Taking credit for calamity

I’m feeling very displeased. There are few things that make me more frustrated and annoyed than seeing Christians sink to wanting to use some kind of disaster to prove why their point about theology is true and accurate. Even worse: the man participating in these actions is not an easily ignored wacko like the (God hates fags) Westboro Baptist guys, but instead it’s coming from John Piper. Now whether you agree with most of what he says or not (and I certainly disagree with a decent bit of it), at least I’ve always felt that you can respect Piper: and respect that his positions are based on an honest interpretation of God’s word.

But this is beyond the pale. Basically, while the “Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s national convention” was going on, a tornado went through Minneapolis (where the conference was being held),  ripped the tents around the convention centre to pieces and broke the steeple on the church being used by the convention. Apparently this all happened while the convention was discussing “Consideration: Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality.”

So John Piper decides to “venture an interpretation of this Providence with some biblical warrant.” He goes on to make 5 points which lead him to his conclusion. The first three I’ll leave alone: they’re basically just Piper reinforcing his theology (homosexual acts are sinful, churches shouldn’t be advocating sin). While I’m not comfortable with the exact language used there (because I’m all namby-pamby liberal like that), I’d hold a similar position in terms of the content there.  But then it gets a little bit crazy.

4. Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:41)

My parents have a dog called Dood. He’s a good dog, so when I tell him to sit: he sits. Friends marvel, and say to me “Who then are you, that even your dog obeys you”. However, that doesn’t mean that everything Dood does is because that’s what I told him to do. Likewise: the quote above is in reference to the disciples wondering aloud after Jesus has calmed the storm which was making life difficult for some seasoned fishermen. There’s no implication in the story that Jesus made the wind and waves do that in the first place. None.

5. When asked about a seemingly random calamity near Jerusalem where 18 people were killed, Jesus answered in general terms—an answer that would cover calamities in Minneapolis, Taiwan, or Baghdad. God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment.

Jesus: “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

Maybe I’m just crazy here, but let me tell you what I hear happening in this story and I’m more than happy to be told how wrong I am. First, lets pull a few more verses so we’ve got something like context:

13 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  2 And he answered them,q“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  3 No, I tell you; but unless you rrepent, you will all likewise perish.  4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  (Luke 13:1-5)

Jesus has people tell him about a couple of recent disasters. He asks if they think that because bad stuff happened to these people that they were any worse than them. If they do, they’re wrong, because we’re all in need of repentance. So in other words “don’t read into a recent disaster that those people must be wrong about something”. Surely that’s what Jesus is saying here, isn’t it?

6. Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand how you get there from here. It’s when you do stupid things like this that make me want to agree with the liberal theological standpoint just because they sound less crazy.

There’s got to be someone out there who wants to tell me why I’m wrong, and I’m in just the mood to hear it.

4. Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:41)

5. When asked about a seemingly random calamity near Jerusalem where 18 people were killed, Jesus answered in general terms—an answer that would cover calamities in Minneapolis, Taiwan, or Baghdad. God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment.

Jesus: “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

6. Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

5 Replies to “Taking credit for calamity”

  1. Ok – since you want someone to disagree I feel obligated.

    1) I don’t know that Piper is right in that all circumstances are complex. They are broader in terms of space (that spot, that city, that state, this world, etc.) than we can see. They are deeper in the sense of time (past, present, future) than we can see. And they are deep in the sense of heart (each person’s true heart) than we can see. So for him to say that should (as I read it) come with trepidation. But I thought he attempted that with “let me venture an interpretation”. And so I think he could be right. I also think any number of other reasons may be true.

    2) Piper, myself, and at least a couple of others think God is absolutely sovereign. So the comparison of you and Dood doesn’t hold with God and the world. Not an event goes by (in our opinion) that isn’t under His control. And this is a key point of contention.

    3) Regarding Lk 13, I don’t read, “don’t read into a recent disaster that those people must be wrong about something” as you do. I read, “there is something wrong about something, and guess what, you are no better, so you should not gloat, etc., you should repent. Comparison isn’t the need, repentance by all is.”

    Bottom-line, we have differences at two fundamental points – God Sovereignty and man’s sinfulness/God’s response to it. So I wouldn’t expect us to agree on Piper’s thinking.

    That aside, note that Piper said “an interpretation” not “the interpretation”. Are you sure this is not a possible interpretation? I am not. But then I’m not sure it is the interpretation either. So while I’m suspicious, I opt to not call this a “stupid thing”.

    1. My problem is this idea that we need to “venture” any interpretation when disasters happen. So I do think it’s a stupid thing to do. And I think it’s downright manipulative to use a natural disaster to support your theological point of view.

      With respect to point 2), I fully understand that we have different ideas with respect to predestination. But don’t tell me that the story is telling me one thing, when that’s not really what it’s saying. And that story doesn’t say that Jesus controls every wind including tornados, but that’s what Piper tells us that is says.

      With respect to 3), I think it is fair to say that Jesus is more focused on the bigger picture in terms of repentance from all. But I do think that he was reacting to people hoping to score points about how these specific people were wrong about something and Jesus tells them that they want to look at themselves first.

      1. Yes … it can be manipulative. I’m not sure that was his intent.

        On point 2, you surely aren’t thinking this was presented as some proof text. This was just a simple example to show that even the wind is not out of God’s realm of control. Your understanding is not at all what Piper said.

        And we apparently agree on point 3 … and that’s what Piper said, “God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment.” He wasn’t pointing his finger, he was calling for repentance.

        I don’t think Piper was wise … but I think you seem more than a little bothered.

        1. My issue is about what this points to. When people say that the World Trade Center attacks were a result of America being too accomodating to homosexuals, the mainstream Christian community correctly writes them off as crazies, and in no way speaking for them or their point of view. But when John Piper starts following a similar pattern, then it’s in the mainstream of Christianity, and I need to start having a new name for my religion because that’s not something I can be a part of. So yes, I am more than a little bothered by it.

          I’m willing to concede that I may have mis-interpreted the intention in quoting Mark 4:41.

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