John Piper and Tornadoes

Recent controversy has been stirred surrounding an article posted by Dr. John Piper entitled “Fierce Tornadoes and the Fingers of God” on the Desiring God website.

The article was nothing “new” in the sense that Piper has posted many other articles saying essentially the same thing in the past.  I’m sure those stirred a few people up as well.

Piper is an unashamed Calvinist.  While he would not say he is Calvinistic in every respect (meaning he doesn’t hold to the theology of John Calvin in a one-to-one kind of way), he is thoroughly Calvinistic in his understanding of the sovereignty of God and other matters.  You can listen to him talk about some of this here.

He writes in that little article:

“We do not ascribe such independent power [of tornadoes] to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. 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.”

While many Christians find reason to rejoice over such comments, others do not.  This particular author writes:

“I believe there is great mystery here, a mystery that Scripture does not address in the plain ways that Dr. Piper assumes. Simply put I too believe in a big, sovereign and awesome God but I am not as ready as John Piper to assign everything that happens in nature and everyday life to God’s direct action.”

In the end, the writer asserts that we must assign such events to the category of “msytery”; we simply cannot know why God allows such things to occur.  Dr. Piper, he believes, is too confident in God’s direct involvement in such events.

I think such remarks do not solve the dilemma, and worse, they endanger our security.

Think with me for a moment.  What does ascribing a “mysterious” indirect, second-hand involvement change about the matter?  Doesn’t it just move the issue back one step?  For example, how great is the difference, really, in a man who shoots someone and a man who hires another individual to shoot someone?  We can nuance the language all we want, in the end, the person is dead because of the first person’s initiating the event.  The main difference in such a scenario is that we now have two parties that are somehow responsible instead of one.  We have a perfect example of this in Judas who betrayed Jesus.  He didn’t put Jesus on the cross, yet Jesus indicated that he was still as guilty as ever!  “But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man, it would be better for him if he had not been born!” (Matt. 26:24).  Removing a person one step from an event doesn’t change anything about the issue of involvement.

What is more, the author claims that Piper focuses too much on what he considers to be peripheral mysteries and not enough on the Great Mystery of Christ and the Cross.

Frankly, I think this gentleman has missed the point.  Piper’s focus on these events is organically connected to the events that happend that Day at Calvary.  Addressing such issues is very much at the heart of the conversation about Jesus’s death on the cross.  The reason is because our hope and our confidence in our salvation rests wholly on God’s direct involvement at Calvary.  It seems to me that the further we remove God’s agency from the horrific (yet wonderful) events of Calvary, the more we end up blurring the love of God.  Too much linguistic nuancing here is dangerous to our hope because it muddies the water and puts distance between the events that saved us and God.  And here’s the point: if God is somehow indirectly involved in a tornado, why not at Calvary?  What’s the difference?  We can’t pick and choose the events we want to ascribe to God and the ones we don’t, or the degrees of God’s involvement.  But as I pointed out a minute ago, the “distancing” of God from difficult events doesn’t really seem to change anything anyway.  My point is simply that I think it muddies the water and puts our sense of gospel-security at risk.

I stand in agreement with Piper on this issue because I believe with all my heart that this is the testimony of the Bible and because I do not think the Bible puts forward the sovereignty of God in these issues as a tertiary matter.  I most definately could be wrong, but for the sake of my confidence (and all believers) in the gospel, I hope I’m not.

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