August 23, 2014

OTD: Obsessed with Tornadoes Disorder

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.

Not.

I don’t want to leave anyone in the dark here about what I think regarding Dr. Piper’s cogitations. This will be a full-blown rant, straightforward and to the point.

  • 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.

 

Comments

  1. redbert says:

    Isiaha 45

    I am the LORD, and there is no other.
    7 I form the light and create darkness,
    I bring prosperity and create disaster;
    I, the LORD, do all these things.

  2. Anonymous says:

    DNFTT.

  3. I will assume that you would all agree on several presuppositions: 1) Satan is real and all that he does is evil – there is nothing good and righteous within him, 2) God is real and all that he does is just, righteous and good, that He is Himself the essence of good, and that He is incapable *by constitution* incapable of evil, 3) this world and everything in it belongs to God, nothing in this world happens without, at the very least, the allowance or authority or permission of God, which is to say, as we see in Job, 4) Satan cannot and does not act with impunity or unilaterally in God’s world, that he acts with the permission of God alone, that God is fully aware of and in control of all of Satan’s movements and that God could, and will, when He so chooses, bring all of Satan’s activities to a close with the second advent of Christ.

    Now, suppose Satan picks up a beautiful vessel that exists within creation, and (with God’s approval at a minimum) smashes it to the ground, breaking it into millions of pieces. It goes without saying that Satan’s motives are evil. He is incapable of doing good. He rejects all that God is, and seeks to overthrow Him.

    The problem for many of you here, is that you cannot fathom that God would do, under any circumstance, the exact same thing, picking up the same vessel, and smashing it into millions of pieces. You consider the action and underlying motivations to be one and the same. Yet, they are not. If God smashes the vessel into the ground, you can rest assured that it is for the vessels ultimate, eternal (not temporal) good and His ultimate glory! Whether you can see a more immediate purpose for it or not.

    You think God would never smash the vessel to the ground to begin with?

    How, then, will you reconcile passages like Isaiah 45:7? Perhaps The Message translation will give you quarter – I don’t know.

    What, then, do you do with a God who smashes his own righteous, sinless son into a million pieces on a cross so that a remnant of wicked insurgents who deserve that end might spend eternity with Him?

    God pre-arranged and carried out the murder of His own son. What makes you think He would never send a tornado upon your own head?

    Some of us haven’t fully considered Who it is we’re dealing with.

    That is a God that makes me shut my mouth in awe and wonder.

    • Phil M. says:

      Regarding Isaiah 45:7, we’re dealing with a passage in which God is telling Israel what their fate will be if they continue down the road of idolatry. It’s much like a parent warning a child – “if you don’t quit hitting your sister, you’re going to be grounded!”. A specific action is linked to a specific outcome. We simply don’t have that sort of information available to us the vast majority of the time.

      If a parent punishes a child for an unknown reason, we don’t consider that loving and good, we consider it abusive. It doesn’t help a child learn from his mistakes is she has no idea what she’s being punished for. It just makes her fear and hate the parent. I simply don’t believe God is like this. He isn’t capricious. He isn’t looking for reasons to lash out at us. The final revelation of God to man isn’t found in the writings of the OT prophets. It’s found in the person of Jesus Christ. If I want to know how God feels towards me, I need to do nothing more than look at Christ on the cross. That is the ultimate expression of His love towards me. I don’t need to live in fear that I may be taken out by a great wind because of my lack of repentance. I don’t need to fear that one moment He loves me and the next He’s taking me out with a tornado!

      I’m sorry, but you may be able to worship a God like that, but I can’t, and I don’t.

      • So, Phil, what “specific action” of Jesus was “connected” to his murder that God unequivocally pre-determined? Which sister did he hit?

        I’m not mad at you, brother, but I would submit that you’re still making the same mistake of assuming that when God undertakes an action that *appears* evil or bad or whatever to our human eyes, then it must be just that…bad or evil…and since God is not the author of evil…God does not *cause to happen* these “bad things”.

        I wouldn’t suggest at all that God is capricious…far far from it!

        God doesn’t need reasons to lash out at you. You do a good job of pointing out reasons to him on your own ;-)

        Everything He does and everything He allows is perfectly and super-intended.

        The OT is not the final revelation, indeed, but it is a perfectly valid revelation, a revelation made clearer for us in Christ. Christ didn’t abolish the law; He fulfilled it; It still exists, but it exists in Him. The same holds true for prophetic warnings…have you ever noticed how utterly dreadful and violent some passages in the NT are?

        And, for those who are wondering, none of this is “hyper-calvinism.”

        • Phil M. says:

          Causing and predetermining are a distinction without a difference. You can’t say God predetermined something without also admitting He caused it. I’ve been through all these arguments before, and I simply don’t buy the Calvinistic answers.

          As far as what specific action the death of Jesus was connected to – that’s a question with multiple answers. He took upon Himself the curses associated with Israel failing to live up to the covenant, but He also absorbed the brunt all that the principalities and powers could throw at Him.

          I don’t want to turn this thread into more of a debate about Calvinism that is already has become, but if you look at what the church fathers have to say about evil and why bad things happen, it’s definitely not in line with Piper’s take on things. They are clear that evil isn’t something that comes from God in any way shape or form, and that it’s something that Christ and the church are overcoming.

          As far as saying something appears “bad or evil”, as you put it, if a theology cannot clearly say to a hurting person, “what happened to you is evil”, than it is a useless theology. I have no time for it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I don’t need to live in fear that I may be taken out by a great wind because of my lack of repentance. I don’t need to fear that one moment He loves me and the next He’s taking me out with a tornado!

        Those who are “able to worship a God like that” — wouldn’t they be happier in Islam? Where God can Will to your benefit one moment and the next Will to take you out with a tornado? Because God’s Will has been made His dominant characteristic?

        • Actually, Headless Unicorn Guy,

          God’s holiness would be the highest and most dominant characteristic of Himself that we can perceive as humans.

          And even then, we see through a glass dimly…

          • Beakerj says:

            Hi Joshua, how is God’s love not the highest & most dominant characteristic we can percieve?

    • Joshua, I appreciate your very well written and thoughtful comment.
      In the case of the Midwestern tornadoes, how do you discern if they were permitted evil or ordained, holy destruction?

      For those of us in Indiana, I think the appropriate response is to mourn with the victims. Pontificating about whether this tornado was of God, the devil or something else is…difficult.

      • Nate,

        As a five-point Calvinist visiting here in “enemy territory” (that’s a joke, people), I couldn’t agree with you more.

        If I were there, I would do nothing more than love on people who’ve been devastated. Pray with them for God’s mercy and grace. Help them physically. And, I know that John Piper would do the same. Which is why I specifically pointed out that Piper’s thoughts weren’t necessarily “for” those in crisis, but for the rest of us who are watching from the outside, shaking our heads and wondering how/why things like this happen.

        As to how you discern the specifics of a scenario…I think by the time you get to the question of “was this God or Satan”…you’ve gone too far…absent some clear and compelling evidence that I’m unaware of.

        Suffice to say that we ought to be very careful in our attempts to exonerate a Holy God.

    • Josh…you make a good case for atheism. You make it logical, healthier, and more loving than Christianity.

      • Actually, I spent 17 years working in an urban setting as a deputy sheriff. I’ve been shot at twice, picked up dead bodies off the ground, witnessed the effects of shotgun blasts to the head, investigated child sex abuse cases, etc. I could go on and on.

        I’ve been a part of humanity at its worst…both as an observer and a participant.

        And through it all, these things are indeed supportive of my faith in an almighty, sovereign God.

        He was indeed, there, in the midst of it all.

        And, if you have been in a convoy in Afghanistan, thank you for your service. My family has a long history of military/public service, to include an uncle KIA in the jungles of Vietnam.

        You could be closer to a relationship with the risen King than many would suggest…

        • I wouldn’t wish that upon you anymore than I would wish some of what I expereicned on others. Life is about chance..being at the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. I would advise against being arrogant about shot gun shootings, etc.. It’s hard to tell how things will go and I’d recommend caution. Life will make you humble. And its quite fragile as my family has learned.

      • I’m a coward, like Peter…

        But, if He demands my life one day, I will give it…

        Like Peter…

        Which was all for love…

        Which the terrorists knew nothing of.

        • Hey Josh I see on your blog that you really like CJ Mahaney. I’m still waiting for his book “Don’t Waste Your Extortion” I’m sure there is a lot he leanred from his blackmail of Larry Tomczak that could be good. I mean as long as he is missional and reformed that’s fine. Maybe Driscoll can write a book called “Don’t Waste Your Blow Job” and then go on tour with it.

          • Ya lost me, friend.

            But, I do appreciate the chat.

            It’s been good.

            And, thanks again for your service to our nation.

            You’re to be commended for that.

          • It’s called cynicism, and accountability. Some fo your big dogs need that…I don’t respect many of them for that particular reason. I don’t have a tolerance for spiritual abuse or manipulation. What angers me are the people who have been hurt by the people you admire and respect.

      • Mohammad Atta and the 9-11 terrorists believed they wre being obediant to God. Is there example any different than yours? And I have to take issue with you being willing to give your life one day. There are lots of ways you can test that. That is foolish…no one knows. I leanred that in a combat zone and wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Life is about chance, luck, and cirumstances.

      • Final Anonymous says:

        Actually I think Josh’s points were quite logical.

        The problem is, they lead to the logical conclusion that God is the human equivalent of a vengeful, secretive, bipolar, unpredictable, bullying, psychotic nutjob who can destroy anyone and anything — or not — on his latest whim, and because he’s got so little competition (Satan) he can call his actions Good and Right. So we’d better agree and obey, or else he might get us too.

        Oh wait, he can do that anyway… and call it Good and Right, so we’d better agree and obey, or else…

        Sorry, but I’m not even going to deal with that kind of “God.” I’ve dealt with enough of those kinds of humans.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Again, you get something very much resembling Extreme Islam, where God becomes Omnipotent but NOT Benevolent. God’s Power overriding God’s Nature, on steroids.

          Yet oddly, very comforting (as long as you give up all hope). What happens, happens, God Hath Willed It. No need to do anything, no need to think, nothing but Submit and Accept His Will. In’shal’lah.

          • Beakerj says:

            You guys really hit the nail on the head with the comments about this God being all powerful, but not good. I find this whole conversation terrifying. This is what my brain got stuck on during my Mother’s last weeks in the Hospice, & although I was expecting God to send me a peace that surpassed understanding, & to find me a place to lay down my fears about his character, nothing at all came through & I ended up with no functional definition of good I could apply to God. I was abandoned, by him, who I’d trusted, to my terrors. I’m still terrifed the 5 pointers are right, & I’m going to have to admit I can’t love God. Seriously, when I hear the name John Piper I want to hide under my bed & cry.

    • Josh, you are sadly mistaken. We have well considered who we are dealing with, and he is fully revealed in Jesus. Much of what you say is true, and I would not deny it. What I would deny is that any one of us is being appropriately kind and loving when we shove that in people’s faces in the time of disaster.

      • CM,

        I hear your angst and frustration. Truth can be abused by fallen men, like us.

        Perhaps, Piper, a man I admire, could have withheld his blog until another time, and perhaps he could have presented his material in a different context.

        I’ll gladly concede that point.

        It’s a good lesson for us all to learn.

        You have a good conversation going here.

        Thanks for helping us all to spend a little time today thinking about Jesus…

  4. God was not in the tornado; God was in the midst of those who suffered. This is theology of the cross. If we truly believe that, we need to meet him there among those who suffer. I don’t know why Piper would reverse this, but I suspect it is a reflection of cultural war spirituality, which values power and wealth over weakness and suffering. In that perspective, it makes sense that Piper would look for God in the tempest.

  5. humanslug says:

    Very well said, Mike — though I guess it would be too much to hope that someone like Piper would actually read your post and honestly reflect on it.
    Unfortunately, honest reflection usually gets dismissed as “doubting God” or “double-mindedness” by the ringmasters of the evangelical circus.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Unfortunately, honest reflection usually gets dismissed as “doubting God” or “double-mindedness” by the ringmasters of the evangelical circus.

      The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

      “And because they ‘won’t be taken in’, they can never be taken out.” — Aslan of Narnia

  6. Jesus is pretty blunt, Matt.

    I don’t think He was talking about birthday cake, there.

    Your problem is that you’re offended at what Jesus has to say…or is it…ashamed…before a post-modern culture?

    Stop trying to exonerate Jesus.

    He meant what He said.

    • Nice – but there’s a historical basis for what I’m saying. I’m afraid I’d classify your interpretation as reading back onto Jesus’ culture your own culture, or better yet Calvin’s culture, thus making Jesus say things he didn’t actually say. I’m no expert on the matter, as a matter of fact I’m just getting started, as I recently read Simply Jesus by NT Wright, but your beef is with Mr. Wright and not I.

      So, c’est la vie I guess, we both have a nice classification for each other. I’m sure if I met you we’d be friends, so I hope we part on the internet in peace, my brother.

  7. Tim Becker says:

    If God didn’t cause it, then he allowed it- unless he was unaware of it, or powerless to stop it. If he was unaware, or powerless, then he wouldn’t be God. If he caused it or allowed it, then he intended for it to happen. There’s no way around it, logically. Or is there?

    • “If he caused it or allowed it, then he intended for it to happen.”

      I don’t see how it follows that if God allows something then he intended for it to happen. There are times when I allow my kids to do something knowing full well what the consequences will probably be. But that does not mean that I intended for it to happen. Just that there is freedom in the system for events and the following consequences to take place. Now, it might get a little stickier since God is omniscient and knows what the results will be, but I still don’t think that you can tie that directly to his intentions.

      • Tim Becker says:

        I think that if God allows something to happen then he intends for it to happen because he has the power to stop it if he didn’t. Omniscience is indeed the factor that makes the difference. At least it seems that way to me.

  8. So basically, answering the question of ‘why did this happen’ the way Jesus did is “not loving”? I’m confused.