In the aftermath of the Oklahoma tragedy, Rachel Held Evans took John Piper to task for claiming, right in line with the Bible, that if disaster befalls a city, it is from the hand of God (Amos 3:6). Not only is it from the hand of God, but it is from the hand of a holy God. But to know — as insurance companies do — that such things are classified as acts of God, is not to say that God is abusive.
This stance of Piper’s upsets Evans, and she went on at length about it, maintaining that this creates abusive church environments, etc. I don’t want to go point-by-point through her post here — I simply want to make one observation, in line with the great Chesterton:
“If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.”
Here is the problem. Rachel Held Evans rebukes John Piper for answering the problem of evil as all orthodox Christians must, but then cops out herself. “We don’t know exactly why suffering happens in every situation . . .” Now of course this is quite right if we are maintaining that Henry got cancer because he cheated on his taxes three years ago. We don’t know that. But it is staggeringly wrong if we are talking about why our world is broken the way it is. We do know that. We have been told.
Evans goes on at length to tell victims of these and other disasters that they don’t deserve to have these things happen to them. But she does so while serenely neglecting her follow-up responsibility to explain why they are happening then. She says to victims everywhere, “You do not deserve to be abused.” Isn’t the next question obvious? “Why then am I abused?” Is God just or not? Is God in control or not?
John Piper lives in a universe where terrible things happen, but he knows that when we come to know the whole story, we will stop our mouths, and bow before a holy God in order to worship Him — and all manner of things shall be well. To acknowledge God’s sovereignty in such things does not keep our hearts from breaking in the midst of such devastation. The sovereignty of God is a hard shell case that carries and protects the tender heart.
Rachel Held Evans lives in a world where innocent people just get caught in the machinery, and God is terribly sorry about it.
Piper lives in a place where every apparent injustice will ultimately be revealed as part of a rich tapestry of means and ends, all culminating in that glorious Christlikeness that the “all things” in Romans 8:28 is yearning for. Evans lives in a place where our lives can be completely hosed, but at least God felt bad for us while He was making a hash of our little lives. “Don’t worry!” this kosmic klutz king says to us. “You didn’t deserve any of that!” These tornadoes are slippery.
But then, taking back with one hand what she just gave with the other, only a few lines later, Rachel Held Evans says that “God never fails.” Really? He protects the innocent from tornadoes, and tsunamis, and volcanoes, predatory ministers, and He never fails? Why, then, do they still happen?
That, in a nutshell, is how you deny the cat.