowledge

In the late 1500’s a new kind of knowledge was proposed by two Iberian Jesuit thinkers, Luis de Molina (1535-1600) and Pedro da Fonseca (1528-1599). Middle knowledge (or ‘Molinism’ as it came to be called), was their contribution to a controversy within the Roman Catholic church over grace, free will and predestination. In our own time Molinism has been proposed by Alvin Plantinga and others in connection with God’s relation to evil. I think it is fair to say that while Roman Catholic theologians have long discussed middle knowledge in their textbooks, recent interest in it has been due to Plantinga and his discussion of the topic in his book God, Freedom and Evil.

What is middle knowledge? At the center of this recent interest has been God’s knowledge of possibilities involving human choice (the ‘counterfactuals of freedom’ as they have been called). Why this innovation? Its proponents are concerned to preserve what they consider to be two vital beliefs. The first is God’s providence and total foreknowledge. The second is the idea that human beings are ineradicably free in an indeterministic sense. When we speak of indeterministic freedom, we mean that any human being, in a given set of circumstances, has the power to choose A or to choose not-A. The problem is obvious. How can this be consistent with God’s universal providential rule and his purposes of redemption?

The Molinists’ way of attempting to keep all this together was to suggest that there existed, besides God’s natural knowledge and his free knowledge, a third kind of knowledge. They argued that God also has “middle knowledge” (between the other two). What this means can be briefly explained. Given a whole array of possible worlds (that God knows), given worlds in which men and women were free in the relevant indeterministic sense, God knows what they would freely choose in every possible circumstance. God has knowledge of all such possible outcomes. If placed in one set of circumstances, God knows what Jones would freely choose. If placed in another set of circumstances, God knows what Jones would freely choose. This is true for all possible people and all possible circumstances. God has this middle knowledge by inspection of all the possibilities that the free will of each person might choose.

In His power and wisdom, He chooses that possible world, that total combination of individuals and circumstances, whose expressions of free will best serve His purposes. Thus, God’s omniscience is preserved, and human free will is preserved. The moral evil that occurs in the chosen world is not the direct responsibility of God but of those creatures who exercise their choices in a malevolent fashion.

What Are The Implications of Molinism?

We need to emphasize that the view of free will held by Molinists both ancient and modern is what is often called “libertarianism” or “indeterminism.” By contrast their opponents, in the Roman Catholic Church and in the churches of the Reformation, have held views of human freedom that are deliberately consistent with God’s decree of all that comes to pass and the irresistibility of His grace.

What About Biblical Arguments for Molinism?

Insofar as its proponents sought direct biblical support for middle knowledge, they used the example of David at Keilah recorded in 1 Samuel 23. At this point in the biblical narrative, the Philistines were attacking Keilah. David asked the Lord if he should go to Keilah to fight the Philistines, and the Lord said that he should. David’s companions were fearful and so David enquired a second time. At Keilah, fearing that Saul would attack him there, David asked the Lord whether Saul would come to Keilah. At this point, we read the following conversation: “And the Lord said ‘He will come down.’ Then he said ‘Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the Lord said, ‘They will surrender you.’ Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go” (1 Samuel 23:11–13).

To the minds of the Molinists, this incident showed middle knowledge at work, for it showed that the Lord knew what would happen if a certain free action occurred (they assumed that David and the other participants were acting with free will in the libertarian sense). God knew that if David freely stayed at Keilah, then the Keilahites would freely surrender him. So David freely took evasive action, and Saul freely gave up the expedition against David when he learned of what David had done. God knew all of this (and much more besides) by His foreknowledge.

What is Wrong with Molinism?

Since the Reformed held that all that occurs is unconditionally decreed by God and that men and women are responsible for their actions, they saw no need for a third kind of divine knowledge, a middle knowledge, which depended upon God foreseeing what possible people would freely do in certain circumstances. The Reformed interpreted the Keilah incident differently. God did not simply see what Saul would do; He ordained that Saul would come down if David remained. He ordained that David would depart from Keilah upon hearing what Saul would do. And He ordained that Saul would change his mind.

Not only is middle knowledge unnecessary to an all-knowing, all-decreeing God, but the Molinists’ conception of free will makes it impossible for God to exercise providential control over his creation. Why? Because men and women would be free to resist His decree. God can only bring to pass the actions of free agents via his middle knowledge of what they would freely do if…

Further, given the Molinist view of freedom, it is impossible for God to bring about the conversion of any person by the exercise of His effective call, for in the view of the Molinists it is always possible for an individual to resist God’s grace. Men and women must freely cooperate with what God says and does if they are to become Christians. God’s grace is always resistible. Reformed Christians have no good reason to accept the speculative concept of middle knowledge and strong reasons to reject it.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we may say that there is much that is interesting and puzzling about Molinism, but the Reformed response to it has been—and should continue to be—that not only are there unresolved difficulties in the idea of middle knowledge itself, it is also an unnecessary speculation. Scripture scarcely mentions anything that may be thought to give support to Molinism, while teaching perfectly clearly that God works all things, even the evil actions of people who act with full responsibility, after the counsel of His own will. As Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” and lawless men crucified and killed him (Acts 2:23).

To learn more about Molinism read the relevant section in Dr. Helm’s book, The Providence of God.

The Goodness of God

“You won’t catch me speaking about such things.” The statement came from a minister who had just heard me preach.

“What things?” I asked.

“Judgment, hell, wrath and the like,” he said.

“Oh, so why is it that you will not speak of such things when the Bible clearly does?” I then asked.

I expected him to say something like, “well the Bible is a primitive book written in a primitive culture. People are more sophisticated in our day and need to hear a different kind of message; one that is affirming, and encouraging.” That’s what I expected the minister to say. I expected him to ridicule me for believing and preaching the Bible in the 21st century, but this would be a wrong assumption on my part.

From his response to my question I could readily see that this man was in fact a Bible believing Christian; a Bible believing minister, no less. Here’s what he said:

“Well brother, Romans 2:4 says that it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance, so I believe if we want to see people repent, we have to preach on the goodness of God, not these other attributes.”

I was stunned! Completely stunned! The man was totally sincere, but I could hardly believe how the text he mentioned in Romans 2 could be so badly mistreated.

Just a brief scan over the passage in Romans 2 would reveal words like judgment, wrath and fury. Clearly Paul believed in and mentioned such concepts. Here’s the passage from the NASB:

Romans 2:1-8 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,

The text of course nowhere states preaching on the goodness or kindness of God is what draws sinners to repentance, but clearly this was how the minister interpreted this statement. I wonder if he thought Jesus would need to be corrected for many times speaking of such “negative” themes as hell and judgment as he addressed vast crowds. We in fact learn more about hell from the lips of Jesus than any other person in the pages of Scripture.

The more I thought about the words of this minister, the more I was troubled. A very poor interpretation of a verse, has led, I believe, to a very poor theology, and as a result, those who hear the man will receive a very poor diet of the Word of God. More than that, this obscuring of God has led to what Dr. R. C. Sproul describes as the Eclipse of God in our churches – the full replendent glory of God has been deliberately hidden from view by the traditions of men.

Clearly, the minister would see attributes such as love and mercy and grace as “good” but other attributes as something less than so. But again, this is to miss the entire point of what Scripture says about God.

God is good. On this we can agree. But I would also say that everything about God is good. God is good in every one of His attributes. God is good in His Sovereignty, His holiness, His love, His justice, His mercy, His grace, and all His other attributes.

When I say God is good in His justice, I mean that God will make sure that justice takes place to punish every sin. Why is that good? It is good because justice is a good thing. It is good when criminals are brought to justice. It is a bad thing in fact when (at least in this life) the guilty man seemingly gets away with his crime.

Think of it this way: if a Judge in a murder trail hears that the jury has come to a unanimous decision in pronouncing the guilt of the accused, but then says, “Look, I know you have been found guilty.. and the law says that I should sentence you to serve a minimum 20 year prison sentence, but I’ve got good news… today is my birthday.. I’m feeling in a very good mood.. so lets just say that you’ve learnt your lesson now (I’m sure this whole trial has not been an easy time for you), so just go and try not to do this kind of thing again. O.K., court dismissed!”

If such a thing were to take place, I don’t think the judge would keep his job very long. Why? Because the judge himself would be condemned for not dispensing justice. An injustice occurs when justice is not administrated.

Taking this illustration back to the theme of God’s attributes, when we talk of God being good, it certainly does include the idea that God is a good judge. God is good when it comes to dispensing justice. This of course is not so good for us, because if each of us receives justice, we will all end up in hell. That’s what each of us as sinners deserve. We deserve for each of our sins to be punished to the full. We don’t want or need justice, we need mercy! And that’s what we find at the cross… our sins were laid on Christ (Isa. 53:4-6) and He received the full wrath and punishment of God which we deserved. God’s justice was poured out on Him to the full; yet in great mercy, God imputes the very righteousness of Christ to all who believe in Him. It is an unblemished righteousness, without spot or wrinkle, which has perfectly fulfilled the law and pleased the Father. 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Christ the just, suffered for the unjust. He bore our sin and its full punishment. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53).

He took what we deserved, so we could receive what He deserved. He took the justice due to us, we receive the justice due to Him as One who pleased His Father at all times. What grace! What mercy toward us sinners!

My brief inter-change with this minister makes me wonder how often faulty interpretation leads to faulty theology, not merely in other’s people’s hearts and minds but my own. How often is it the case that I assume what a text means? We are all slaves to our traditions, and as my friend Dr. James White says so well, “those most enslaved to their traditions are those who don’t believe they have any.” All of us need to humble ourselves before God and treat His word with humility, allowing God to show us if our assumptions about the text can hold up to scrutiny.

I was able to share some of these thoughts with the minister, and I could see that he went away with much to think about, but sometimes I find, traditions are so deep and ingrained, that a good number of folk will not expose their traditions to the light of scripture. I don’t know if that is the case with this minister, but I know my own heart. I, all too often, assume what a verse means rather than taking the time to study to see if my pre-conceived notions are correct.

God in His goodness brings many to repentance. Whenever someone is brought to repentance, we can be sure that God’s goodness and kindness is the unseen cause behind it. Sinners do not come to Christ by their own power, but by the good and effectual call of God.

We can also be sure that God is good, all the time; and that means that all sins will be punished – either when they were laid on Christ and He was punished in behalf of all those who would ever believe on Him; or else the punishment will be meted out as wrath and fury is poured out on the sinner in hell. Either way, God remains just as well as the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

Letter to a Grieving Parent

Original article by Pastor John Piper found a grieving mother, who recently had given birth to a stillborn son, wrote to me asking for counsel and comfort. The team at Desiring God thought this letter might be helpful to some others, whether other mothers who have lost infants, parents who have lost young children, or perhaps even more broadly.

Dear _____,

This loss and sorrow is all so fresh. I hesitate to tread into the tender place and speak. But since you ask, I pray that God would help me say something helpful.

First, please know that I know I don’t know what it is like to give birth to a lifeless body. Only a small, sad band of mothers know that. I say “lifeless body” because, as you made clear, your son is not lifeless. He simply skipped earth. For now. But in the new heavens and the new earth, he will know the best of earth and all the joys earth can give without any of its sorrows.

I do not know what age — what level of maturity and development — he will have in that day. I don’t know what level of maturity and development I will have. Will the 25-year-old or the 35- or the 45- or the 55-year-old John Piper be the risen one? God knows what is optimal for the spiritual, glorified body. And so it will be for your son. But you will know him. God will see to that. And he you. And he will thank you for giving him life. He will thank you for enduring the loss that he might have the reward sooner.

God’s crucial word on grieving well is 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Yours is a grieving with hope. Theirs is a grieving without hope. That is the key difference. There is no talk of not grieving. That would be like suggesting to a woman who just lost her arm that she not cry, because it would be put back on in the resurrection. It hurts! That’s why we cry. It hurts.

And amputation is a good analogy. Because unlike a bullet wound, when the amputation heals, the arm is still gone. So the hurt of grief is different from the hurt of other wounds. There is the pain of the severing, and then the relentless pain of the gone-ness. The countless might-have-beens. Those too hurt. Each new remembered one is a new blow on the tender place where the arm was. So grieving is like and unlike other pain.

There is a paradox in the way God is honored through hope-filled grief. One might think that the only way he could be honored would be to cry less or get over the ache more quickly. That might show that your confidence is in the good that God is and the good that he does. Yes. It might. And some people are wired emotionally to experience God that way. I would not join those who say, “O they are just in denial.”

But there is another way God is honored in our grieving. When we taste the loss so deeply because we loved so deeply and treasured God’s gift — and God in his gift — so passionately that the loss cuts the deeper and the longer, and yet in and through the depths and the lengths of sorrow we never let go of God, and feel him never letting go of us — in that longer sorrow he is also greatly honored, because the length of it reveals the magnitude of our sense of loss for which we do not forsake God. At every moment of the lengthening grief, we turn to him not away from him. And therefore the length of it is a way of showing him to be ever-present, enduringly sufficient.

So trust him deeply and let your heart be your guide whether you honor him one way or the other. Everyone is different. Beware of blaming your husband, or he you, for moving into or out of grief at different paces. It is so personal. And what you may find is that the one who seemed to recover more quickly will weep the more deeply in ten years. You just don’t know now, and it is good not to judge.

May God make your grieving a bittersweet experience of communion with Jesus. Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). So he knows what it is to go with you there.

We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize. He was tested in every way as we are — including loss.

Grace to you and peace.

Affectionately,

Pastor John

Why I am not an atheist

On April 4, 2013 at Princeton University, Dr. Ravi Zacharias taught a remarkably profound and penetrating lecture on the subject, “Why I am not an atheist.” Here is the video:

Here is the question and answers forum that followed the lecture: