Friday, August 21, 2009

God, the Weather, and Judgment

The other day a tornado hit Minneapolis. It damaged the Convention Center and the Lutheran Church across the street, where the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was not only holding its convention, but discussing a resolution dealing with human sexuality, and whether a practicing homosexual could be ordained to ministry.

John Piper, pastor of a large evangelical church in the community, and a rather hyper-Calvinist, offered his response, a response that might reflect his Calvinist background, but looked more Falwellian or Robertsonian than what many might have expected from him. After making a rather propositional statement of 5 points, he comes to his conclusion:

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.

So, the question is: what do we make of this statement?

First, let my note who John Piper is. While I haven't paid much attention to him (ever), nor have I read his books, I have long been aware of him. For one thing, hes a graduate of Fuller Seminary (as am I), where he was a student of Dan Fuller -- the son of the Founder. He also did a doctorate in New Testament at the University of Munich. So, he's not ignorant, by any means. He has quite a following in Calvinist/evangelical circles (sort of like Francis Schaeffer did a generation ago).

As to the nature of what he said, I can safely say that his pronouncement placed on his blog, has gotten a lot of attention -- much of it negative (at least in my circles). There really are two questions here. One has to do with whether homosexuality is to be judged sinful. Obviously, John Piper and a majority of evangelicals would agree to this assessment. Others, like myself, and including a growing number of younger evangelicals, would disagree. We recognize that homosexuality is a natural part of the make up of some human beings. We could say -- that's the way they were created.

The second question has to do with the nature of God's judgment. Piper expresses a traditional view that God not only judges, but since God is omnipotent, God is able to express that judgment through nature. History is full of such judgments, and there is no better biblical description than that of Sodom and Gomorrah (though again there is great debate as to the nature of that judgment (I do not think that this story has anything to do with homosexuality and has everything to do with the way we treat the stranger in our midst). I remember a number of years ago, after the earthquake hit Northridge, wreaking havoc on much of the LA Basin. Some of the TV evangelists quickly jumped on that event and suggested that the quake was God's judgment on the presence of porn studios in the San Fernando Valley. Now, as I far as I know, no studios were affected, but I do know that a number of churches were damaged, as was a university, freeways, a shopping center. Indeed, people died? So was this simply collateral damage of God's work of judgment on sin?

I recognize that you can find biblical support for such an assessment. But my question is, and always has been when we wrestle with questions of sin and judgment, both in this life and in the next, how does such an assessment fit with one's view of God? Although I affirm the holiness of God, I also affirm God's love. I take seriously the statement in 1 John that God is love. You could say that this reflects God's tough love, but I don't buy it. I simply cannot believe (even if I were to accept the idea of an interventionist God, which is becoming increasingly difficult for me) that God would do such a thing. And if God strikes at the Lutheran's, why not other groups?

Now Piper might retreat back to a more general statement, that such events are more metaphorical than literal -- but even so, is this appropriate interpretation of either the Bible or the modern context? Or, to take from Robert Wright's book, has Piper's God truly evolved?


Simon Cozens said...

Piper's line of argument would be a little more solid were it not for the fact that God spent an entire book of the Bible demolishing the contemporary theological conventional wisdom that disaster is necessarily related to judgement.

Book of Job, people, BOOK OF JOB.

John said...

I reject utterly the notion that God sent a message to warn the ELCA against taking any particular stand on homosexuality.

I highly doubt that God wasted one of those rare moments of dramatic intervention into the physical universe to send a rather simple message to a rather small group of people. If God were to fool around with the laws of nature it would be to send a more general message to a far larger audience.

That being said, there is always the possibility that God could send someone, anyone, to bring a prophetic word to a person or a small group of people - even a prophetic word against divesting homosexuality of its apparently traditional place as the worst sin possible for a human being. But the trouble with that is who's to know whether the speaker is truly prophetic or merely deluded?

God has put us into a difficult box. God does communicate with us, and often through prophets and their message almost always contradicts contemporary values. It is easy to see why a sincere proponent of a position, a person who regards himself or herself as conduit of prophetic wisdom, would conclude that a disaster was intended as a message from God favoring the proponent's position.

I suggest that Bob's approach may be the wisest: to assess the prophets message in light of the message of Scripture. Does this message fairly reflect the teachings of Jesus about love, reconciliation, forgiveness and compassion, and against judgment by anyone but the Father? Does it reflect a desire to call on the Father to forgive? or does it reflect a call on the Father to give us a sign or worse, to exact judgment?

From my perspective I have to call this prophecy from Piper to be personal and not of God.


Anonymous said...

What an opportunist. So God flicked the cross off the convention? What sort of hateful things were going on and by "which side"? Did they vote on the meaning? David Mc

Anonymous said...

I actually like Piper for his spiritual writing and preaching... however I think this is way off base. So if nothing happens, does that mean God is ok with what is happening? It rains on both the righteous and unrighteous and so to look at certain events as signs is crazy. Now if there stood up a voice from nowhere that swayed a convention towards Scripture or gave a great clarification that caused people to fall down and worship God.. that I may say is the Holy Spirit.

John said...

I was thinking about the Ten Commandments this evening. And I wondered why some folks spend so little time railing against the sins of murder and adultery and false swearing and failure to honor the Sabbath or parents, or the failure to love God and eliminate idols from our lives, while spending so much time railing against sins (if indeed they are sins which are no worse than 10th on the list?

Where are their priorities? We all covet and we all murder with our hatred, and we all fail to love God as we should, and we all have idols - are these not more important targets of the prophet's wrath?


Anonymous said...

Great point and I would say it is all about convenience. As a married man.. it is easy for me to go against abortion and gay marriage b/c they are in essence the polar opposite of my life. However, like the rich king, the idea of giving everything away is a much much more difficult idea for me. It doesn't mean I compromise the issue, but rather take inventory and wonder do I spend as much time, energy, and prayer over other issues as well. Pornography is a HUGE issue in the church, yet it gets only a small amount of face time.


Katherine said...

Great post, Bob!

Anonymous said...

it would be good if you also see more from piper on this.