Thursday, August 20, 2009

God's Sovereignty, the weather, and holy fear

On Wednesday August 19th there was an interesting confluence of events in Minneapolis. Seemingly out of the blue a tornado struck the Minneapolis Convention Center damaging the roof. Also, the Central Lutheran Church across the street from the convention center was hit, splitting the steeple. What makes this all so unusual is that the tornado did its damage at 2:00 pm, the time that the annual meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church gathering in the convention center was scheduled to vote on a measure that would allow homosexuals to be ordained for pastoral ministry.

John Piper who pastors in Minneapolis has written a post worthy of sober consideration.

1. The unrepentant practice of homosexual behavior (like other sins) will exclude a person from the kingdom of God.

The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

2. The church has always embraced those who forsake sexual sin but who still struggle with homosexual desires, rejoicing with them that all our fallen, sinful, disordered lives (all of us, no exceptions) are forgiven if we turn to Christ in faith.

Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)

3. Therefore, official church pronouncements that condone the very sins that keep people out of the kingdom of God, are evil. They dishonor God, contradict Scripture, and implicitly promote damnation where salvation is freely offered.

4. Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:41)

5. When asked about a seemingly random calamity near Jerusalem where 18 people were killed, Jesus answered in general terms—an answer that would cover calamities in Minneapolis, Taiwan, or Baghdad. God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment.

Jesus: “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

6. 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.
Read the entire post HERE.


Dave Rogel said...

On July 14, 2009, the Episcopal Church not only considered allowing the ordination of gay bishops--it voted yes, by a 72% vote.

No tornadoes.

God can certainly do anything he chooses, but attributing this event to God raises a number of questions, such as:

"Why did God pick on the Lutherans and not the Episcopalians?"

"Why did God cause countless storms this year, of which most were meaningless, destructive, and often lethal...but one of which was a divine sign regarding a denominational vote on a touchy issue?"

This is an odd way of interpreting natural disasters, wherein 20,000 calamities can occur, and the two or three that coincide with something notable are seen as miraculous while the rest--and the correspondingly huge RATIO of 'random' to 'divine'--are ignored.

Not to be too silly, but think about seeing the image of the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast. Highly unlikely. VERY highly unlikely. Probably something like 1 in 100,000,000. Well, guess what: the human population eats that many slices of toast in a decade, and SURPRISE--every once in a while someone hits the jackpot. A MIRACLE!!

...well, not really; just an event with a finite probability that we noticed while not noticing the other 99,999,999 slices of toast that looked like nothing in particular.

I do not mean to diminish God's sovereignty, only to temper the human urge to overemphasize coincidences while ignoring all other non-coincidental occurrences involving the same factors (tornadoes, denominational conventions, discussions of LGBT issues). A non-Christian might look at Piper's conclusion and think, "God sent a tornado to make sure that no gay bishops are allowed in the Lutheran branch of Protestant Christianity, but he could not spare a few tornadoes to stop a thousand years of abuses during the Middle Ages? He didn't send a tornado to Muhammed's house and prevent the creation of a competing religion that now has over a billion followers? Really??"

And I would have to agree with that logic, which is to say that I disagree with Piper. Our views of God should be based on the Bible, not on painfully selective observations of the world.

Todd Pruitt said...


It seems to me that you not only diminish the sovereignty of God but also hold him up to your own finite understanding of justice.

Is God or is God not sovereign over the weather? How do your notions of God's sovereignty mesh with your belief in coincidence? Also, is God obligated to answer us? Is He obligated to tell us why one disaster occurs in a given situation but not in another?

Also, while the scriptures clearly attribute the weather to the sovereign hand of God, nowhere does God tell us he is going to show up on a peice of toast.

You wrote, "Our views of God should be based on the Bible, not on painfully selective observations of the world." Agreed. What in Piper's observations was unbiblical?

When a natural disaster occurs is God sitting in heaven saying, "Oh my goodness! How did that happen?" Are we deists? Has God simply wound up the world and let it loose to run?

Again, what is contrary to Scripture in what Piper wrote?

Todd Pruitt said...

Another thought for the sake of clarity...

I do NOT favor attempts to make specific applications of providence. In other words we should strictly avoid trying to know what only God can know.

However, if I am reading Piper correctly then I agree that saying in the face of an event like the tornado (which is under the sovereign hand of God) the same thing that Jesus said about the tower of Siloam and the slaughter at the temple is not out of line: "Be sober minded. Repent while you still can."

This, I believe, is particularly applicable when a church publically and scandalously departs from the truth.

Dave Rogel said...

"When a natural disaster occurs is God sitting in heaven saying, 'Oh my goodness! How did that happen?'"

Of course not.

I only meant that the Bible is a reliable, consistent way in which God communicates to his people. Storms are not, and much confusion could ensue trying to ascribe too much intention to them, especially in light of the fact that they do not exhibit any sort of pattern that we (humans) can figure out.

I also do not believe that "God is obligated to answer to us", and that Isaiah 55:8 is an adequate answer to the question I posed: "Why did God pick on the Lutherans and not the Episcopalians?"

However, I suspect that those outside the church (and especially those who explicitly DIS-believe the Bible) would accuse us of using a random event as ammunition for an argument about homosexuality. And can we say for sure that this event was a direct action of God? Is this event in the Bible? Would we be better off focusing on I Corinthians rather than speculating about a tornado?

Not to get into an overly big can of worms, but do you define sovereignty as the ABILITY to control any event in the world, or as the actual CONTROLLING of every event in the world? I always thought the former, and didn't think of it as being Deism, which goes on to say that God DOESN'T control any event in the world, whether or not he is able. In the story of Job, God allows Satan to inflict all kinds of grief on Job. Isn't that is different from God doing those things? Stating that God is able to do anything, but does not actively cause everything does not compromise his sovereignty. In fact, it is the only way I've ever found to get 'There is evil in the world' and 'God is perfect and righteous' in the same room together without a fight breaking out. We are not Deists, but we are also not puppets, lest our behavior reflect an imperfect puppeteer.

Todd Pruitt said...


I agree 100% with your first three paragraphs. Scripture is our only reliable source to know God, what He is like, and what He has done. Storms are definitely not the way to know these things. Also, as I have already written, it is foolish to try to read specific providence into events.

Perhaps we are reading Piper's words differently.

I believe it is legitimate to say in the face of disaster, "Let us all examine our hearts and repent," knowing that ultimately it is a holy and sovereign God who is running the universe and He does not owe any of us another 5 seconds.

The fact that the tornado hit the church and ELCA meeting at the moment of their scheduled vote to approve an abomination is, I believe, worthy of a measure of awe.

Where we will disagree is in our respective thoughts concerning sovereignty. I believe the Bible teaches an active rather than passive sovereignty.

To say there is a difference between "God allows" and "God decrees" is, I think merely an attempt to get God off the hook for disastrous events. But consider this. If the God who holds sovereign power over all the universe allows a disastrous event is he really off the hook for not stopping it?

In Job's case it was God who was clearly in control of events even though satan became a means for what He had in mind. Nevertheless God was calling the shots. No one could conclude from Job that God was not in control of what was happening even though he used secondary means to accomplish what he was doing.

That said, I agree completely with the first part of your post.

Harley A. said...

“Not to get into an overly big can of worms, but do you define sovereignty as the ABILITY to control any event in the world, or as the actual CONTROLLING of every event in the world?”

When it comes to a sovereign God, there is no distinction in these two really – there can’t be. This is where some folks get tripped up regarding sovereignty (especially with regard to salvation). Think about it, if I have the ability to do whatever I want, but “allow” something else to happen, then I’ve as much as caused that to happen – especially since I spoke EVERYTHING into being in the first place. I agree with Todd that this distinction is made most often to apologize for God.

As for the tornado, you have to hold some awe when you consider it ! C’mon !

Lutherans are a stormy bunch – after all, they began with a bolt of lightning, right ?

Dave, you are sort of like Luther – you open a big can of worms – he opened a big can at Worms…

Okay, enough Luther humor.

Mike said...

I sincerely hope Piper looks back on this statement some day and realizes the absolute idiocy it represents. To make this kind of statement is wrong on so many levels.

What about the others who are harmed by the tornado? are they just collateral damage? One of the other tornados that touched down around the same time damaged a middle school? Did this happen because they were pro-gay? Of the approx 1300 tornados that touch down each year in the U.S. which ones are aimed at pro-gay areas? Or was this particular tornado divinely sent to deliever a message because of the ECLA vote? this borders on the absurd. Piper should be ashamed of himself. This kind of rhetoric reminds me of the some of the early response of the evangelical church to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I thank God that some have taken a more compassionate view.

If Piper really believed this if he was there near where the tornado touched down would he have helped the victims? If so he would have been going against God's appointed punishment. I can't believe that a leader with such prominence as Piper could say something so stupid...there is no other word for it.

Todd Pruitt said...


You are overreacting.

Take a deep breath and read the post again carefully. Do you attribute the weather to accident or perhaps natural forces outside God's control?

Futher more I would characterize as "stupid" your suggestion that Piper would not help someone who is hurting. I happen to know about the kind of generosity that characterizes Piper's life, his work for racial reconciliation, etc. Think please before you write.

Mike said...


Read the post again and my opinion has not changed...the question (and problem) as I see it, is not whether I think weather is outside God's control but rather the notion that I could know God's purposes for Piper seems to know (as very clearly stated in his conclusion). I find this very troubling coming from someone of his stature. this is a slippery slope...

case.jess said...

I'm not sure Piper is exactly saying that that specific tornado was sent as a specific warning for that particular purpose alone. I think (and based partly on comments he made after the tsunami several years ago) he is saying that part of the purpose of natural disasters is to wake people up to the reality of something greater and more powerful than them, and to awaken the need within all of us to repent before the holy Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and earth.

But that's just my take. And it's not to say Piper couldn't have elaborated more on what he means exactly in the above article.

We should all react soberly when hearing Jesus words, "Repent while YOU still can."

Mainline Mom said...

This is a tough one for me. I respect John Piper tremendously. I understand where he is coming from, and I do believe in ACTIVE sovereignty...saying that God doesn't control denying the very definition of sovereignty. And I'm sure Piper would help the victims, and has compassion on the ECLA. But I think in this case, his words were simply unnecessary. I think they will cause more hard than good. He already made it clear that the ECLA were horribly wrong...that's fine. And of course the coincidence of events should certainly give us pause. But his words sound too far on the side of ungrace for me...too much finger pointing and judgement from "on high". Too much "they are worse sinners than I am". Sadness over their vote, disappointment...yes. But trying to presume we know how and why God does what he does with the weather? Arrogant, I think, and ungracious. It's possible he is right, but I think he should not have said what he said in the way that he did.