You Don’t Want to Make God Look Bad… Do You?
From the “if you can’t say anything nice—or at least morally/theologically coherent—then don’t say anything at all” file… It seems John Piper has expanded his repertoire from terrifying adults about God to terrifying children about God. I’ve come across a number of references this morning to a recent children’s story that Piper told. Here it is (h/t: Internet Monk).
Let’s illustrate this for the children. Your daddy is standing in a swimming pool out a little bit from the edge. You are, let’s say, three years old and standing on the edge of the pool. Daddy holds out his arms to you and says, “Jump, I’ll catch you. I promise.” Now, how do you make your daddy look good at that moment? Answer: trust him and jump. Have faith in him and jump. That makes him look strong and wise and loving. But if you won’t jump, if you shake your head and run away from the edge, you make your daddy look bad. It looks like you are saying, “he can’t catch me” [i.e., he’s incompetent] or “he won’t catch me” [i.e., he’s mean] or “it’s not a good idea to do what he tells me to do” [i.e., he’s unwise]. And all three of those make your dad look bad.
But you don’t want to make God look bad. So you trust him. Then you make him look good—which he really is. And that is what we mean when we say, “Faith glorifies God” or “Faith gives God glory.” It makes him look as good as he really is. So trusting God is really important.
And the harder it seems for him to fulfill his promise, the better he looks when you trust him. Suppose that you are at the deep end of a pool by the diving board. You are four years old and can’t swim, and your daddy is at the other end of the pool. Suddenly a big, mean dog crawls under the fence and shows his teeth and growls at you and starts coming toward you to bite you. You crawl up on the diving board and walk toward the end to get away from him. The dog puts his front paws up on the diving board. Just then, your daddy sees what’s happening and calls out, “Johnny, jump in the water. I’ll get you.”
Now, you have never jumped from one meter high and you can’t swim and your daddy is not underneath you and this water is way over your head. How do you make your daddy look good in that moment? You jump. And almost as soon as you hit the water, you feel his hands under your arms and he treads water holding you safely while someone chases the dog away. Then he takes you to the side of the pool.
We give glory to God when we trust him to do what he has promised to do—especially when all human possibilities are exhausted. Faith glorifies God. That is why God planned for faith to be the way we are justified.
In hindsight, perhaps five minutes of silent prayer might have been a better option.
I shudder to think of what a small child would have taken away from this illustration. Ok, so I’m supposed to imagine myself in a truly terrifying situation—a vicious dog bearing down on me on the one hand, and the potential of drowning on the other—and then turn my attention not to, “how might my father who dearly loves me encourage me to respond in this situation, but to the real issue of how my response in this situation might enhance my dad’s reputation? How it might make my dad look good?
Whenever I come across the latest example of hyper-Calvinism run amok, I wonder to myself, “If we would never tolerate an earthly father (or mother) thinking/acting/speaking in this way, how on earth can we predicate such things of God?” If a human father really did respond to a human child in a rather desperate situation in this way—never mind how scared you are Johnny, it’s time to make daddy look good!—we would think they were insane (or worse). But with God? Well, I guess the categories are different. Or don’t apply. Or something.
Of course, if you really do believe that God is as desperate to guard, preserve, promote his own glory and reputation as John Piper seems convinced that God is, I guess your options are limited. Grown ups, small children—it matters not. The truth about God, no matter how terrifying or normal moral category obliterating, must be faithfully taught. I guess.
I wish Piper and countless other eager defenders of God’s glorious reputation would be a little slower to speak (or tweet or whatever). But mostly, I wish they would just pay more attention to Jesus. I wish they would let the one who welcomed children—the one who praised their faith and told the (learned) grownups to emulate it—inform their categories of “sovereignty” and “glory.” I wish they would allow the one who emptied himself and apparently thought very little of his “reputation” to shape their understanding of who God is and how God works in the world.
You simply cannot frighten someone into a relationship of love, trust, and obedience, no matter how old they are. It cannot be done. I wish people would stop trying.