Note: There is certainly more to say, but I am exhausted by this discussion. I feel I need a little time to think and rethink the implications of what has been said. For now, I will just leave you with my initial thoughts with the understanding that I will more than likely refine and adjust after I have allowed my emotions to subside. As I often say to protect my ego after posting something without much proofing. Please forgive any errors/typos, I hope to recharge and revisit this soon.
“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.” –John Piper, Fierce Tornadoes and the Fingers of God
Here we sit, mere days after precious lives have been lost, and instead of acting pastorally, giving a hurt American community hope in God in spite of tragic loss, hope that death is not the final say so, Piper decides to take this very sensitive opportunity to deliver an insensitive response. Instead of hope in God in light of tragedy, John Piper suggests God is the cause of such. Is this the sort of message that needs to be given in difficult times? John Piper thinks so. I for one, do not. But, I often feel like a small, Wesleyan fish in a huge Reformed pond. Not only do I think certain truths are better used at certain times, I simply believe Piper is wrong in general. However, for lack of space, my argument at present will not be an alternative view, but a demonstration of a lack of warrant in Piper’s. While I can hardly fathom a reason why it could be the case, maybe Piper is right in his assumption that God sent the tornadoes as an ordained act of His sovereign reign; however, Piper’s defense for such leaves much to be desired. My purposes here are to suggest Piper try again. If he wishes to suggest the onus for these deaths are upon God and are not the sheer result of a fallen world and sin, as most death seems to be, then he needs to do a better job of defending his point than a pithy 800 word essay that assumes too much from the Scripture he uses for proof texting. If you are going to hide behind a blog in order to tell hurt persons that (Lord forgive me for even typing such) Christ has just killed their relatives, then you have a responsibility to not mention your premises in mere passing, but to explicate them in full. Until then, I refuse to make such bold assumptions, and I hope most persons who read this post refuse to do so as well.
Addition for clarity: I want to make myself clear from the outset. Nowhere in this blog am I suggesting that God cannot or does not control weather as an act of judgment. Instead, I am merely suggesting that there is not sufficient ground for an a priori assumption that God has to be the cause of every natural disaster directly. Piper’s argument is not that it is possible God killed 39 people, but that He did. He assumes as much because of the premise that all natural disasters have to be of God, for nothing within the created order has such power. I find this highly speculative. First of all, where is this suggested anywhere in Scripture? Second, although it is feasible that God caused the recent tragedy, we cannot make an assumption that suggested He must. If it is the case that God has to be the direct cause for such events, then every disaster that has befallen humanity due to some uncontrollable, cataclysmic event is the result of God’s divine hand. Are we warranted to say such? While we might be warranted to assume He permitted such events, there does not seem to be biblical evidence to suggest He directly orchestrates all such events. On the other hand, if it is the case that God is not always the direct agent of causation for all disaster, but sometimes the result is due to the fallen nature of the world under sin or is the result of Satan’s actions, then to attribute all tragedy to God would be blasphemous, for we would be attributing the work of sin and/or the devil to God. While it is possible that Piper is correct about this one event, his argument also suggests that all such events are of God, and, if even only one is not such that God is the primary agent, Piper has a very big problem on his hands and has led many astray. My concluding that Piper believes God to be the author and agent of this recent disaster is not based on one mere excerpt from his blog. Instead, it comes from the whole tenor of the argument and from the explicit statements he says at the end, to which I refer later in this blog. I also demonstrate that there is a high possibility that not all such events are the direct actions of God.
First, Piper opens with a list of Scripture that is to somehow cement within our minds that God controls all violent acts of nature (Hosea 13:15; Exodus 10:19; Jonah 4:8; Psalm 107:25; Matthew 8:27), that nothing else in existence has the means to cause such destruction. I guess God built the atomic bomb as well. The issue here is that these Scripture merely state that God can control nature, not that He always does. We live not only as fallen creatures, but we live as beings in a fallen creation, which groans for redemption as well. To suggest that God has to be the author of such destruction does not come from biblical evidence, but from the logical conclusion of Piper’s heady, systematized theology, which suggests that for God to be sovereign He must control all events. This is not the result of biblical theology, but is the result, as I argue elsewhere of a systematic theology, which forces the adherent to ascribe all things to God. Since Piper holds to such claims and even champions them, he apparently feels the need to defend such claims, especially after tragic, nationally known events.
But back to Piper’s biblical examples of God being the agent of causation, let us narrow our focus for a moment. Considering the gospel accounts concerning Jesus calming the storm, it would seem strange to assume God the Father set a storm in motion only to have the Son rebuke the storm. This seems to be a house divided if there ever was one. The response is not, “Who is this that the Father would obey Him?” Instead, the response attributes the storm to nature itself, “Who is this that the winds and waves should obey Him” (Matthew 8:27). One could respond with an argument from silence that suggests that God caused the storm precisely so that Jesus could demonstrate His divine nature, but, once again, this would trivialize the act, much like a man paying an attacker to stage a rape against a woman, so that he could look like a hero once he stops the attack. It simply appears to be deception: The ancient Hebraic culture would not have assumed God caused the chaotic weather, so they would never make the connection that it was a set up.
After giving a list of Scripture that suggests that God has the ability to control weather, none of which suggest he causes all events of nature, he turns to Job. In order to continue the argument that God is the One who directly causes devastation, Piper discusses the winds that came to kill Job’s children, and Piper seems to praise Job for his response to the devastation: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). This is an utterance coming from a man who God still has much to teach. The whole story of Job demonstrates that Job had much to learn about His God. So, taking something Job says of God in the very beginning of the story as being pure, theological gold is less than warranted. Yet, this verse is misused in eulogies almost every day. In response to such narrowed use of this portion of Scripture, Dr. Ben Witherington III writes the following after the loss of his own daughter:
The words “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away,” from the lips of Job, are not good theology. They’re bad theology. According to Job 1, it was not God, but the Devil who took away Job’s children, health and wealth. God allowed it to happen, but when Job said these words, as the rest of the story shows, he was not yet enlightened about the true nature of where his calamity came from and what God’s will actually was for his life — which was for good, and not for harm.
Simply that Job attributes his extreme loss to God, does not make it the case (also see Job 7:20, 13:24, 21:7). Let us not theologically trivialize true loss by suggesting, “While it looks bad, it really is the good will of God that we should suffer loss” What Job experienced was true loss, real pain, and the result of sin in a fallen world, and he was really honest in his expression, feeling that God was against him. Those of us who read the story to the end, a privilege Job did not have when he made his statement, and see it is actually Satan acting against Job, should dare not attribute such to God, and we should not simply say, “Well, God means well.” To say, “God works all things for the good of those who love Him,” (Romans 8:28) is not to say that God causes all those things that He in turn uses for good. Instead, God’s redeeming nature can cause the suffering Christian to grow even in light of true evil’s impact. As Joseph said to His brothers, “What you intended for evil, God has intended for good” (Genesis 50:20). That the event was evil is not denied, but there is recognition that God can use such situations to further sanctify the believer. If Satan is capable of such destruction, yet our assumptions ignore this fact and immediately attribute all disaster to God, we might find ourselves at fault for blasphemy, attributing the acts of Satan to those of a good and loving God. While Piper might not be guilty of such, he seems to be playing fast and loose with his assumptions.
Perhaps we do not want to agree with Dr. Witherington in saying that Job was mistaken when He said, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away,” (Job 1:21), although I tend to agree. But, perhaps instead we want to assume God did take something away, but are we to assume that what God took away was all of Job’s belonging and even Job’s children through the direct acts of “natural disaster?” This is not what the text seems to suggest. Instead, if we can say God took anything away from Job, it would be His “hedge of protection” (Job 1:10) so that it is Satan who then takes from Job all that he holds dear. In this passage, Satan suggests that Job is only loyal to God because God has provided above and beyond for Job by protecting Job against Satan. All that befalls Job hereafter is the work of Satan. God allows it, for all that happens must be allowed, but it was not of God--and, yes, I am referring to the “natural disasters” that befell Job.
If we wish to affirm Piper’s statement quoted at the beginning of this blog: “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,” we have to say that God caused the devastation of Job’s family. Don’t allow the language of Piper’s quote to have you imagine he might not be saying God caused the recent disaster, but merely permitted it, for Piper is also so bold to defend the following question, “Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 [now 39 since an infant has passed] people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states, and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?” It is this question that Piper sets out to answer, adding, “We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil.” In other words, "This was God." While Piper might not ascribe such power to Satan, the book of Job seems to do so:
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:9-11)
While Satan petitions God to strike Job, God’s response is not to then turn and smite this righteous man. Instead, He allows Satan to do as he will, demonstrating Job’s goodness is not predicated upon Job’s understanding of works righteousness. Immediately following this allowance, Job’s sons and daughters are killed by a violent wind. The assumption should be that Satan attacked. It is only obvious that such is the case, unless we assume God does what Satan wishes and causes evil to befall Job by His own hand. This is clearly not the case. So, Piper suggesting that Satan has no such power to cause great winds seems to be in contradiction to what is happening in Job 1. Once again, Piper assumes it is God’s finger that ripped through the homes of many Americans just a few days ago because only God could do so, and while I allow for now that he might be right (although my assumption is that he is not), I also contend that he has not sufficiently considered the alternative, that evil is a destructive force that often befalls humanity in considerable ways.
To suggest that only God can perform such powerful acts such as storms, earthquakes and the like is silly, unless, of course, one’s theology forces one to suggest that God’s sovereignty forces Him to be the cause of all that happens, which is Piper’s stance, it seems. God’s power extends to such greatness that He can cause universes to exist. A storm is small potatoes and to suggest evil can cause such destruction does not threaten God in the least. How can we make such claims? What if I said, “No man is powerful enough to murder another. Only God can give and take life.” Does it make it any less true that murders are the culpable agents of the causes for murder? Absolutley not. Does the fact that murders happen make God the cause; does it make God a murderer? No. To say something as whimsical as God alone has the power to control weather might sound nice, but it is simply untrue and leads to unwarranted assumptions concerning His character that Christians then have to unnecessarily defend. With scientific advances, even humans impact weather. If we were to set off a nuclear bomb, or a series of bombs, inside the earth that caused great devastation, we need not say, “Whoa, that must have been God.” Likewise if a fallen creation produces a devastating wind because of natural consequences of the order of things (otherwise, how did meteorologist predict such would happen), we need not blame God a priori.
In the next section of his blog, Piper seems to move further and further away from his defense of God being just while being the cause of the devastation. Instead, he begins to discuss results, as if the ends justify the means. Piper begins to discuss the Luke 13:4-5 passage in which Jesus discusses the death of those whom were crushed by the tower of Siloam. Piper’s point is to suggest that the deaths of those in the path of destructive forces serve as a warning to the rest of us, and this story in Luke seems to suggest Jesus took occasion to make such a point. However, how does this then suggest that God caused the event? That it reminds us of our finitude, and that such a reminder can be beneficial, does not mean God justly caused a disaster that would otherwise be evil. If this event is to be analogous to recent disasters, Piper once again must be assuming that the tower did not fall for any other reason than God’s mighty hand pushing it over. Such is never suggested in this passage. Instead, a more natural reading would be that Jesus simply takes occasion to use the tragedy to make a point of correction to unwarranted assumptions concerning the cause of destruction. During this time, it was often assumed that evil befell persons because they had sinned perhaps worse than others, that we all could avoid such by being “good enough.” Jesus is simply saying that this is not the case, but it is the case that if we do not repent then we all shall perish, whether by such dramatic causes or by simply dying of old age. In the end, perishing is perishing. Let us not fool ourselves. The point is that we are all going to suffer termination one way or another if we repent not. In other words, we are no better off simply because the tragic event did not directly impact us. It is not proof we are sinless. Once again, the present discussion is whether or not God causes natural disaster. In the end, this Lukan passage is so far removed from the present discussion that to import it in as a backing for God’s destructive nature seems dishonest.
Piper ends the section by saying; “Every deadly wind in any town is a divine warning to every town.” If we are to assume this is a justification for God touching His finger to the earth so that it ripped through the homes of several American families, then we can put Piper’s statement thusly: “God did not simply permit evil to befall people with the result that persons would be reminded of our finitude and need for God [as seems to be a natural reading of the Lukan passage], but that God Himself touched His finger to earth, killing several, so that some might be so fortunate to know we need Him.” This is an ends justifying the means approach that seems to be forced upon this situation. Like so many things Hyper-Calvinistic, this can be construed as something great for those spared, but not so good for those who were not. On the other hand, that God allows such to happen, with the result being that some take stock of their own finitude is different than that He causes the devastation of some for the benefit of others.
There is a very clever philosophical slight-of-hand maneuver that is often used (by many Reformed thinkers, certainly not all) to rebut such claims as I am making, namely that there is a difference between permitting and ordaining/causing. Reformed persons might suggest that there is really no difference and that Christians must own up to the fact that God causes everything. To demonstrate this claim, Calvinist will often suggest that the onus for all things is still on God since He could possibly stop every event. This ignores causation. While God’s permitting evil to befall Job, the people at Siloam and the recent victims of the tornadoes might be unsavory to us still, we must not suggest that God’s allowance of attack only pushes the issue of God’s onus back a step. In other words, we cannot simply say, “Well God could have stopped Satan from attacking so that God is still responsible for Job’s loss.” The result of such is that many reformers task does not become a question of who is to blame, but how is God justified in doing such. I would submit that suggesting God only permitting destruction is not the same as saying God ordains such. Saying God ordains and causes such an event places Him as the direct agent and even the coordinator of evil, while His permitting such does not have to suggest He fixed the events or set them in motion. The question of causation cannot be avoided by the simple statement that whatever is caused could be nullified by God. The cause is still the cause.
As C.S. Lewis often suggested, if God were not to permit sin from ever having its affect upon the earth, we would not need salvation from sin. It is because sin is destructive that we need freedom from such bondage. God’s allowance of sin in the world does not create a philosophical problem that makes God the culpable agent no matter who causes such destruction. Instead, the onus for sin’s destructive place in the world lands squarely on humanity’s shoulders. In the end, Jesus is not saying, unless you repent the Father will crush you with a tower.” He is simply saying, “Sin will take occasion to finally terminate your being if you do not repent.” Jesus seems to suggest the onus to be on us. Jesus is not defending a destructive God. He need not do so.
In his final section, Piper ends his thoughts with the following statement:
Jesus rules the wind. The tornadoes were his.
But before Jesus took any life in rural America, he gave his own on the rugged cross. Come to me, he says, to America — to the devastated and to the smugly self-sufficient. Come to me, and I will give you hope and help now, and in the resurrection, more than you have ever lost.
You can show your partnership in suffering, and help lift the load, at Samaritan’s Purse.
John Piper cannot pass up the chance to bash humanity by suggesting that we are smugly self sufficient. So, although Piper suggested we cannot know the ins and outs of God’s judgment, he cannot help himself from accusatory statements, even if they are not the cause. He seems to miss the point that Jesus suggests that not all evil is the direct result of the victims’ sins, but the natural result of a fallen world. In other ridiculous words, Piper suggests Jesus devastated these people, but if you wish to be more benevolent than He and lift the burden He caused to befall these people, you can help by giving to the Samaritan’s Purse. This is theologically bankrupt. Jesus said this of His own purpose: “I came to give life, and give life abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus died so that we do not have to die.
In these words, John Piper makes the bold assumption that it was God the Son who killed all the people in the storms. While he wishes to argue in his third section and also in his second section that God’s ways are inscrutable, in other words, we cannot decipher why God would do such, Piper nonetheless ironically tries to give at least some defense as to why God would do such. In the end, God’s ways are not our ways for sure, but Christian’s should not use such as a crutch to say, “Well, God sure did a number on them, and, while I might hate it myself, He has His reasons.” Piper uses statements in Job and Romans to suggest that, while we do not understand, it is not our place to question. This would be accurate if God indeed killed 39 people and we knew not why, but that this is the case is inconclusive to say the least. Christians should not feel silenced by Piper’s use of the texts suggesting we simply cannot understand why God would do such, for he conveniently forgets to mention the texts that tell us more about who we are, as Christians, concerning our understanding: “Who has known the mind of the Lord as to instruct Him, but we have the mind of Christ.” Paul is suggesting that we have a deeper insight as Christians than mere surface understanding. While Job cannot comprehend the inscrutable actions of God, Christians have at least some advantage over this position in that the Love of God resides within us, giving us some insight into His ways. This is not to say we can know all of what God is up to, but it seems to suggest that we do not have to be completely befuddled. If the Christian mind God has given me seems to rail against something as being not of God, I have good reason to think I am right. I should not simply say, well God did it and I have to live with it. I have the privilege to test situations and persons to see if they testify of God or demonstrate evil. Once again, this is not to suggest that this particular event was not as Piper insists, but it is to suggest we are given the grace to discern for ourselves if this testimony is of God. We do not simply have to write it off.
In the end, Piper’s argument is lacking in many ways. First, his selection of Scripture fails to suggest, as he assumes it does, that God controls all natural events, including disasters. Second, that God would allow evil to befall humans does not mean that he had to cause such. There is no suggestion that God justifies sin so that he might better us. Instead, in light of sin, God’s grace works against sins natural tendency to destroy and instead takes opportunity to redeem, even though we are the culpable party. Thirdly, while we all will perish, disaster is not proof that God is punishing some for the sake of others. Instead, as Christ suggests, death is a sobering reminder that sin is real. Nowhere is this a reminder that God causes sin, evil or all disasters. Finally, Christ came to give life, not to take it away. Moreover, if Christ were the cause, who are we to go against his action in order to restore the devastation by giving to Samaritan’s purse.
So, I say again:
Try again. -TM