The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: David Platt knew something needed to change. He couldn’t see the things he saw in the Himalayas and return home the same man. His trip to the top of the world brought him face-to-face with the harshest physical and spiritual realities on earth. Children died of treatable diseases. Christians were stoned for their faith and tossed off mountain cliffs.
Bodies were hacked to pieces and fed to animals. The trip taxed David physically, emotionally, and especially spiritually as he wondered, “Where is God here in this tragedy and idolatry?”
He writes about this trip and shares his journal reflections in a new book, Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need, published by Multnomah.
And we’d also love at The Gospel Coalition for you to join David and TGC for a live simulcast on September 18th, where he’s going to be talking more about this book and about this trip and his reflections. You can visit tgc.org/somethingneedstochange to join us there on September 18.
David is lead pastor at McLean Bible Church in Virginia, former president of the International Mission Board, and a council member for The Gospel Coalition.
In this book, you’ll see a lot of the same characteristic urgency and passion that you saw in his bestselling book, Radical. David, thank you for joining me again on The Gospel Coalition Podcast.
David Platt: Great to be back, Collin.
Hansen: Let’s just start, David, with the obvious question. What needs to change?
Platt: So, I’ve got a couple 100 pages in a book that I’ve written about that. To summarize, I would say there’s a lot that needs to change in the world. You mentioned just some of the… And the reason this book revolves around some of the needs…the reason this book revolves around hiking through the Himalayas, like, out of all the places I’ve traveled in the world, this represents, like, the clearest…the only way I can describe it is a collision of urgent spiritual and physical need.
So what needs to change physically, there are people in those mountains… I mean, they did research a few years ago and they found that half the children were dying before their eighth birthday in those mountains. And so, I have four kids, another one on the way, Lord willing, but one of my worst fears is something happening to one of them.
I can’t imagine that being an expectation for half of them. And they’re dying, as you mentioned, of preventable diseases. So, that, that needs to change. And there’s a variety of different other things I could go to that flow from that just to…byproduct of poverty and trafficking of young girls, like, that needs to change.
So I could go on, and on, and on there. And then the reality that most, if not all the people in these mountains have little to no knowledge of Jesus, like, kind of thing where I’m walking on a trail and I see someone and ask them if they know about Jesus, and they say, “Who’s that?” I mean, they’ve never even heard his name.
It’s like you’re talking about somebody in a village nearby they haven’t met yet. So, that needs to change, like, they need to hear the good news of God’s grace and Jesus. And so, there’s a lot. And so, that’s just one picture and in one remote part of the world that represents urgent need in so many different places, including right around us.
So that needs to change. But I think something needs to change in our own hearts to open our eyes and open up our lives to how God has uniquely designed and created each one of us to effect change with His grace, for His glory, in a world of urgent need.
So, my first trip coming down out of these mountains and yeah, I do three or four trips a year overseas, but my first time here, like, the Lord just did an unusual work in my heart. I remember we were sitting in the airport getting ready to leave and one of the pastors who was with me said, “David, what’s your takeaway from this last week or so?”
And I said, “Something needs to change, like, in my heart, my life, my family, in our church.” And then that led to a whole… yeah, that’s a whole another story, just the journey from there of what that change looked like in my own life. But I think that that’s not just a reality from my own heart. So there’s a lot that needs to change in a world of urgent need and there are some things that need to change in our own hearts to open us up to how God wants to use us to effect change in a world of urgent need.
Hansen: One of the things that really stands out about this book, David, is how transparent and open you are processing through your relationship with God, through your theology, about your own calling, about your own family. It really is a window into what you were experiencing and feeling and how you were wrestling with God during that time.
And one of the themes that comes up is your…just thinking through the implications, the reality of our belief in God’s sovereignty. In some ways, some people might describe that as a problem when you consider what you saw, that you have to filter through God’s sovereignty to understand as things that He would have permitted or allowed.
Did you come to any resolutions there or how did you just think about that between what you knew, and what you read in the Scriptures, and what you were seeing and experiencing?
Platt: That is kind of the wrestling that I want to be…have pretty transparent and vulnerable about through this book.
So, I just open up my journals and just really try to be honest with the questions that I do wrestle with that are, I think, inevitable when you’re seeing physical and spiritual suffering around you and you know, you know, God’s truth, God’s word.
I believe wholeheartedly in what the Bible teaches about the sovereignty of God. Not just believe in it, I rest in it, I worship God for His sovereignty, and at the same time, in a way that I hope…
So it’s different. I’m not saying it’s exactly the same as whether it’s Job-like questioning or Habakkuk-like questioning, but there is, even with faith in God and His word, a wrestling with, how do I understand these things around me in the world?
Like, I know God is sovereign. I know God is the defender of the weak. He works for the oppressed. And so, to see extreme poverty, to see trafficking, to see suffering in these different ways, and I think you just inevitably find yourself asking, “Why God?I trust your word, but why, why?”
And so, I kind of expose a lot of those why questions and even my point in this book and it’s just different in format than anything I’ve written, because I just want to come out from behind the stage where I’m normally preaching and preaching truths, I believe, but to be pretty honest with questions I have and I wrestle with, and in light of the truths I preach and believe.
And to sort of ask those why questions before God, I hope, with humility and in ways I think we can all identify with when we look at urgent need in the world. But then let those why…so what I want to try to do in this book is try to show how those why questions inevitably lead to what questions like, “Okay, so what does this mean for my life? What does this mean for how I understand my life in this world? What God has called me… what this sovereign God has called me to do in this world.”
So, God is not just obviously sitting off distant with His sovereign rule and reign amidst urgent need in the world, He is calling His people to act, to be a reflection of His character, and His love, and His mercy, and His justice in a world like this. So, okay, what does that mean for my life? So just to wrestle through all those questions, that’s part of the point of this book, not just to say, “Okay, here’s the easy pat answer, but what are the…wrestling the questions that we have in our hearts when we come face to face with urgent need in the world, and what does that mean for each of our lives, for our families, for our churches.
Hansen: I don’t remember seeing this in the book, David, but I wondered, you know, this was very similar to, I would imagine, what some of those pioneer missionaries, whether they be William Carey or Adoniram Judson, would have seen and encountered when they would first visit places where nobody knew Jesus, where these children were dying in those ways.
Did you find any help from any of those forerunners in missionaries as you were thinking about how to process your beliefs with what you were seeing? –
Platt: Yeah, that’s a good question. I was just actually revisiting Adoniram Judson’s story recently with our church and there’s no question that is, while I don’t dive into that specifically in the book, constantly…or an encouragement in my own mind and heart based on the example, whether it’s, yeah, like you said, Judson, Carey, John Paton, any number of others who… And this is the key, and this is part of what I hope the book reflects and encourages people toward, is an understanding that God is sovereign over all these things, even sovereign over evil in this world.
And God has ordained, God has sovereignly ordained His people to be light in the middle of darkness. God has sovereignly ordained His people to bring hope in the middle of hopelessness. God has sovereignly ordained us to be a part of spreading His love in the midst of this, which is exactly what compelled those who’ve gone before us to give their lives, even lose them, in many cases, for the spread of hope in the midst of urgent need.
And so, that’s the thing. The last thing I want to do in this book and part of why I want to present these questions in the context of a trek through the Himalayas, where you’re just bombarded with all these needs, is to say, “We can’t just ask these questions from the confines of our comfortable offices, or comfortable churches, or comfortable homes, like, we’ve got to ask and wrestle with these questions and what they mean for our lives in the face of urgent need.”
Like, I wish I could take multitudes of people with me into these mountains. For a variety of reasons, that’s just not possible. And so, this book is my effort to bring as many people as possible into those mountains, face to face with urgent need and to wrestle with those questions there.
Hansen: I remember a number of years ago when you took this trip, I know you recorded some video reflections from that. I can’t remember where you were when you recorded those reflections, but they were fairly vivid in my mind. And I was thinking, as I was reading this book, of, you know, you do occasionally describe what you’re seeing, but I just remember thinking, Man, I wish there were a way to even also visualize what you are seeing, what it’s like to be thinking about God and to reading His word with this kind of backdrop and the juxtaposition between so many of the horrors that you’re seeing with also the majesty of God.
And you talk about how you really encounter the majesty of God in this environment more so than the mercy of God that you wonder, “Where can that be found here in the Himalayas?” I wondered, explain against that backdrop, what the role of creation is in judgment and also then, I guess, salvation?
Platt: Yeah. So, it’s interesting you say that, even about the images, video because one of the things we’ve done that will be a part of that simulcast that’s hosted there at TGC will be a short film that we’ve developed to try to, so, you know, take the words on the page and then just put some images with it of, you know, trekking through those mountains and some of the scenes that are most vivid.
And so, I hope that that will be another level of encouragement there, but to the point, like the…. And that’s part of the goal in showing some of the majesty. Like, when you’re walking on those trails and you’re looking around you, I mean, it’s just Psalm 19, glory of God just being declared in creation.
Romans 1 just announcing His greatness, His invisible power, and His eternal glory being shouted from… I mean, you’re at 12,000 feet and it’s like you’re in a… I mean, we were at one point that’s higher than any other peak in the continental U.S. and it feels like you’re in a valley.
There’s just mountains all around and you see the glory of God. Everywhere you look, you want to take a picture. It’s just majestic. But then it hits you that, like, for thousands of years, these mountains have been declaring the glory of God, but not for one second have they declared the gospel.
They haven’t…the general special…like, they’ve not declared the gospel. So, everybody in these mountains is continually surrounded by the proclamation of God’s glory, but they don’t know how to be saved from their sins and reconciled to this God, to know this God. And they label mountains gods. And mountains that are too hard to climb, they say, “That God doesn’t want to be known.”
Like, we have the greatest news in the world, that the God who created all these mountains wants to be known. And it just sort of hits you, like, this is a privilege that God has given you and me, us in the church, like, to proclaim the gospel, which is greater glory than what the Himalayas are proclaiming day in and day out. So, let’s take advantage of that privilege.
Hansen: Wow. Like you’ve been talking about here, this juxtaposition between the majesty and looking for the mercy stands out. And there’s one particular spot here and I think it illustrates an overall point that you try to make. You see this terrible deprivation, poverty, and pain, but you come to the conclusion that the spiritual bankruptcy is actually worse, that it’s more difficult.
And maybe explain how you reached that conclusion in the context. I think it was a story that was recounted by your guide there, but it was a woman who kills herself in front of her husband and her children when just a Christian visits the village. That’s it.
And she does that right in front of them. And I’m just wondering, what can possibly motivate somebody to do that? But what does that mean, then, as we look and we see against this fact of all these young children dying of preventable diseases that we see that kind of spiritual bankruptcy going on at the same time?
Platt: Yeah. So that’s one of the tensions that I try to bring to the forefront and wrestle with throughout the book, the urgent spiritual and physical needs.
So I think… And there’s so many things that flow from this, just on emphasis, even in the church and in mission world, on how do we address this or that physical need, oftentimes, devoid of the gospel.
And so, I just want to wrestle with, “Okay, what is…our physical or spiritual needs, is one more important than the other? Or are they both equally important? Like, how does that affect the way we live and go into places like this?” And not just places like this, but places right around us, where we see both of these. And so, yeah, that story, just to recount it quickly, it’s just when my friend who leads work in these mountains who I’ve gotten to know really well over the last few years, when he first came into this one village, this woman who he did not know, had never even met, goes running by him on the trails and then when he gets a little farther up, she comes out of her house and she drinks, like, a whole bottle of insecticide and yeah, kills herself right there in front of her husband and children.
But right before she drank that, she said something to the effect of, “This is a message for you.” And it was just a picture of, okay, there are physical things happening here, but there are spiritual things happening here that… I mean, the word in these mountains, whenever the gospel is coming to some of these villages, people have said, “No.”
Like, there’s a lot of resistance, that’s why all throughout the book, I have to change names and be really general with locations because, yeah, the gospel is not welcome in these mountains right now because the people believe that if you bring news of another God in these mountains… so there’s a lot of Buddhist teachings mixed with animism, so different gods, different spirits that need to be appeased.
And so, you bring another God into these mountains, that’s going to cause tension and strife and so, there is opposition to any news. And when you think about it, that’s true. Like, there’s a reason why these mountains, the people have never heard the name of Jesus. There’s an adversary, a little G god, in this world who has been blinding minds of unbelievers and who will oppose any effort to get the gospel into those mountains.
And so, then you start to realize, “Yes, there are all these physical, tangible needs you can see. But underneath the surface, there are spiritual needs.” Obviously, people’s greatest need is for…to kind of wrestle with is the gospel, is to be reconciled to God. And so, how does that affect the way we think about physical needs and how do we make sure not to miss spiritual needs?
So, just want to uncover some of that tension and think through it together all throughout the book because I think that’s a big issue even in church and our understanding of mission today.
Hansen: I completely agree that for the audience of this book, that is an especially urgent and helpful message that you offer in this book. But it seems like for the people, the Christians, especially, that you ministered to and were ministered to in the mountains, they didn’t feel that tension. It just seemed like they just did it.
Platt: That’s right.
Hansen: Is that accurate?
Platt: Yes. That’s part of the home point in sharing some different stories along the way of people who are doing ministry in those mountains. It’s almost like it’s not occurred to them that, yeah, there’s a tension here. I mean, they’re zealous about serving people, caring for people, showing mercy amidst physical needs, working, whether it’s to get clean water, working to get medicine, working to get education, whatever it might be, different things, working to prevent trafficking, and so, all of these things.
And at the same time, like, at the center of all that, they know there’s a spiritual battle going on around and they are proclaiming the gospel, they’re sharing Christ even when it is costly. And so, yes, that’s part of my hope in sharing some stories and even wrestling with some of the questions we might be asking, showing how they’re not wrestling in the same way, to maybe help us see a way forward in each of our lives and our churches on how we should think about these things.
Hansen: One of the questions I’ll often ask people… and I don’t intend to instigate doubt when I ask these questions, but intend to actually uncover some of the vulnerability, and just honesty and transparency that you’re talking about in this book. And so, just, will ask people, “What is the hardest truth of Christianity for you to believe, not necessarily one that you doubt or that you reject, but one that you hold onto but that you find yourself struggling the most with?”
Platt: That’s a great question. So, I’ll tell you what comes to my mind. When I hear that question, first and foremost, I think, if I was totally God-centered in my thinking and really understood how great and glorious He is and how sinful I am, then I think the answer to that question would be, “How can He save me?How can He save any one of us?”
I would be overwhelmed by His mercy and grace. And I want to be that. At the same time, if I’m honest, I think I’m much more prone to be more man-centered in my thinking and so, I would say that…and this comes out through the book, I think one of the questions I wrestle with most, if I was to summarize it, is, “Why are some people born into earthly suffering only to then move on to eternal suffering without ever even hearing the name of Jesus?”
Like when I see a little girl born into extreme poverty as a result of extreme poverty, where she’s taught that… I mean, just taught Buddhism, for example, never even hears the name of Jesus, and she’s just taught that hopefully, she does enough good in this life, like, things are going to be better the next time around reincarnation.
And so, she’s born into that poverty with no knowledge of Jesus and then she’s sold in this slavery, where she’s used and abused by men and in all kinds of ways. And then that’s her life, and then eventually, she dies and she goes to an eternal hell without ever even hearing the name of Jesus.
Like, that’s the kind of question that I wrestle with throughout this book that I have a really hard time with. And so, anyway, that’s what comes to my mind.
Hansen: Well, I think, David, that’s one reason why I ask that question because one thing I appreciate about your book so much is that it cuts through so many of the debates that we have today, so many of the disagreements, so many of the divisions in the church, and it takes us to the ultimate questions.
And it takes us to a God, who, in some ways, has answered and in some ways has very clearly spoken, and yet in some ways, His purposes remain mysterious to us. When I’m often engaged in evangelism or apologetics, it seems like people often want to talk to me about politics, or they often want to talk to me about, you know, justice or…I don’t know, all kinds…sexuality, especially.
And I’ll often just sort of say, “Look, all that stuff can be answered, but let’s just go straight to the hardest thing.Let’s just go straight to the hardest thing.” I saw this first demonstrated reading Fyodor Dostoevsky years ago in Brothers Karamazov because he does the same thing.
He just goes right there and he says, “Innocent suffering for people, especially children, who never know Jesus and go straight from that into eternal hell.” That’s the hardest thing. And there’s no answer per se that is very clearly going to persuade everyone, there is the cross.
That says that whatever else we might want to think, it can’t be because God doesn’t care, and it can’t be because God doesn’t identify, and it can’t be because He doesn’t love. But I didn’t know how you were going to answer that, but that tends to reinforce how people often answer it. And I think it takes us, like your book does, right there to where we need to go and talking about these things. You know, there’s so much talk in this book as well about not only hearing, but doing and you’ve expressed that in this interview as well and you even wrestle with the thought of, “Maybe, I’m being called to bring my family to minister here.”
As when you alluded to that earlier of, “Well, we can’t really all go,”but I’m wondering, what does prevent us from saying, “This is real, these are real things that are happening here.They’re not in the past. Why don’t we all just get on planes or sell all our stuff, go there, and just start ministering, preaching, serving, building, all that sort of stuff.” What prevents us from doing that?
Platt: So many thoughts come to my mind. Like I think it’s a great question to ask and, like, seriously consider. I think the inevitable is, like, we all need to lay our lives down right now and say, “God, is that what you’re calling me to do?” I think He’s calling multitudes, more of us to do that in all kinds of different ways.
But that’s kind of it, but not necessarily all of us. Like, when I look at Acts 13 and I see the spirit of God setting apart Paul and Barnabas from the church at Antioch, like, not everybody from the church at Antioch goes out to spread the gospel where it’s not yet gone. And even when in Romans 15, he’s saying, Paul is saying that he has an ambition to seek Christ, preach where he’s not been named.
But he’s not saying, “So every follower of Jesus needs to go to Spain.” He’s saying, “I’m going to Spain and I want the church in Rome to help me get there.” So, obviously, we see in Scripture, and we know in the world around us, God calls us in different ways, leads us in different ways to make disciples of all the nations.
We all, though, are commanded to make disciples of all nations. And that means not just making disciples generally around us, that means making disciples, ultimately, of all the ethnic, all the people groups in the world. And so, we all need to be focused on that and then we need to seriously consider, “Okay, then how is God calling each of us to do that?” That’s one of the things I try to unpack in the book, is just the different ways this plays out in different people’s lives with different gifts, and different skills, and different opportunities.
I mean, you, I, everybody listening to this has unique opportunities, unique gifts, unique skills that can be used for the spread of the gospel and the goodness of God in a world of urgent need. So, we’re obviously not in danger of too many of us going when there’s 2 billion people who have little to no knowledge of Jesus. So, I think the Lord’s calling multitudes more.
I was just praying this morning in my time with the Lord. I was in my Bible reading. I was in Luke 10 and Luke 10:2, like, “Ask the Lord to send out laborers.” I pray that even from this podcast, that more laborers would be sent out into particularly places where the gospel is not yet gone, but just all of us as laborers, our eyes open to the ways our lives can count for His glory in a world of urgent need.
And that’s at the end of the book, I just try to give a challenge toward that errand, like, let’s not sit back and waste time thinking about just, and hesitating on what God might be leading us to do, but let’s act now. Let’s work now, like, we have a little bit of time and, like, people in the Himalayas, for example, only have a little bit of time.
Hansen: Last question for you, David. This trip, as we’ve mentioned a few times, just happened several years ago. How has your life changed since then?
Platt: Well, I share in the book just how this is what triggered…and you mentioned earlier, I was praying through, “Okay, God, is this…are you leading me and my family to come to these mountains?” And started wrestling through that. It was actually as a result of wrestling through that, and while I was wrestling through that, and was actually exploring what that would look like to move there, that’s when IMB, International Mission Board, came and approached me about potentially leading there.
To be honest, my first impulse was, “I want to go and live among the unreached.” But then just in my time, and fasting, and praying, and seeking the Lord over that decision in the coming months, just, yeah, wrestled with, “Why would I be willing to go and not be willing to be in a position to, hopefully, shepherd and mobilize multitudes more to go?”
And so, anyway, the Lord ended up leading us to the International Mission Board. And then from that… You know, there’s…I could go on, and on, and on just how the Lord has directed even now to where I am in Metro Washington, D.C., in a church where there’s over 100 nations representing, and so, there are opportunities for reaching the nations right here and going to the nations from here, and the way this is playing out in some things we’re developing with a Radical right now to focus on the unreached.
So, I could go on and on, but I think my point, even in sharing that in the book, is not that everybody who comes face to face, there’s need. Okay. That needs to lead an international mission organization, or that needs to pastor this church, or do this or that. But that’s the beauty, God has called us in all kinds of different ways. He will lead us, He will guide us.
He wants our lives to, yeah, account for his glory in a world of urgent need. As we’re looking to Him, trusting in Him, He will lead us and guide us, I think, in ways we never would have planned or imagined, but it will be so much better, eternally better, than what we’d have planned or imagined.
Hansen: I guess it wasn’t my last question, David. False alarm. I’ve got a different question. It seems like, especially when you talk about McLean there and you talk about 100 nations there, one of the things you discuss is just this globalized world that we live in now, the movement of peoples all around the world and even just the ability that you have to be able to visit this place and then to be able to come home.
It seems like if generations of faithful believers before us, David, had been praying for the fulfillment of the great commission, they would have envisioned something like our day, the unprecedented global digital communication, the cost and relative ease of international travel, the movements and displacement of people, refugee resettlements, especially in the West.
And even in the United States, in our own neighborhoods where they are surrounded by gospel-believing and preaching churches, I think some of our forefathers and mothers in the faith would have been astounded by God’s faithfulness to answer those prayers and yet, it doesn’t necessarily seem that’s how all the church, maybe at least in America, sees it.
They actually see it as something of a threat to them. So, I guess, I wonder, in that sense, what needs to change.
Platt: Yes, yes. Yes. God, I’m like, “God open our eyes to the grace you’ve given us.”
Like, that we’ve been given to steward and in so many different ways, in all the ways you mentioned, like the opportunities we have to go. Like, it took…and we mentioned earlier, Judson, it took him 114 days to sail to India on his way to Myanmar. Like, we can get there in, like, 24, 36 hours.
That’s unheard of, unthought of, obviously, a couple of centuries ago that we have the privilege and opportunity to do, right now…like, we can go in so many different places in the world through so many different means, like, the globalization of the marketplace today that God has designed. And I talk about God’s sovereignty.
He’s designed all this for the spread of His glory and His grace in the world, so we have opportunities to go. And just like you said, and then He’s even bringing the nations to us, like the places where many times it’s hardest to reach with the gospel. You think about Somalia or, yeah, just remote places in West Africa. And God’s bringing people to us, like, right outside our doorstep.
I was just a couple of days ago actually at the border with U.S. and Mexico and just seeing some of the different nations. It’s baffling how people I was talking with from West Africa have made it to that spot.
And Mexico, and it was so encouraging talking there. I know there’s one Mexican pastor who basically said, “I never could have imagined planting a church among this people group, but God’s brought them to me.” And He has housed them. He basically turned his church building…they’ve turned their church building, this small church, into a shelter for these refugees fleeing and in fleeing hardship and persecution in their country, God’s brought… And he is, like, smiling.
He’s like, “I planted a church among this people group. Like, I never could have imagined that God brought them here. We just decided we weren’t going to ignore the refugees around us. We’re going to love them. And, like, what a gift that God has brought, yeah, different people from there, like Muslims, to me, to hear the gospel. Like, it’s amazing. And so, God open our eyes to the unique time and place He’s put us in, the unique opportunities we have, and God help us to be found faithful with our stewardship of grace that…and these opportunities He’s put right in front of us and far from us that we have an opportunity to join in what He’s doing.
Hansen: We pray, and pray, and pray for so many years for people to go and that we would be, perhaps, motivated ourself to go. And the Lord says, “Well, even if you have disobeyed and you’ve not gone, I’m going to go ahead and I’m going to send them to you.I’m going to make this as easy as possible.” Anyway, even from these, the two-thirds world, even from the 10/40 window, right to your own neighborhoods.
What an amazing way when we discern, just like the Psalmist says, you know, Asaph, in Psalm 73, “What a difference it makes when we discern things, not from the perspective of the world, but from the perspective of God in His house and from His throne.” Well, I would imagine and hope, David, that the people listening to this will be moved themselves not only to hear and to believe, but then also to go.
The book we’ve been talking about with David Platt, Something Needs to Change:A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need, published by Multnomah. And, again, love to encourage you to join us on September 18 for a simulcast with David. Visit tgc.org/somethingneedstochange.
David, thank you for joining me on The Gospel Coalition Podcast.
Platt: Thanks, Collin.