By John Piper

Playing the odds


In this coronavirus crisis, I am moved to write because playing the odds is a fragile place to put your hope. Odds like 3% versus 10%, youth versus old age, compromised health versus no history of disease, rural versus urban, self-isolated versus home meeting with friends. Playing the odds provides little hope. It is not a firm place to stand. There is a better way. There is a better place to stand: a Rock of certainty rather than the sand of probabilities.

I recall being told on December 21, 2005, that I had prostate cancer. For the next several weeks, all the talk was about odds. Odds with waiting to see. Odds with medications. Odds with homeopathic procedures. Odds with radical surgery. My wife, Noël, and I took these numbers seriously. But in the evening, we would smile at each other and think, "Our hope is not in the odds. Our hope is in God."

We did not mean, "It is 100% certain God will heal me, while doctors can only give me odds." The Rock we are talking about is better than that.

Yes, better than healing.

Even before the phone call from the doctor telling me I had cancer, God had already reminded me in a remarkable way about the Rock under my feet. After my usual annual exam, the urologist had looked at me and said, "I'd like to do a biopsy." While he was going to get the machine, I thought: "Really? So, he thinks I may have cancer."

As my future in this world began to change before my eyes, God brought to my mind something I had read recently in the Bible. ... The Bible, rightly understood, is the voice of God.

Here is what He said to me as I waited for the biopsy that would confirm that I had cancer. "John Piper, this is not wrath. Live or die, you will be with me." That's my paraphrase. Here's what He actually said: "God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him." (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)

Awake or asleep—that is, live or die—I will be alive with God. How can that be? I am a sinner. I have never lived a day of my life—not one—without falling short of God's standards of love and holiness. So how can this be? How can God say, "You will be with me—live or die"?

God didn't even wait for the question before he answered. It's because of Jesus. Jesus alone. Because of his death, there will be no wrath toward me. Not because of my perfection. My sins, my guilt, and my punishment fell on my Saviour, Jesus Christ. He "died for us." That's what his Word says. Therefore, I am free from guilt. Free from punishment. Secure in God's merciful favor. "Live or die," God said, "you will be with me."

That is very different from playing the odds with cancer—or with the coronavirus. This is a firm Rock under my feet. It is not fragile. It is not sand. I would like it to be a Rock under your feet. ...

And it is not just for the great by and by. 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. So be careful before you belittle the by-and-by. It just may be that when your by-and-by is beautiful and sure, your here and now will be sweet and fruitful.

From Coronavirus and Christ by John Piper, available free on the Olive Tree Bible study app.

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