It looks like John Piper recently gave his interpretation of a tornado in Minneapolis as “a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin.” (The ELCA was discussing whether or not practicing homosexuals ought to be banned from pastoral ministry).
Now, in many ways I respect Piper. But I think he got this one wrong. Leaving aside the issue of homosexuality or sin generally for a moment, Piper’s “biblical justification” for viewing the tornado as specifically caused by God was frighteningly shoddy and taken way out of context, and it begs so many other questions (what about tornadoes that destroy the property of Christians who aren’t sinning?) that it just ends up making him look silly. It’s one thing to affirm that God acts in human history, it’s another to assume that every weather event that happens was somehow specifically orchestrated by God to send us some kind of message.
To put it bluntly: Doesn’t the announcement of the gospel assume that things are not as they should be? When Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was breaking in, doesn’t that assume there is some kind of “not-kingdom” sphere to break into? Doesn’t Jesus teaching us to pray “your kingdom come” assume that it’s not here all the way yet? Doesn’t Jesus teaching us to pray “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” assume that not everything that happens on earth is God’s will?
To get a feel for what I believe about these kinds of things, the following authors have done a fantastic job of laying out a theology of the kingdom of God that responds to events like tornadoes in Minneapolis or tsunamis in Indonesia:
- Greg Boyd on why the I35 bridge collapsed
- Jason Coker on the I35 bridge collapse
- Jason Coker on what God’s sovereignty means
And Jenell Paris has a hilarious, Jon Stewart-esque satirical response to Piper’s original post.
UPDATE: Boyd responds to Piper’s blog post on the tornado, “if only to remind non-Christians that not all Christians think like this.”
UPDATE 2: Satire from Kim Roth: The Tornado, The Baptists, and The Old People.
Patrick Smith says
Hmmmm. Ben, I have to take issue with some of this response to a response (rendering this a response to a response to a response).
I have read and heard much of Piper’s Luke 13 Tower of Siloam explanation for calamities. I have not heard the specifics of his thoughts on this MN tornado. To the extent that Piper tied the tornado directly to the consideration of homosexuals by the ELCA I believe he is wrong. However, in his long tradition of tying calamity to a sovereign, merciful act of God by which he calls sinners (all of us) to repent, I believe he is spot on.
I firstly believe this, because we see such divine action as early as Genesis and the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt. From that point forward we have an entire Bible full of accounts of horrible things happening to people (some by other depraved people, some by natural disasters) while God declares that He was in it, allowed it, caused it. Because of the physical nature of the Mosaic covenant (physical temple, physical blessing for Israel’s godly living, physical judgment for Israel’s rebellion), some of these calamities served as judgment. Some of them did not. All of them, however, (& this is crucial) served as a merciful call to a lost humanity to repent.
I secondly believe it on a philosophical level. If God was not sovereign over the 80mph wind that tore homes apart, who was? If He did not/could not control it, is He indifferent or impotent? I know you would not say that explicitly, but I fear it is the logical end of your line of thinking. (It is the unabashed logical end of Greg Boyd’s thinking–an author I would be loathe to publicly endorse.) What comfort can YHWH bring if He totally surrendered control of such a thing to another being? What solace can He offer if He was unable to stop it? To undercut the sovereignty of God over such calamities may be a short term intellectual “answer,” but it is a long-term philosophical disaster. Because to rob Him of His absolute sovereignty over it is to rob Him of any help, care, or solace He can offer in/after it.
Thirdly, I think we must see this as a merciful act by which God demonstrates to us the brevity of life and the certainty of death.
For the sake of argument, let’s say this tornado killed my wife and one of my sons & maimed me and my other son.
I deserve worse!
The heartache, the physical pain, the life of physical ugliness is less judgment than I deserve from God. I have infinitely offended the perfection of God’s holiness in my sin, and I deserve nothing good in my life. All good is from God. It is all undeserved. The very grace to continue typing is evidence of a gracious and longsuffering God. I cannot call God to account for taking my wife and son from this world. Who am I to talk back to GOD? I did not deserve one of those sweet kisses my son gave me or the faithful love of my wife. Those were gracious, undeserved gifts.
I believe every wind, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, cloud, etc. is specifically orchestrated by God to send us a message. Not a cryptic, veiled message, but one that is clear when specific revelation (God’s word) is brought to bear on general revelation (weather, creation, etc).
“I created and sustain all things for the sake of MY name. All creation declares MY character. I made you for ME. Repent from your sin. be joined to ME; there you’ll find infinite joy!”
Pertaining to semi-realized eschatology and how it relates to the will(s) of God, Piper has written explaining how he believes this can be. http://tinyurl.com/3a7hye
As I said, I am extremely familiar with Piper’s biblical defense of sovereignty and calamity; however, I did not see,/hear this one specifically. You may be correct that in this case, he was “shoddy” in his explanation. The two articles below were written shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Indonesian Tsunami of 2004 respectively. I think they are adequately thorough in their portrayal of his position. If you examine these & estimate them, too, as shoddy I think it is primarily evidence of a fundamentally different theological paradigm & hermeneutic.
I look forward to your thoughts. Grace and peace, brother!
p.s. For the public record, I have great respect for Ben, his intentionality, and the thoughtfulness with which he lives. In no way was this response to a response to a response intended to be ad hominem or offensive–merely well-intentioned theological jousting.
Ben Sternke says
Very thorough thoughts, Patrick! (For the record, I also have great respect for Patrick – and although he and I don’t quite see eye-to-eye on this issue, I count him as a friend).
I agree with you, Patrick, on the fact that every good thing comes from God’s grace alone. I also think that one aspect of God’s sovereignty is that he certainly allows natural disasters (I would never say he is unable to prevent them). But I don’t see that it is then necessary to say that he somehow specifically causes those natural disasters. I think there is inherent judgment in the “bad things” that happen to us, because I see them as the effects of a world that has disconnected itself from God.
I’m sure we could go round and round with this, but part of the issue I have is that I just don’t see Jesus having Piper’s attitude toward sickness, death, and natural disaster. Jesus healed sickness, he didn’t try to get people to figure out why God was afflicting them. In fact, right after the infamous Luke 13 passage that Piper (I think) misinterprets, Jesus says that the crippled woman he had just healed was “bound by Satan for eighteen years” and that he had manifested God’s will for her by healing her (on the Sabbath, of all times!). Jesus calmed the storm, he didn’t say anything about God causing it.
If you have some time, Patrick, I’d recommend you read the posts by Jason Coker – he’s a really thoughtful guy about these issues. One of the things he alludes to that I agree with is that I think too many of these explanations of how God specifically controls everything that happens are simply the logical extremes of a certain theological system. The Bible just doesn’t seem to need to “go there” in terms of logical extremes. It seems content to dwell in the complexities of a God who allows calamity and disaster, but also calls those things evil. In the gospels, when the kingdom breaks in, people are healed and set free.
My last point for now is a missional one. I’ll quote Coker:
Jason Coker says
Ben – I’m flattered and humbled that you would link to me in this post. These are terribly difficult issues and cut to the heart of faith, IMHO. Thanks for pulling me into the conversation.
Patrick – I agree that the philosophical consequences of an “indifferent” or “impotent” God are disastrous. But that is not at all what I’m advocating (neither is Greg Boyd, for the record). Far, far from it. There are other options besides a God who exercises total intimate control over all events and circumstances on the one hand, and blind indifference on the other. One other option can be summed up by answering two of your own questions [with some clarifying edits]:
“What comfort can YHWH bring if He [willingly, partially, and temporarily] surrendered control of such a things to another being? What solace can He offer [in order to] stop it?”
Answer: The gospel of the Kingdom