Yesterday may family spent the day at the new Civil War museum and driving through various battlefields in Gettysburg. It was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the war and especially the role these rocky battlefields (like Little Round Top) played in the outcome. It was a sobering reminder of the 620,000 young men and boys that died in the war and of haunting sounds that once filled this little town as thousands of men groaned from the pain of battle.
Leaving the battlefields left a sorrow in the heart and a residual question in the mind—what is the eternal purpose of wars like this one?
As we drove from battlefield to battlefield viewing thousands of memorials littered all over what is, in my mind, the worlds largest cemetery, the words of John Piper in his second and final message at the Resolved conference in Palm Springs were ever-present.
In his message on Monday evening—The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth—Dr. Piper said the following:
Every human has died. Animals suffer. Rivers overflow an inundate hundreds of city bocks in Cedar Rapids. Avalanches bury skiers. Tornados suck the life out of little Boy Scouts. Tsunamis kill 250,000 in a night. Philippine ferries capsize killing 800 people in a moment. AIDs, malaria, cancer, and heart disease kill millions. A monster tornado rip through cities. Droughts and famines bring people to the brink, and over the brink, of starvation. Freak accidents happen in ways you would not want to describe. Little babies are born with no eyes, six legs, horrible deformities. That is because of ONE SIN! The universe was subjected to futility and corruption in hope (Romans 8:20).
This is very important for you to answer: Why did God subject the natural order to such horrific realities when nature did nothing wrong? Souls did something wrong. Adam and Eve’s volition did something wrong. The earth didn’t do anything wrong. Why is the earth bursting with volcanoes and earthquakes? Animals didn’t do anything wrong. What’s the deal with this universal subjection to corruption, when one man and one woman sinned one time, and the whole natural order goes wrong? Disorder everywhere in the most horrible ways, a kaleidoscope of suffering in this world, century after century.
Here is my answer—and I don’t know any other possible answer biblically—God put the natural world under a curse so that physical horrors would become vivid pictures of the horror of moral evil.
Cancer, tuberculosis, malformations, floods, and car accidents happen so that we would get some dim idea of the outrage of moral evil flowing from our hearts. Why did he do it that way? Ask yourself an honest question: How intensely outraged are you over your belittling of God compared to the engagement of your emotion when your child is hurt, or your leg is cut off, or you lose your job, or some physical thing happens? Everything in you rises to say, “No!”
How often does your heart say “No!” with the same emotional engagement at your own sin? Not very often. Therefore, what God says, “Alright, I know that about fallen man, therefore I will display the horror of his sin in a way that he can feel.” That’s why Jesus, when the tower fell on the 18, said simply “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” The point of the falling of the tower and killing of 18 people was your moral evil (Luke 13:4). That was the point.
All physical evil has one point—sin is like that morally, we don’t have the wherewithal to feel it appropriately, therefore were going to get some help from the physical order. That’s the point of the world we live in, it’s pointing to the horror of moral evil. O, that we would see and feel how repugnant and offensive and abominable it is to prefer anything to God—and we do it everyday.
Adam and Eve brought the universe into this present horrific condition by preferring their own way and fruit to God. All the physical evil the universe is not as bad as that one act of treason. …
The ultimate reason that there is a new heavens and a new earth is not that there might be new bodies for saints. That’s true. That’s just one of the reasons. The reason there is a new heaven and a new earth is because when God conceived of a universe of material things he conceived of everything: It will be created perfect. It will, by my decree, fall. I will labor patiently for thousands of years with a people recalcitrant showing the depth of human sin and I will at the center and apex of my purpose, send my Son to bear my wrath on my people. And then I will gather a people who believe in him for myself. And then I will return and I will cast all of the unbelievers into hell, which will demonstrate the infinite worth of my glory and the infinite value of my Son’s sacrifice, which they have rejected. And I will renew the earth and I will make my people so beautiful and then tailor this universe for them with this purpose—that when my Son is lifted up with his wounds, they will sing the song of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world in the mind of God who planned it all.
Therefore, be it resolved: We will endure any suffering. We will endure any assault, any slander, any reviling, any disease, precisely because we have a great reward in heaven, namely, Jesus Christ crucified.
-John Piper, sermon transcript, “The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth” taken from the 11:20-19:20 and 44:09-47:00 markers. You can listen to the entire message delivered at the Resolved conference here ( June 16, 2008 ) and you can listen to an earlier version of this message delivered at the Gospel Coalition here ( May 24, 2007 ).