Tuesday, March 6, 2012

John Piper and the Tornados

I am puzzled by yesterday’s post on John Piper’s blog. He ascribes to the will of God the devastation by the recent tornados in America’s Midwest. Specifically, he says:

“Jesus rules the wind. The tornados were his.”

Then he closes the blog with a call to aid and generosity:

“You can show your partnership in suffering, and help lift the load, at Samaritan’s Purse” (link supplied).

I don’t get it. God unleashes his wrath against sin and we have to clean up his mess? Why help “lift the load” if this was the work of Jesus? If we ease the suffering that Jesus has inflicted, then aren’t we working against him?

Dr. Piper offers his scriptural analysis regarding God’s will and works of judgment. You can read them for yourself and make your own evaluation. I see this in a different way.

The world in which we live is, and always has been, a dangerous one. Gravity alone accounts for all sorts of pain and suffering. The earth is constantly in turmoil, expressed in earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, and extreme weather patterns. The creatures of the earth—including humans—live, suffer, and die in this violent, dynamic environment, and have been for a very long time.

But ancient theologians, moved by the Spirit of God, saw something different in the intentions of God for all of his creation. The biblical narrative of Genesis 1 and 2 portrays a relationship between God and the created order that is unhindered by sin and death. It reveals the human longing for a world—still a dynamic, dangerous one—in which God’s open presence and constant restorative power does not allow the power and violence of the world to have its way.

In Genesis 3, of course, it all crashes down and the entire creation is subject to the unbridled elements of nature and the power of sin and death. That’s the reality that all people experience in life.

Certainly our story includes judgment and the call to repentance. But does it include God’s random and capricious attacks on human beings in order to remind them that they are a mess? Is God really that way? If so, then I wonder why John would say,

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5b)

Or that Jesus would say,

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)

Yes, there is Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes, there is Ananias and Sapphira. But do those stories constitute the necessity of a God whose character is such that we can expect him to destroy both the guilty and innocent in a random sweep of his hand? Do no faithful Christians ever die in these natural disasters?

The God revealed to us in Jesus is not dark. Mysterious, yes. But not dark and capricious. Jesus shows us the God who takes evil into himself rather than inflicting it upon the world, leaving the interpretation of his violence to theological speculators who seem to have God’s cosmic playbook in hand.

Yes, we live, suffer, and die in a dangerous world. But our hope still lies in the presence and restorative, healing work of God. I believe that our participation in bringing aid to the suffering, as Dr. Piper has rightly encouraged, is participation in the real work of God. His work is redemptive and hopeful rather than violent and inflictive.

We really need to work on this, for ourselves and for the world that hears our stories and wonders about God. You can worship God because you fear he will kill you, or you can worship God because he invites you into his healing love.

Which story is ours?


Nate said...

I worship God because He's made it clear that, on my own, I am wretched and deserving of death. The love of God shows me my sin, which gives me a fear of God, which drives me back to the love of God for forgiveness. I can't love the Lord without fearing him, and I couldn't fear Him unless He loved me enough to show me my sin and its consequences. When I try to isolate one of God's attributes I end up with a god who's not really God.

Mike McNichols said...

Nate, I'm attempting to follow your logic. How does what you describe result in God's apparent acts of violence against places like the American midwest?

Jeff Goodwin said...

The problem with how we often look at things is that we look at them from a very limited human perspective. Thinking we know who will understand God's love and put their faith in Him. Even thinking that we know best what is good for people and the most productive in terms of God working in the lives of people. In addition, we take our preferences for God and apply them to God. Thankfully God gave us examples in His revealed Word to help us begin to understand.....such as the Book of Job. God allowed everything bad to happen in the book of Job. He allowed the destruction of Job's family and life. From our limited perspective there was no reason for it. Job's family did not have to die and Job did not need to experience the loss of the family and additional misery to himself. But from God's perspective it was not only allowed - it was necessary. Some of Job's family were probably great really nice people and others were probably jerks. In the end, we trust that the God has a perfect plan and He worked in the heart of those in Job's family that He would save. Thinking that God should have had a better plan is simply ignorance and arrogance on our part. Thinking that people will come to understand the perfect and holy God based on our perspectives is horribly dangerous. Thinking that God draws those He chooses to understand His love based on our formulas means we want to play God. We are not to play God but to have the heart of God....desiring for all to be saved. Such a heart will live their life for Christ, impacting and influencing their relational world for Christ by how they live, act, and talk and by how they use the resources God has given them to manage for Him (time, energy, money). We get out of the "Playing God" business and get into the "Walking as Jesus Walked" business.