Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tornadoes and Reformed Theology

There is a lot to admire about John Piper. He is a great preacher and an inspiring writer. He pastors a church in Minnesota that I understand is a fine church, although I have not been there.

John Piper is a leader in the Reformed Theology movement, a Calvinist who teaches that the election of God is unconditional, that grace is irresistible, and that the sovereignty of God is the ultimate determiner of all things.

Unlike many in the Reformed movement, Dr. Piper is, so far as I can tell, remarkably consistent. It is this consistency that leads him to the conclusion that deadly tornadoes are the intentional work of God, as he himself has explained here in his blog.

To say that Dr. Piper is consistent is not to say that I agree with him or find his consistency to be logical. The idea that God sent tornadoes because people in rural Kentucky and Indiana had failed to repent is, to me, highly inconsistent with much of what we know about God from scripture. God is love. God is patient, not desiring that anyone perish.

The search for an answer to every natural disaster is an exercise in futility, at least if we are bound to find a specific divine cause for each individual event. The consistent Calvinist concludes, each time a storm strikes or an inebriated driver kills a child or cancer comes, that God is sovereign and therefore God has sent the storm or the drunk or the tumor. Once that conclusion is reached, the spiritual and mental gymnastics that must be done to tie the unthinkable to the will of God usually goes through the Book of Job and the New Testament call to repent.

I believe in the requirement of repentence. I treasure the Book of Job.

I believe, however, that we live in a fallen world. To say that God is sovereign ruler does not, to my way of thinking, mean that God exercises sovereignty in every event. I believe that the world fell in spite of the will of God, not because of it. It is worth remembering that the big wind that struck Job's children was not sent by God. To put it another way, God does exercise sovereignty in choosing to allow the consequences of human choice to play out. To intervene every time we err or choose and simply ordain a result that would not otherwise follow would be to eliminate much of scripture's call on us to choose rightly. God also sometimes chooses - again as demonstrated by the Book of Job - to withhold His hand and to allow evil to exact its pound of flesh.

I know the discussion of determinism and the clash between free will and Calvinistic ideas of God's sovereignty are weighty concepts. I know that both sides of the debate can find support in individual passages of scripture taken in isolation. I think the Bible taken as a whole, especially in light of the character and consistent actions of Jesus, does not support the Reformed view.

I believe, moreover, that a theology that forces its consistent proponents like Dr. Piper to blog that "[i]f a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command..." is so incompatible with the God I know that I must reject it. I believe that God can send and has sent big winds; it is fallacious to conclude that all big winds therefore result from God's choice. I have thrown many baseballs in my life; that does not mean that I had anything to do with any of the pitches thrown today in Arizona or Florida or anywhere else.

We live in a fallen world. It is a world where evil and storms and disease and poor choices and intentional disregard for the ways of God flourish. It is a world over which God is sovereign and which God will ultimately end, but in the meantime, harsh winds blow.

I do not blame God for that.