Book Review – A Sweet & Bitter Providence

John Piper is perhaps best known for his teaching on and passion for seeing the glory of God in all things.  You cannot read or listen to him without him making a beeline for proclaiming the wonder of the sovereignty of God.  I was excited to have the opportunity to read his newest book, A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race & the Sovereignty of God and see how the sovereignty of God played out in the Biblical story of Ruth.  I was not disappointed.

According to Piper, the book of Ruth is for those who, like Naomi, see God’s hand against them but cannot see that even in these dark times of suffering, God is working for their good and His glory.  The question Ruth attempts to answer is “Can I trust and love the God who has dealt me this painful hand in life?”

Much of the book’s focus is on God’s sovereignty and how He is “plotting” for our good.  Comparing the Christian life to a curvy, dangerous mountain road, Piper says Ruth was “written to give us encouragement and hope that all the perplexing turns in our lives are going somewhere good….In all the setbacks of our lives as believers, God is plotting for our joy.”  In the narrative of Ruth, Naomi could see that it was God’s hand working against her in events such as the famine which drove them to Moab and the subsequent deaths of her husband and sons.  It isn’t until later in the story that Naomi also sees God’s hand in bringing her through these trials.

As expected, Piper does a great job of pointing us through the story of Ruth to the comfort of knowing that not only is God in control, but He is “plotting for our joy.”  Even though I was familiar with the book of Ruth, it was refreshing to read it in the light of God’s sovereignty, seeing how God was working even in circumstances that seemed to offer no hope.  It was also interesting to read how Piper tied this book in with the ultimate Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Although the book talks about sexuality and racial diversity, these two areas didn’t get very much attention and I felt they could have been flushed out a little more.  Additionally, while many of the statements Piper makes regarding sexuality are true, he seems to be reading too much into the text, making it say something that it doesn’t with assumptions about the situation’s context that aren’t stated.  But these do not detract from the greater message of God’s sovereignty in all circumstances.

On a note regarding the narration of the audio version, Grover Gardner is, as always clear, precise and easy to listen to.   His voice seems to lend itself more to academic books and doesn’t feel like it fits quite right with the book’s poetic, pastoral style, but this doesn’t overly distract from the book’s message.

I would recommend this pastoral book for a study on God’s sovereignty in our circumstances, but not necessarily for the issues of sexuality and racial diversity.   I’ve posted a preview video below, narrated by John Piper.

(Thanks to for providing a copy of this book to review.)


One Response

  1. Thanks for the review! I read Faithful God by Sinclair Ferguson maybe a year or two ago and that was a good study on the book of Ruth as well although Ferguson also made many assumptions from the text that weren’t implicitly stated. I’m not sure why that’s a common issue.

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