What is the gravitational center of your life? What do your desires focus on; what do your affections revolve around? Here’s another way to think about this: what are the planets in your life, and what is the sun? And are the planets properly aligned to the sun? Secondly, if the planets of money, sex, and power have flown off their God-ordained orbits, how can they be returned to their suitable place?
These deeply personal and theological questions are at the heart of John Piper’s book Living in the Light: Money, Sex, and Power. Although money, sex, and power are gifts from God, Piper recognizes that we tragically (and wickedly!) idolize them and prefer the gifts to the Giver. Rather than living in the light, we live in the darkness—symptomatically revealed in these three areas. In specific chapters on each topic, Piper clearly explains how this exchange happens. He concludes the book by showing how God’s grace can return those ‘planets’ to their God-ordained orbits. We learn how to use these three gifts so that we glorify the Giver; Piper explains how the sun can return to the center of the solar system. So although money, sex, and power are dangerous gifts that can be easily idolized, we also learn that—through Christ—they can find their true and rightful order in our lives.
This short book has several strengths. Firstly, it’s short! At 154 pages, it is a fantastic book to recommend to a counselee because, at six chapters, it is pithy and gets to the point quickly.
A second major strength is the fact that Piper uses a primary analogy all through the book: the sun and its planets. When the sun is at the gravitational center (God), the planets (money, sex, and power) stay in their proper orbits. But if the sun is displaced from the center, the planets fly off those orbits. This solar system analogy is a very helpful picture for the reader to keep in mind throughout. It also helps the reader recognize the essence of the problem: the out-of-orbit planets all have a deeper problem—something else has become the center of the solar system. Piper explains the underlying problem as humans “exchanging the glory of the immortal God for substitutes…we look at the Creator and then exchange him for something he created…Underneath all the misuses of money, sex, and power is this sinful heart-condition” (p. 25).
Thirdly, and most importantly, the strength of the book is its theological accuracy. Piper’s treatment of Romans 1 in the first chapter is as theologically brilliant as it is simple to understand. In fact, Piper generally uses the Bible really well throughout and does a good job of demonstrating where he is getting his points from. So the reader feels like the Bible is making the point; that the insight is not essentially from Piper. Finally, I also appreciated his emphasis on regeneration—the new birth. This often seems underplayed in contemporary evangelicalism, but Piper reminds us that regeneration is essential: “People can hear the gospel—the greatest work of God in the history of the universe—and not be moved, just as people can stand before the Alps or Himalayas or the galaxies and shrug their shoulders and turn on the television. That is our condition” (p. 110). We need to be born again if the planets are to return to their proper orbit.
I can think of three ways this book might be helpful in the realm of counseling. Firstly, this is a book for the counselor. If you counsel others, you will profit from this book. I actually chose this book for my own spiritual growth—and found the chapter on money deeply challenging and encouraging. So it’s helpful for the counselor’s personal growth. But it will also help the biblical counselor to understand the essence of humanity’s problem: “we intentionally blind ourselves to the light of truth…Sin repels the light of truth and runs to the darkness of falsehood…Our sinful nature hates the light of God’s supremacy and runs to the darkness, where we feel supreme” (pp. 24-25). This book will help the biblical counselor develop a clear understanding of humanity’s greatest problem.
Secondly, then, this is a book you could use in training church-based volunteer biblical counselors. Because it is brief, it’s a text that could actually be read from start to finish! But because it is so theological and profound, it could really ground your trainees in some excellent theology.
Thirdly, and rather obviously, this could be a book for the counselee. Understandably, this is going to be especially appropriate for someone who is struggling in any of the three areas. But it could also be helpful for a young Christian who is still learning what it means to follow Christ in the midst of a world which idolizes these three God-given gifts. So it could be a primary resource in the counseling process, or perhaps it could be deployed as a secondary resource for supplemental reading.
Lastly, is there anything I would disagree with or adjust? I cannot think of anything major—this is a fantastic book and a powerful and orthodox pastoral treatment of these topics. I have read many of Piper’s books, and I found this one to be one of the best. Upon reflection, I’ve realized that I was greatly helped by his clarity throughout the book. I have found that some of Piper’s books can be hard to understand but this one was simply written, which makes it a great book to give to a counselee. I warmly recommend this excellent volume to both counselors and counselees.