In the ruckus following Rachel Held Evan’s attack on various and sundry, at least three important things have been going on in the barrage of comments at various sites.
The first has to do with the alleged abuse case at Sovereign Grace Ministries. That is a situation about which I know next to nothing, and so I will content myself with the praiseworthy policy of saying nothing about it. But I will say something about a related matter. In my day, I have been the recipient of the tender ministrations of various discernment bloggers, the kind who have the discernment of a particularly dimwitted and goggle-eyed goldfish, peering out of a particularly curved bowl, to know that certain kinds of cases are best not tried in venues like this one. When I see a lynch mob outside the courthouse, yelling and waving a rope, it does not tell me if the man inside is innocent or guilty. But it does tell me something.
The second point has to do with whether or not John Piper is a “miserable comforter,” as Internet Monk put it. With all the perspective that Monday morning quarterbacks enjoy, I think it is possible that the original tweets would have been better placed had they been sent out a day or two later. So I understand why John took them down — it was precisely because he is not a miserable comforter, and was trying to be reasonable with regard to the feelings and responses of others. But notice how such accommodations make no difference at all to the fellowship of the grievance. For those who are theologically tweaked, their problem with you is that you still think it, and that God is still sovereign, and that the world is still the way it is. The problem is that the world (the way God governs it) is still resented, and especially resented are those who have made their peace with God’s majesty — a majesty on terrible display in tornadoes like this one. John Piper is among those who understand this, but anyone who believes that this makes him calloused or insensitive or unfeeling towards the sufferings of men, are huntsmen who do not know their quarry. It is like saying that Jeremiah didn’t love Jerusalem.
Related to this, whenever a dispute like this breaks out, ostensibly over the “timeliness” of the comments, this is frequently just a proxy for the real issue — in this case, distaste of Calvinism. If you don’t share that distaste, as I do not, then it will be harder to see the problem, if indeed there was a problem. We can illustrate this easily by flipping it around. If you do not share RHE’s peculiar theological approach, it is much easier to see her post as opportunistic ambulance-chasing. A Calvinist lecturing tornado victims in the rubble is an easy caricature to draw, but that’s not the only one. How about the pharmaceutical rep who says something like “our hearts are broken over the devastation caused by this tornado. It reminds me, in fact, of the heartbreak of psoriasis. I happen to have a bottle here . . .”
RHE has a theological agenda, just like everybody else, and she used this tragedy to advance it. This would have been okay if her theology were correct, and if she had done it in sensitivity and wisdom. Unfortunately, neither of those two criteria apply.
But last, I want to return to a central point in all this, one I tried to make in this interview here. These situations are emotionally complex, but they are not theologically complex. Neither are they logically complex. With that in mind, I wanted to respond to this comment, one that was made deep in the thread at my blog.
“To defend,at least, the emotion behind RHE’s response – certainly not the logic – she’s expressing something that myself and several others have felt for years, and the reason why I at last left the faith. And that is that all attempts to rationally deal with evil and with an all-powerful, loving God at the same time ultimately fail, at least if we accept that God does not act because he won’t act, not because he can’t. I’m left with two options – believe that God is evil, or believe that God is good, but that I don’t understand good, or evil, or certainly not God. And calling God “good” when I’ve written off understanding what Good is in the first place is hardly complimentary to God. I mean no offense.”
The problem is a straightforward one — on the intellectual level. God either had the power to do something about the tornado, or He did not. God either had the inclination to do something about the tornado, or He did not. And if there is no God, then He has neither the power nor the inclination.
“And that is that all attempts to rationally deal with evil and with an all-powerful, loving God at the same time ultimately fail . . .”
There is a difference between saying that God did it, and we will see all His good reasons for it eventually, which is orthodoxy, and claiming to know all those good reasons now, which would be hubris.
One of the reasons this is emotionally complex is that we do not know our own hearts. We do not know the depths of human complicity in sin and evil. As a result we do not see an obvious line of thought — and which John Piper does see.
To see a mile-wide tornado bearing down on your people is a terrible thing. Some see this and ask, “What must God be like!?” Others look at it and ask, “What must we be like!?”
If there is no God, then there is no such thing as evil, and there most certainly is not such a thing as natural evil. A tornado is just matter in motion, and we are just matter in motion, and some matter moves faster than other matter — and too bad for the slow matter.
If there is a God, then by definition He is all-powerful and all-good, which means that this tornado struck in this place and this time because God freely and unalterably decided before the foundation of the world that this is just what it would do. The hairs of our head are numbered. A sparrow cannot fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. If disaster befalls a city, the Lord God Almighty is the one who decreed that it would happen. Deal with it.
We also know that because He is holy there is a good and holy reason for why He has done this. The theodicy that He gives us is three-fold — the first is in His majestic sovereignty, spoken to Job out the whirlwind, and which every thinking man has recognized from the beginning of the world. The second is the majesty of His compassion for us, displayed for us in the twisted body of Christ on the cross. The God who spoke the world into existence, and apart from whose sovereign word every tornado would disappear with an anemic puff, is the same one who was willingly pierced — there, on that cross — for my transgressions. This means that we have better things to do than to lobby for Heaven to get a complaint department already. And the third provides us with material for our faith. On the basis of the first two, we know now by faith that all such dilemmas will eventually be answered, and when that day comes we will have the actual answers in hand. All things will be put to rights, and we will see how it was done. If you don’t believe that, fine, but the name for unbelief is unbelief.
So weak sister theology can sob all it wants, but it doesn’t alter the reality of the situation. Tornadoes will still happen. In the aftermath of a disaster like this, people need answers as much as they need shelter, food, water, and medical care. One of the answers offered by the gospel is the need for repentance so that sin may give way to faith. But it is not always an answer that is necessarily well-received.
“And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds” (Rev. 19:10-11).
Contrary to the suggestions offered by openness theology, nobody in the history of the world ever needed pointless suffering. And so when there is a great reaction (as we have had here) to someone who indicated what the biblical point was, this simply tells us that a lot of people want suffering to be pointless so that their sins and pleasures (and lives) can remain pointless in the same way.
So if I could borrow a phrase from John. Don’t waste the point.