Book Review: A Sweet and Bitter Providence

“A Sweet and Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, and the Sovereignty of God” by John Piper

Of all the books by John Piper that I’ve read, this short commentary and exposition of the book of Ruth may well be my favorite. It is certainly one of his most accessible.

As the subtitle suggestions, Piper explores the themes of human sexuality, racism/ethnocentrism, and God’s sovereignty, as they are presented in the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. The way these three relate to each other and to God has profound implications for us today, as it reveals God’s plan for salvation and His design for human relationships.

His premise is that God is sovereign over every circumstance, even the ones that seem most bitter as we experience them. Just as bitter ingredients (like vanilla extract) are added to a cake to make it taste good, so bitter experiences are used by God to work together according to His good purposes. We are shown this in the book of Ruth as we see how God was working through a series of terribly bitter circumstances in Naomi’s life (famine, move to a pagan nation, death of her husband & sons, barrenness of her daughters-in-law, etc) to bring about the circumstances that would lead to the birth of King David, and ultimately, of King Jesus.

Through the process, we also see how Boaz and Ruth exemplify Godly purity in their relationship with one another, and how they model biblical manhood and womanhood. Furthermore, their interracial marriage and Ruth’s acceptance of (and by) the God of Israel shows us that there is no place for racial or ethnic preference or separation among God’s people. Saint Matthew includes four unlikely women in his lineage of  Jesus Christ, including two adulterers (one of whom committed adultery with her father-in-law), a prostitute, and Ruth, a formerly Pagan Moabite. God is the God of all peoples, from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

Piper begins and ends his book with seven lessons we are to take from the book of Ruth, leading to seven appeals for us to apply this teaching to our lives:

  1. Study the Scriptures
  2. Pursue Sexual Purity
  3. Pursue Mature Manhood and Womanhood
  4. Embrace Ethnic Diversity
  5. Trust the Sovereignty of God
  6. Take the Risks of Love
  7. Live and Sing to the Glory of God

These are lessons for everyone, taught in a loving and conversational way, using Piper’s poetic, pastoral language (as opposed to the weighty, academic language used in his larger works such as Desiring God). For example, I love his great portrayal of Scriptural sexuality as “another kind of sexual power — like a river running deep between the high banks of righteousness. Without banks, a river overflows everywhere and creates havoc. It also gets muddy and shallow. That’s what happens to sex without the restraint of God.” For more examples of the way Piper expresses his heart for these topics, watch this short promo video:

Here, in his own words, is why he wrote this book:

Buy this book here.

2 comments on “Book Review: A Sweet and Bitter Providence

  1. […] A Sweet and Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, and the Sovereignty of God, by John Piper […]

  2. […] book that inspired the album is John Piper’s A Sweet and Bitter Providence, which I reviewed here. You can download the album […]

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