UPDATE: I am closing comments. I think we’ve talked enough at this time. In the meantime, please read the post by my friend John Armstrong that is much more sympathetic to John Piper, who is his friend, but nonetheless critical of his theological approach. Here is a key statement in John’s post:
‘What I believe Dr. Piper misses in his zeal for divine sovereignty, and in his excessive preoccupation with putting God at the center of storms and lightning strikes, is divine mystery. As Arnobius said, “We must answer that we do not know these things.”‘
Thanks for a good discussion. I’m sure we’ll be dealing with these matters again.
• • •
Regular commenter Eagle received some chiding for bringing up John Piper in the discussion following my tornado post last night.
Perhaps we should praise him for his insight.
Turns out Brother John was thinking about those tornadoes after all. And in his self-appointed role as God’s Anointed Interpreter of Tornadoes, Piper has made his morose musings public once more in yesterday’s blog post, “Fierce Tornadoes and the Fingers of God.”
“Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states, and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?
“…We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.”
After directly attributing these devastating, death-dealing storms to the sovereign, all-controlling God, Piper comments on what he might be trying to teach us. Despite his own warning — “We are not God’s counselors. Nor can we fathom all his judgments. That was the lesson of Job. Let us beware, therefore, of reading the hand of providence with too much certainty or specificity.” — Piper goes on to read three lessons in the storms:
- Like Job, we should just submit and say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
- We should heed Jesus’ words in Luke 13:4-5 and take every storm as a divine warning to repent.
- We should not think that God’s people themselves are exempt from such judgments.
This is a pastor’s message in the immediate aftermath of a terrible disaster.
How comforting. How helpful. How sympathetic. How sensitive. How pastoral.
- This is inappropriate.
- This is not helpful, pastoral, or loving.
- The timing is worse than awful; it’s inexcusable.
- This disrespects God and the people whose lives were devastated by the storms.
- This reinforces the false conception that it is the pastor’s job to be the all-wise interpreter of life’s mysteries, using his Bible as the Divine Answer Book. And so Pastor Piper affirms, if the Bible says “God sent a mighty wind,” then this means God is in immediate and direct control of all mighty winds — “If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.” Take it all literally: no room for nuance, no poetic license, no metaphorical language, no mystery.
- As a matter of fact, if Dr. Piper wants to bring the book of Job into the equation, he should admit something — God never told Job that it was he who sent all those disasters that befell the man and his family. Rather, God simply demonstrated to Job that humans can’t conceive what’s going on in his unfathomably majestic and complex creation. He didn’t say, “Look Job, I did it. It’s as simple as that. Accept that, repent, and submit to the fact that I will do whatever I like.” Instead, he took Job on a magical mystery tour that raised a lot more questions than it answered. Isn’t it just possible that in God’s creation there are all kinds of freedoms and undetermined outcomes, levels of causation, and “laws” of nature about which we have no conception? Just because the Bible says, in story and poetry no less, that “God does” something, do we build an entire propositional theology of God’s involvement that we can apply unambiguously to the events we behold in this world? It seems to me that this was exactly the viewpoint the book of Job was written to counter.
- And, speaking of Job’s friends, what did they do when they first came to the poor man in his sufferings? “…they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2.12-13). Dr. Piper, that’s what good pastors (and good friends) do when things like this happen. They sit down. They sympathize. They shut up.
- Why do some preachers think everyone has this obsessive need for explanation and answers at times like this? There may come a time (usually much later) for gentle instruction and discussion about the theological issues, but a wise pastor understands that when people ask “Why?” in a time of trauma and grief, they are not crying out for intellectual satisfaction. They are expressing pain. They are lamenting. They are not asking someone wiser and more spiritual to unlock mysteries of meaning for them. They don’t need someone to “put it in perspective for them.” They need someone who will “weep with those who weep.”
- Why do some preachers take opportunities like this to pile on? Instead of expressing sadness, extending condolences, or passionately urging love for one’s suffering brethren and neighbors (in his post Piper writes one brief line encouraging people to help), he says (1) just praise God, (2) be warned and repent, and (3) watch out, don’t think it can’t happen to you. Talk about a miserable comforter!
- It is Islam that sets forth submission and unquestioning acceptance as the ultimate in piety — not Christianity nor our parent faith as expressed in the Hebrew Bible. The faith we follow is one of lively dialogue between the Creator and his creatures. We question, complain, express our anger, cry out in pain, and bargain with God. Sometimes, if you believe the Bible, God even changes his mind at our behest. Like Jacob, we refuse to let him go until he blesses us. Like Moses, we argue with God. Like the psalmists, we groan and hurl curses toward the heavens. On the other hand, preachers like John Piper want us to get in line and behave. They rebuke our messiness, our humanness. They use the sovereignty of God to shut us up.
• • •
The best response to any event in life, but especially tragic events, is love not words. Nobody in southern Indiana, Kentucky, or anywhere else the sky fell last week needs or wants our words. Our theological perspectives won’t help them or lead them to Jesus. Especially when those dogmas are proclaimed by insensitive preachers in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, when our neighbors still can’t sleep for the ringing in their ears.
The next time a tornado hits, I hope Rev. Piper takes it as a sign — a sign that he should go on a silent retreat to pray for the victims.
And learn to never speak of tornadoes again.