If great thinkers are people who have the ability to expound on the obvious with a mastery and ingenuity that helps fellow men to ‘look’ at the obvious and really ‘see’ it for the first time and thereby have a paradigm shift in how life is perceived, then I guess John Piper has to be counted among the great thinkers. The axiom “Don’t waste your life”, is something that is too obvious to all of us, not just because it is most frequent warning that we get to hear from our parents and teachers but because somewhere in the our fundamental human nature it is ingrained into our sense of consciousness that our life and time is not be wasted but be used to some worthy end.
It is this aspect of human nature, that says that a life spent for the worthy cause isn’t a wasted life, which causes men to barge into a battle field and willingly risking the thrust of the cold blade into their breast or the sensation of quick bullet barreling through their body or, on the other hand, sitting all day and watch TV or getting lost hours together in the virtual world of social networking – the former being the nobler virtues of ‘sacrificial living’ the latter being the banal activities of ‘enjoying life’, both of them being driven by the principle of not wasting life, though from very different perspectives.
John Piper’s brilliance in this book is that he takes this ‘Don’t waste your life’ idea that is too obvious and then another idea of ‘magnifying God’, which again is too obvious to Christians, and then in his ingenious theological exposition of how these two ideas interlace with each other he makes a compelling case for how ‘sacrificial living’ is truly ‘enjoying life’. He finds a monolithic unity to seemingly disparate aspects of sacrifice and enjoyment in life – the ‘blazing centre’ of that unity being the ‘severe mercy’ the Cross of Christ.
I have been reading this book for the past few weeks to keep pace with the book club. I have spent much time assimilating his view points. I just completed reading the book. Looking back at the big picture that he has drawn, I think his work has a lot to do with the Des Cartesian quest for certainty from chaos.
He starts off the book explaining his youth life of confused existence when he was looking, in the midst of chaos, for some certainty that he could commit himself to. He ends the book with a great degree of certainty about how Christians should approach their leisure life, work life, mission life and vision life. Pivotal to the paradigm shift is his realization that the act of enjoying God/life and magnifying God are the same and that the act of self-abandonment and magnifying God are the same. So the act of enjoying God/life and self-abandonment for a worthy cause become the same. This is a simple A = B, B = C so A = C logic.
It is this principle behind this paradigm shift that helps one to ‘look’ at the obvious and really ‘see’ it for first time. It is precisely this principle that the modern humanist to whom self-preservation is the means to enjoying life, fails to understand. To the extent to which the modern Christian fails to understand the relationship between magnifying God, enjoying life and abandoning self, the modern Christian will have wasted his/her life.
Reflecting on all of this, I am reminded of two words of advice my mother used to tell me when I was a kid, “Heaven has not place for lazy boys”, “you cannot got to heaven in a rocking chair”. This book, I think, is primal to any Christian who wishes to live a life such that he/she does not have to look back and be exasperated, “I have wasted my life, how on earth did I fail to ‘see’ the obvious”.