God’s Angry Again…
Yesterday a tornado unexpectedly touched down in Minneapolis. Apparently, according to pastor John Piper—a champion and defender of God’s specific sovereignty over all things—the reason for this ordinary (and, relatively minor—no loss of life or even injury) event has to do with God’s anger at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ECLA) for considering the ordination of homosexuals at their annual convention in the same city that the tornado touched down in. Here is Piper’s conclusion about the “meaning” of this event:
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.
Whenever I read something this bizarre, a few obvious questions inevitably come to mind:
- Why do only certain kinds of sin—sexual ones, namely (as understood by those making the pronouncements)—seem worthy of a weather warning from the hand of God? I’ve yet to read (from Piper or anyone else) about God devoting an earthquake or a monsoon to economic injustice… or human greed and over-consumption… or envy… or sloth… or fill in the blank. Maybe I just haven’t read enough of Piper. Maybe his God really does have enough disasters to dispense for all sins, even if he saves his “best” (or at least most public) ones for those of a sexual nature…
- What about storms/disasters that strike where denominations are not plotting to maliciously corrupt the pure truth of the gospel (as understood by Piper)? There are, after all, plenty of nasty events taking place around the globe on a daily basis. Are they all because of God’s anger at sin? How do we tell if we are being punished or not? How might we discern what we are being punished for? To cite just one example, last month a storm in Camrose, AB claimed one life and injured 75 more at an outdoor music festival. What was the object of God’s ire in this case? Does God hate country music (an understandable, although perhaps not tornado-worthy offense)?
- Are we supposed to be snooping around for specific sins behind every tragedy in nature? Piper quotes Jesus’ discussion of the tragedy of the tower of Siloam (Luke 13:4-5) as evidence that what may seem like random tragedies are meant to evoke repentance. But Jesus also said that sunshine and rain fall on the just and the unjust—a statement I take to mean that both blessing and misfortune will simply be part and parcel of human experience on this planet. I don’t get the sense from Jesus that we ought to be too preoccupied with ferreting out moral lessons (to be applied primarily to others, usually) from specific instances of tragedy (John 9:1-12 comes to mind).
I try not to read John Piper very much, but when I do I almost invariably come away from the experience asking myself if God can really be that angry with that many people that often. I don’t rule out the possibility that the God who made and sustains heaven and earth can use nature to instruct, bless, and even correct human beings (albeit, not in the highly specific sense Piper seems convinced of). But I think pronouncements like the ones Piper is fond of making do a disservice to both the character of God and the witness of his church.
Anne Lamott famously remarked that one sure way to tell if you’ve created God in your image is when he ends up hating the same people you do (I think we could safely substitute “doctrines,” “perspectives,” “denominational drifts,” and so on for “people”). While I certainly don’t think John Piper hates the ELCA, I do think he is a lot angrier at them than God is.