Piper and Pangloss

Stephanie Drury recently dug up an interview with John Piper where he was asked, “Why was it right for God to slaughter women and children in the Old Testament? How can that ever be right?”

Here’s part of the response from the transcript:

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.

Piper isn’t straying from his Calvinism. John Calvin once suggested that every leaf that fell was because of God’s will. Every single thing that happens, happens because God wills it to happen. So, naturally, if someone dies, God must will it.

You can contrast this with the ideas of the Deists like Voltaire. Voltaire believed in general providence, which meant that God had designed the world and put certain forces into place in order that there might be life and people. Voltaire rejected particular providence, which said that God can reach down and change certain things, or reveal certain information, to certain people at certain times.

Calvin and Piper expand particular providence to its absolute extreme. The God of Voltaire did not meddle, but Piper’s God doesn’t just meddle, He controls absolutely everything.

Piper also displays his usual command ethics. He doesn’t really answer the question because there is no question: Whatever God does is right, by definition. To ethically defend God’s action is to miss the point.

But combining command ethics with Piper’s expansive particular providence would seem to lead to a kind of fatalism. Whatever God wills, is right. Whatever happens, happens because God wills it. So whatever is, is right.

And now we’re right back to Voltaire and Candide. Why work to change the world or improve the lot of man? God will save us or He won’t. Piper is a lot more dour than Pangloss, but his theology would seem to lead to the same place. Perhaps this is not the “best of all possible worlds” by our standards, but that’s because we’re fallen creatures who don’t know what we should want. This is God’s world, and therefore the right world, so suffer through and glorify His name.

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