As those of us who work in publishing might expect, and those of you who read books might assume, there has been an exponential increase in books about Coronavirus/COVID19. In the Christian marketplace, from the UK at least, 10ofThose released a tract which I felt was a bit soon, whilst The Good Book Company released a short book by John Lennox which I need to get round to reading. I was excited to see that over in the USA, Crossway has published this little book by John Piper. It is classic Piper – pointing to the sovereignty and goodness of God, lightly contextualised for the time we find ourselves in.
I was glad that Piper starts in humility, knowing full well that the situation is fast moving: “The first death by the virus was reported in China on January 11, 2020. Today as I write, there are hundreds of thousands of cases of infection worldwide, with tens of thousands of deaths. There is no known cure—yet. By the time you read this, you will know far better than I how things will develop. So I need not detail the measuresbeing taken to slow the spread of the virus or the economic toll being exacted.” Piper’s aim in this book, then, is to lift the readers eyes away from the present turmoil and towards things that are still true, still good, and still beautiful.
In these uncertain times, Piper invites the reader to put their hope not in a cure, or government bailouts, or online community, but in Christ: “The Rock I am talking about is under my feet now. I could say that the Rock is under my feet now just because hope beyond the grave is present hope. The object of hope is future. The experience of hope is present. And that present experience is powerful. Hope is power. Present power. Hope keeps people from killing themselves—now. It helps people get out of bed and go to work—now. It gives meaning to daily life, even locked-down, quarantined, stay-at-home life—now. It liberates from the selfishness of fear and greed—now. It empowers love and risk taking and sacrifice—now“. This is at the heart of the Christian gospel – and a key practical benefit of trusting Jesus now – that hope is available, and, because of the Easter weekend we remember soon, it is a sure and certain hope.
Piper begins chapter 2 with a blunt but simple reminder: “It matters little what I think about the coronavirus—or about anything else, for that matter. But it matters forever what God thinks. He is not silent about what he thinks. Scarcely a page in the Bible is irrelevant for this crisis“. Amen! With this in mind, Piper goes on to give a perspective that will be shocking to some, but one that I agree with, and indeed find helpful: “In chapter 2 I used the phrase “bitter providence.” That’s what the coronavirus is. To describe some of God’s works as bitter is not blasphemy. Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, who lost her husband, her two sons, andone daughter-in-law through famine and exile, said: The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. . . . The Almighty has brought calamity upon me. (Ruth 1:20–21)She was not lying, overstating, or accusing. It was a simple, and terrible, fact. “Bitter providence” is not a disparagementof God’s ways. It’s a description.” Piper goes on, not to excuse, but to attempt to explain, from the position of a creature; “My aim in this chapter and the next is to show that God is all-governing and all-wise. He is sovereign over the coronavirus. I want to show that this is good news—indeed, it is the secret of experiencing the sweetness of God in his
bitter providences.” To that, I say amen, though I know that for some this is a bitter tonic.
Coronavirus and Christ is a book that will probably not persuade you of Piper’s theological position if you already find it unpalatable. But I found it helpful, because I believe he is on to something. “This is not a season for sentimental views of God. It is a bitter season. And God ordained it. God governs it. He will end it. No part of it is outside his sway. Life and death are in his hand.” That sums it up for me. I have hope because I know Jesus. And Jesus defeated death, as this Easter weekend will remind us, in amongst the death and pain of the Coronavirus crisis. And I longingly pray, in hope, that it will end. Piper writes this all knowing that he is in fact at risk: “For all I know, I will not live to see this book published. I have at least one relative infected with the coronavirus. I am seventy-four years old, and my lungs are compromised with a blood clot and seasonal bronchitis. But these factors do not ultimately decide. God decides. Is that good news? Yes. I’ll try to show why in the next chapter.” That is a stirring and encouraging kind of faith, in my book.
Following his introduction, and plea for readers to turn to Christ, Piper offers six possible answers to what God might be doing in this crisis. Again, you may not find these compelling, but I found them thought-provoking and encouraging. Some of them are particularly challenging! Piper ends in prayer, and that is surely where we should turn. I found this book helpful and reassuring. You may, or may not. But I think Crossway/John Piper/Desiring God have done a good service in providing this book, full of hope and full of robust truth. I’ll be recommending it, and hopefully talking about it with friends and family. You can buy a copy soon, or read it for free on the Desiring God Website.