Edit: As I was preparing to publish this post last night, the Aurora shootings at the Movie Theater had just begun. This blog was written just before that event. So, while I did not address the shooting directly below, it is exactly the kind of event that leads to the question “Is God really in control?” It is also why I think John Piper’s view that all death is the will of God is particularly inadequate in the wake of such events. Please read below.
John Piper sure seems to be object of a lot of criticism these days. He got hammered on this blog http://theamericanjesus.net/?p=7388 for simply being linked to The Gospel Coalition via his neo-reformed theology. And he was more directly attacked for his own comments here, http://ow.ly/cmMDq where he argued it is right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.
Piper is a serious scholar and I usually get the impression that he is more gracious to his opponents than they are to him. This post is not so much about Piper, but rather his neo-reformed theology that leads him to unapologetically say things that make a whole lot of people upset.
Piper and others like him believe that God is in control of this world no matter what. If a hurricane destroys a city, if a warlord launches a genocide campaign, if your child overdoses, then it is a matter under the sovereignty of God and completely subject to his will. To concede anything different is to acquiesce to a lesser god. So for Piper, death, no matter how seemingly tragic, is always the will of God. As Piper says, “Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.”
To many grieving people such statements surely paint a harsh and death-thirsty God. Certainly, those holding to this view of the sovereignty of God are not incapable of compassion and pastoral sensitivity in the wake of tragedy, but ultimately this view of God drives a wedge between the sufferer and God.
On the other side of the spectrum, is a view that wants to excuse God from every bad thing that happens in this world. I received a letter from a minister friend who argued we shouldn’t say God is in control. There are too many examples of evidence to the contrary. If God was in control, then really awful disasters wouldn’t happen. In this view, God is seen as compassionate and hurting alongside the griever. Yet, can a god not really in control be much help to us when our life is spinning out of control?
Must we really choose between a colder, death-willing, sovereign god and a compassionate but less than capable god? In reading the Bible, I never get the impression that any situation is beyond God’s grasp. He is the creator of all things. He is one who tells the future. Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form the light and create the darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, Yahweh, do all these things.” Later in the same chapter, Yahweh challenges the idols to tell what will happen. “Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, Yahweh” (21).
One cannot foretell the future who is not also in control of the present. Our words may fall short of adequately describing God, but it is not possible for us to exaggerate God. We are completely within the scope of the biblical witness to proclaim our God is sovereign; he is in control.
On the other hand, to affirm God’s control is not the same thing as saying everything that happens is God’s will, a distinction seemingly missing in Piper’s and similar thinkers’ articulations. Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). This clearly implies a gap between God’s perfect will in heaven and the manifestation of his will on earth. If this wasn’t the case, then we can be assured this world would a very different place! We might say it would be like a “new heaven and a new earth.”
We are told in 2 Pet. 3:9 that God does not desire for any to perish. So, we can say without any equivocation that the teenager we know who committed suicide was not God’s will. This does not lessen the view of God’s sovereignty one iota. For it is also God’s sovereignty to allow authentic choice, free-will to exist in our world and this necessarily means not all that happens is God’s perfect will. We might say it this way; God is in control, but he is not controlling.
Calvinist types like Piper seem to not only under-sale freewill, but they forget that God is not the only controlling force in this world. 1 John 5:19 says, “…the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Now certainly Satan is subject to the sovereignty of God, but God allows Satan a lot of free reign in this world still. There are probably many reasons why this is so, but that is a matter for another day.
I do not believe that everyone who dies does so because of the will of God. Actually, there is only one death I believe God has ever willed and that was in order to give us life! Death was never God’s will for us and he sent his Son to break its hold on us. Death has never been God’s ally, but his enemy and ours.
So, no we do not have to choose between a sovereign death-desiring god and a impotent sympathetic god. The God of the Bible is the one who, out of his compassion, sovereignly defeated death!