This, to me, is part of the scandal of the Incarnation and the scandal of the cross: that God, when God shows up in Christ, doesn’t take control. God in Christ doesn’t institute “martial law.” Nor does God in Christ unilaterally eliminate all that we call suffering and evil. Nor does God in Christ cause any additional suffering and evil. He doesn’t fly into Jerusalem on angel’s wings or a fighter jet, nor does he ride in on a white steed or tank, nor does he enter with well-armed guards or even sticks and stones.
Instead, we see Jesus going quietly from town to town, confronting suffering and evil, calling people to repentance for inflicting suffering and evil on one another, and healing and liberating people from suffering and evil at every turn. He doesn’t unilaterally impose even this healing on them though: he allows their faith, whether great or small, to make room for it. Finally, in Christ on the cross we see God’s ultimate way of dealing with suffering and evil: to bear it with endurance, to suffer it with tears and agony, to take it into God’s own heart, and to heal it utterly, not by avenging it, but by forgiving it. The kingdom or sovereignty of God that Jesus proclaims, then, doesn’t come with the power of unilateral control but with a radically different kind of power: the gentle power (Paul dares call it “weakness”) of love.
I think it is fair to suggest that Dr. Piper sees Jesus’s suffering on the cross in the same light he sees the suffering of the Japanese in the wake of their triple catastrophe: God has inflicted this suffering and so we must accept it as God’s will and that trust God had a good reason for choosing to do it this way. I suppose for some that is more hopeful than saying evil and suffering occur with no reason, no purpose, or no meaning at all.
To me, as I reflect on the Scriptures and on the jagged history of our planet, it is better to say that God’s sovereignty is not totalitarian. God isn’t the kind of king interested in absolute control. God wouldn’t create that kind of relationship with the universe because God isn’t that kind of God. Instead, God creates space and time for a universe to be, to become, to unfold in its own story, its own evolution. God’s kingship is God’s absolute commitment to be with us, whatever happens, always working to bring good from evil, healing from suffering, reconciliation from conflict, and hope from despair. This is the God I see imaged in Jesus, born as a vulnerable baby, growing as a vulnerable boy, living as an unarmed man with courage and kindness. This is the God imaged as a king who washes the feet of his subjects, a king whose power is revealed not by killing and conquering but by suffering and dying … and rising again.