Piper vs. Job

I don’t understand Calvinists.

Shortly after the horrendous tornado in Oklahoma, Pastor John Piper tweeted the following:

@JohnPiper: “Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.” Job 1:19

@JohnPiper: “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” Job 1:20

When I first read the tweets, I thought nothing of them. Rachel Held Evans and others saw them in light of Piper’s other responses to disasters in which he has blamed the victim, or stated that humanity in general deserves such suffering for our sinful nature.

In the face of such pushback Piper took the tweets down. In a blogpost on a groupblog run by Piper, Tony Reinke stepped up to explain what they meant:

Job 1:20 not only comes in the direct aftermath of a storm, but also holds out hope and comfort to Christians directly affected by tragedy today, reminding us that trust in God and worship of God are always right, even when we are kneeling in tears in the rubble left by a tornado. Job wept and he worshipped. God’s sovereignty over his suffering provided the basis of his grounds of worshipping God in the suffering [...]

As Pastor John has said in a sermon,

Satan proved to be wrong. Job did not curse God when he lost his wealth and his children. He worshiped and he blessed God. And so the superior worth of God became evident to all.

Honestly, I think Evans jumped too quickly here. But to me, it’s Reinke’s explanation that is troubling.

Here’s the thing. Job’s children were not “lost,” like they rolled under the couch. They were killed, and they were killed by Satan at the behest of the very God that Job was worshiping. And his children were killed because of a bet that God made with Satan. The text of Job makes that clear.

Yet Job worships God. Let me draw, once again, from Thom Stark: “Job does not say ‘blessed be the name of Yahweh’ because what Yahweh does is right, but because there is nothing that can be done to make Yahweh do otherwise than what he will.”

In the Book of Job, God needs to be placated and flattered like the tyrant he is. This is not a consoling message. I’m not sure Piper and Reinke get that.

The comfort that Reinke and Piper are offering is the knowledge that God is in control. True, he didn’t stop the storm. He didn’t save your house and family. But he’s in control, and he’s really powerful. If we draw even more from Job, we have to conclude that God intended for your house to be destroyed and for your family to die. But hey, take heart, there’s someone at the helm. Tell everyone how great and powerful he is.

I’m reminded of the old Calvinist admonition that even if we know that we are not of the elect and thus destined for hell, we should still worship and glorify God. In fact, we should glorify God because he is sending us to Hell. God’s worth is completely detached from any notion of God’s benevolence.

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  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    The thing is about fundamentalists is that there is a positive correlation to how much they talk and the deeper the hole they dig for themselves.

    • JohnMWhite

      For Calvinists, at least, I don’t think they care. And a lot of fundamentalists seem to not be remotely concerned about how others perceive them and how they turn people off to their faith. If their god wants more followers, these folk are doing a great job in thwarting that by making it clear that their god is a vicious, capricious being and that their ideology is simply might makes right. The only kind of person that attracts is somebody who thinks they are mighty and always right themselves.

  • MNb

    How do you mean you don’t understand calvinists?

    “there is nothing that can be done to make Yahweh do otherwise than what he will”

    This is the very core of the orthodox calvinist belief system. I can know as my home country The Netherlands used to be dominated by this. See the remonstrant-contra remonstrant conflict of 300 years ago.

  • Nathan

    It is deplorable to hear anyone tell a human who is mourning a loss that
    they ought to shove aside their selfish feelings and just trust the hand of a capricious tyrant in the sky. It hinders a healing process and can cause mental and
    psychological damage in the long run. Yet this is what is happening in
    many churches – especially within the calvinista mafioso.

  • The Other Weirdo

    That the Book of Job doesn’t have a positive message is nothing new to the Bible. Abraham & Isaac, Tower of Babel,, Noah’s Ark, Exodus, Joshua. That’s par for the course. The trouble is that many people are convinced that the message of doom, destruction, cold-blooded extinction-level events, are in fact positive messages. A god worthy of the name would have kicked Abraham’s ass over his eagerness to murder his own son to please a capricious god. Instead, we get told how Abraham trusted god and how good that was.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    To me, the story of Job has always been the pre-eminent proof that the god of the bible is unworthy of my worship even if he does exist. I cannot worship anything that is less moral and provably evil than myself.

  • Keulan

    The god of Job (and a lot of other parts of the Bible) is an evil monster, and if such a god existed, I would chose not to worship it. If you believe in that kind of god, yet still worship it, then you’re like a person who continues to stay with and make excuses for your abusive boyfriend or girlfriend, when all evidence shows that they’re not going to get any better. The god of the Bible is the ultimate abusive significant other for Christians.

  • Monte Harris

    Poor Job’s questions get a droning monologue from the Man in the last chapters of the book. Like you said, this is not reassurance. It’s settling for the fact you can do nothing against the unstoppable will. So deal with it.