In the past couple years, John Piper has been outspoken about any number of tragedies, from earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes to the collapse of a freeway bridge. However, he’s been conspicuously quiet this summer, even as Colorado burns.
Meanwhile, just a few hundred miles away, we in Minnesota got enough rain to destroy parts of Duluth and to raise Lake Superior 3 inches — that’s estimated to be 17 trillion gallons of water.
The problem with Piper’s outbursts — theologically speaking — is that he portrays a God who is entirely arbitrary. God’s wrath burns against our sin, always and unremittingly — that’s Piper’s argument. God’s grace usually holds back God’s wrath, thus protecting us from tragedies of all sorts. But on occasion, God allows his wrath to burst through, and then people die horribly.
This is a very primitive view of God. To think that God uses weather to punish people for sin is right up there with thinking that a man was born blind because of his parents’ sin. (While Jesus rejected this kind of thinking, I don’t find his response — “this happened to that the works of God might be displayed in him” — much more palatable.)
The Greeks and Romans feared a built temples to appease the gods of Mt. Olympus, gods who were known to be arbitrary. They fought each other, fell in love with humans, and otherwise behaved like teenagers — and humans paid the price.
I’d like to think that the God of Israel is a good deal better than that — that YHWH/Abba is a God who is reasonable and understandable. That the true God is worshipped by us because we love him, and because he’s made himself understandable to us.
I don’t think God uses the weather to punish us.
Nor — with all due respect to my Colorado friends who are praying for rain — do I think that God sends rain as a result of prayers. Because you can’t have one without the other. If you believe that God sends rain in mercy, you’ve also got to believe that God sends wildfires in his wrath.