Desiring God: The Wide-Angle Lens
This summer I have joined a group of women over the internet to read Desiring God by John Piper and post our thoughts and application of the text to our own life.
I was pretty excited about this, considering I've been intending to read Piper's book for a few years. It's a neat opportunity to come together to do a personal "study" of the book and its contents over Facebook - a better use of my time on Facebook for sure! For those who haven't read the book, here is his main thesis: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. God actually receives the MOST glory when we find full pleasure and satisfaction in who he is, and what he has created for us.
Piper starts the book on explaining the foundation for Christian Hedonism and addresses the issues of God's sovereignty amidst so much suffering in the world (p. 40). He poses this question: How can we say God is happy when there is so much sin and misery in the world? This is a very common question in our culture and reminds me of the question, How can God exist (or be good), with so much evil and injustice in the world? which is similar yet not identical. I love Piper's response to this question (drawing on conclusions made by Jonathan Edwards), and find it extremely practical to how I view evil in my life:
When God looks at a painful or wicked event through his narrow lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin for what it is in itself and he is angered and grieved. "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God" (Ezekiel 18:32). But when God looks at a painful or wicked event through his wide-angle lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin in relation to everything leading up to it and everything flowing out from it. He sees it in relation to all the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity. This mosaic in all its parts - good and evil - brings him delight (p.40, emphasis mine).
I love the distinction between the narrow and wide-angle lenses.
For God (and us!), still recognize evil for what it is: evil. And it is not to be downplayed. Like when we are the victims of abuse, or the tragic shootings which plague our nation these days. God grieves at those injustices - and we can too. We don't need to mask our pain with lines like, "well, it's God will so to be upset would be to question his sovereignty." No. Even though God IS sovereign, when he views these events with his narrow lens, he grieves.
The wide-angle lens is a refreshing viewpoint. To suggest there is a bigger picture to our circumstances which often dominate our thinking. That when God looks at a particular suffering or evil, he sees so much more! He sees everything leading up to it. He not only sees the abuse victim, but the childhood innocence of the abuser. He sees everything that flows from the abuse into the future - how the victim grows in faith, strength, and forgiveness. He sees both the good and harm that can come from a single event. God looks at a shooting and sees all the renewed love and justice that spring from it. The restored relationships and strengthened community in a city. None of these things downplay the seriousness of the evil event or intent. Yet this wide-angle view sees everything forming together to make a mosaic of both good and evil. And it is in this mosaic which stretches into eternity that God finds delight in.
Often I look at evil events in my life, or injustices and see only a narrow view. I find things to grieve in and focus on the small and immediate details. How I long to grow to view circumstances through a wide-angle perspective! Clearly I lack the omnipotence of God to be able to do this perfectly. But I can trust in God who has the ability to see this view. I can know that both good and evil work together to lead us to particular events, but both good and evil will also flow from them. I don't need to rejoice in the evil, but in the good that God creates and ordains. He doesn't desire or create evil - but allows it to exist in order for his greater purposes to be fulfilled. It's not easy but amidst evil, I choose to believe that God's greater purpose is the revealing of God's glory through the revelation of Jesus.
So why is God happy (along with us) even though evil and suffering exist? Well there's a bigger picture to keep in mind. Does this always provide comfort when we are in pain? Sometimes it does, sometimes not. Yet take comfort that the story isn't over yet. God has more work to do.