[A Review of “When I Don’t Desire God” by John Piper // Chapter 3 – The Call to Fight for Joy in God]
It’s chapter 3. Piper has had the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 to lay out his terms and his goals, and then tell us how to get there on a practical level, but I’m still seeing admonition without application. Whenever you have admonition without application it becomes a burden that’s too heavy to bear, and that’s going to affect how I rate the book from here on out.
At the Beginning…
Johnny Pipe gives us a lot of truth to chew on at the beginning of the chapter. I really appreciate how he points out that when we prefer anything above Christ it is in, and then he illustrates that point by bringing Jeremiah 2:12-13 into the conversation.
“Be astonished, O heavens, at this,
And be horribly afraid;
Be very desolate,” says the Lord.
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
– Jeremiah 2:12-13, NKJV
He then culminates this point with this powerful line:
“Esteeming God less than anything is the essence of evil.” (Page 34)
Then, I think he starts to get off track a little bit….
The Divine Carrot on a Stick
He goes on to tell us that “A person who has no taste for the enjoyment of Christ will not go to heaven.” That is a true statement, but I think the problem is that Piper is using Heaven as a divine carrot on a stick and telling us that there’s something we have to do or we’re not going to go to Heaven. Yes, you must repent of your sin and wickedness, and believe the Gospel, but the problem with what Piper seems to be doing is that he seems to be making Heaven the focus instead of Christ Himself.
I tend to agree with the sentiment of what John Green said:
“I am going to take this bucket of water and pour it on the flames of hell, and then I am going to use this torch to burn down the gates of paradise so that people will not love God for want of heaven or fear of hell, but because He is God.”
Now, before the evangellyfish get all twitchy on me, I want to make it clear that I know that it’s not possible to do such things, and even if it were, I’m not sure that I would want to do such things. I simply agree with the sentiment because I feel like too many evangelical Christians simply participate in social Christianity for what they feel like they can get from God and not simply because of who He is.
I firmly believe that people who love the thought of Heaven more than they love Christ Himself will wind up in Hell. I believe in a literal Heaven, I believe in a literal Hell, I believe that those are eternally conscious places where people will end up based on God’s eternal judgement, but when you spend your life trying to work for a place in Heaven, then you are proving that you love the creation (Heaven) more than the Creator (God.) I don’t believe Piper is doing Christendom any favors by telling us that Heaven is on the line if we don’t fight, especially since he hasn’t even told us how to go about fighting.
Quite honestly, this book so far hasn’t brought me any comfort or solace. On nights when I have stepped over the boundaries of God’s love, or when I feel like I’m not even saved nor have I ever been, if I’m taking the warnings of this book seriously, then I’m left to think “I haven’t fought enough for joy.” I don’t feel like any heart broken Christian should feel that way when they’re faced with doubts and fears of their salvation. They’re supposed to be driven to the cross, and reminded of God’s love. They’re supposed to be reminded of what God has proclaimed over them at their baptism. They’re supposed to hear the voice the Almighty proclaim over them, “They shall be mine.” (Malachi 3:17)
Most people who pick up a book entitled, “When I Don’t Desire God” probably want to know if there’s hope for them. They want to desire God more because genuinely love Him and they’re reading this book with the understanding that this author is going to offer them comfort, but instead they’re being told that the reason they feel all of these doubts is because they’re not fighting hard enough. I see a major problem with that.
If you don’t know how to fight and you’ve got an attacker coming at you, you’re just as screwed as a Quaker. Why? No one has told you what to do or how to defend yourself. This is what we’ve gotten so far in the book. Piper tells us to fight for joy, he tells us what’s on the line, and he doesn’t give us any weapons. So far, I find this depressing because I’ve got the weight of all this admonition on my back, but I’ve got nothing to do with it, but allow my legs to buckle underneath the load and now I’m forced to deal with the implications of everything Piper has said so far on my own.
Concluding Thoughts and Rating
Admittedly, this book is becoming increasingly harder to read simply because I don’t want to burden myself with anymore exhortation unless there’s some kind of practical way I can live that out.
Does the Christian need to fight for joy? Yes, I think so, but I think it would just be easier if Piper would just tell us that the fight looks different for everyone because we’re not dealing with formulas, we’re dealing with individual souls.
Also, for every week that he doesn’t give us application, I’m going to knock .5 beard strokes off the rating.
This chapter gets 1.5 out 5 beard strokes.
Peace out, fam.