As you know, I was asked to live-blog the Desiring God National Conference. This evening, Saturday and Sunday morning I will bring to you updates from this conference. You can also check coffeeswirls.com as Doug is blogging right beside me. I apologize in advance for spelling errors, grammatical errors, and the like. Because of the pace of the sessions I will have little opportunity, at least initially, to proof-read my entries.
So here we are. Doug and I are sitting near the back of a massive auditorium listening to an orchestra play a stirring prelude. John Piper just made his way to the front so I would assume we are nearly ready to begin. There must be at least a thousand people here already with plenty more filing in. Justin Taylor just dropped by to make his introduction and, despite his claims to the contrary, I don’t see that he looks anything like “Jared” of Subway fame. So I think it’s safe to say that we have all we need. Oh, except for a wireless internet connection. We hear that wireless is available in the hallway but that it cannot reach this auditorium. That is unfortunate as it means we will have to post a little more sporadically than we might like, waiting until the breaks in the program.
The schedule indicates that there will be a brief introduction by Scott Anderson, the coordinator of this event and then an initial time of worship. This will be followed by the first plenary session which features John Piper. He will speak on “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God” (Part 1).
The worship is, of course, exceptional. The choir is beautiful and the accompaniment superb. There is such tremendous power in the joining of thousands of voices and thousands of hearts in glorifying the Lord. It is just a little foretaste of heaven and one that does not escape a person like myself who attends a small church. Interestingly, there is a person “signing” the worship for the benefit of the deaf and I find it adds a very interesting dimension to the worship to see a person worshipping God with his whole body rather than only his mouth. When he “speaks” of the Holy Spirit, he reaches his hands to heaven and pulls them in towards his heart as if to pull God from His throne and bring Him into our midst. Signing worship is clearly art and, well, worship as much as it is simple interpretation of words. I find it both fascinating and powerful. Almost haunting. It must be an exceedingly difficult task attempting to capture even just a little bit of the power and majesty of music, but without sound.
Following a prayer in which he asked God to help us see him be exceedingly valuable in everything. He made the initial point that God is supremely valuable and anything else that has value has it because of its connection to him. Quoting David Wells in his new book Piper expressed that the tragedy and suffering of 9/11 and Katrina has shown the church to be shallow and unable to deal with such serious evil. Evangelicalism is simply not very serious anymore. Against the weight and seriousness of the Bible, the church is choosing to become more shallow and light therefore more unable to respond properly to pain and suffering. His desire for this conference is that God would show Christ’s supremacy even in suffering. All of the speakers at this conference has suffered. None of them are dealing with a theoretical issue, but are all living with the memory of pain and loss.
We are going to celebrate the sovereignty of God, not fear or flee from it. Satan will be put in his proper place, and God in His – vastly more sovereign over Satan. This should beget worship as our minds are made to see and be stunned by the majesty of God.
Here is Piper’s definition of God’s sovereignty: “It is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things but that He does so always and without exception.” That definition will prove important throughout this conference.
The heart of this session is ten celebrations of God’s sovereignty which I will outline now. I will cover Piper’s speech in more detail than later sessions simply because I believe it will be foundational to what follows over the next two days.
1. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s delegated world rule. We know that Satan has been given dominion over the world because he was able to offer it to Christ. Satan plays a huge role in the rise and rule of evil in this world, but he does this only by degree permission and within God’s appointed limits. The Bible makes this abundantly clear.
2. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s angels (demons, evil spirits). Satan has thousands of cohorts that are known by various names and titles. There are wars and skirmishes on a spiritual level that we read about in Scripture, but we know that God is sovereign over even them.
3. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over persecution. While Christians do suffer in the jaws of Satan’s persecution, they do so within the government of God. Jesus knew this, for in the night He was taken from the garden he expressed that the Father had ordained that they had an hour, just one brief period of time, in which they could take and kill Him. But then He would break free.
4. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s life-taking power. Satan is a murdered who wants nothing more than to destroy. He does so successfully in this life. But none live or die but by God’s decree.
5. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s hand in natural disasters. The story of Job shows that Satan has the ability to control natural forces such as wind and fire from heaven (which is probably lightning). God his given Satan sufficient authority to do this. But we can learn from Job in this, for he did not focus on Satan’s agency, but on God’s sovereignty. There is small comfort in concentrating on the agency of Satan. Our focus needs to be on God for this is where we will find hope and security.
6. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s sickness-causing power. Satan causes much of the sickness we suffer. But as witnessed through the life of Christ, He has authority over Satan. Even today it is God’s delight to heal us.
7. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s use of animals and plants. Satan is able to use animals and plants to wreak havoc and bring death. Animals and plants are used to cause great suffering as part of Satan’s plan. But they cannot do what God does not will for them to do.
8. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s temptations to sin. Much of the suffering in the world is caused by man’s sin against man. Satan is called “the temptor,” as he tempts others to do his evil work for him. But God is sovereign over even this and He will not allow more than we can bear.
9. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s mind-blinding power. The greatest suffering, beside Christ’s will be the suffering of hell. Satan’s aim is to take as many of us with him into this suffering. He does this by blinding our minds to the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
10. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s spiritual bondage. Satan enslaves people in two ways. One is through pleasure, by making us think we don’t need God because we already have all we need. The other is through pain, by making us think God is not sovereign over pain. Both these sins demand repentance. Satan is not fully sovereign over his captives, for God can always grant repentance if He so desires.
The evil and suffering in this world are greater than we can ever imagine. But evil and suffering are not ultimate or sovereign. No, only and always it is God who is sovereign over joy and pain, evil and suffering.
Later tonight there will be a question and answer period with Justin Taylor asking questions of John Piper. Stay tuned for a synopsis of that session.