There is a lot of discussion over Pastor John Piper’s statement that God sent a tornado to Minneapolis yesterday to warn the ELCA leaders not to condone homosexuality. Read more about it HERE. This story has my head spinning and my theology challenged. I feel I need to come clean with my confusion because I believe many of you may be having similar thoughts and experiencing a similar conflict of beliefs. May you benefit from my struggle.
Here are my thoughts in no particular order. This is a confession. May God be honored by my humility and others show me grace in my vulnerability and inconsistency.
1. I believe in a God who is not distant and remote. I believe in a God who is interested and invested in human affairs and who may intervene as He so chooses.
2. I believe it is dangerous business for church officials to condone any behavior Scripture calls sin. Any behavior.
3. I have had a number of different personal reactions to John Piper’s suggestion that God sent a tornado to Minneapolis as a “gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from approval of sin.” To be honest, at first I found it fanciful, a bit silly and out of character for God. What? Fanciful? Silly? Out of character? Which God was this out of character for? Which Bible do I read where this kind of divine intervention would be fanciful or silly? The Bible reveals a God who isn’t hesitant to bring judgment upon sinful people and play with the wind: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him” (Mark 4:41). Why then do I find Piper’s interpretation of this event so hard to swallow? Why do I immediately look for other explanations? I’m not saying I agree with him. I don’t think I do. I would never make that claim myself. I am merely questioning why I so quickly look for every reason to excuse God from such an act.
4. One of the primary reasons I hesitate to draw his conclusion is that is sounds too similar to Pat Robertson’s views of Hurricane Katrina as judgment on East Coast and Jerry Falwell’s statement that 9/11 was God’s judgment on gays, feminists, abortionists and other sinners. I abhor such statements and think their incredible out of line. Is this the same thing? There is a significance difference: I believe God’s judgment is more severe and warranted upon those who are called leaders of his church, shepherds of his flock and guardians of His sacred Word. Paul instructs church leaders to “judge those within the church” saying: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Cor 5:11-13). So, for this reason, Piper’s call to repentance is more palatable than those self-righteous Christians who constantly like to condemn the behavior of those outside the church.
4. Perhaps my understanding of God is lopsided. Perhaps I prefer a God who only intervenes in more polite, positive ways. I enjoy stories of God coming to the rescue of people in distress. I like stories of God supposedly protecting people from a tornado as it “just misses” the daycare building full of children; or God sending a passerby at the right time as someone is being swept down the river in need of rescue; or God intervening to restore a person’s disease and so on. I am a bit more uncomfortable with the same God intervening in more negative, punitive ways, bringing judgment upon sin. Is it possible to celebrate God’s rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt but deny the plagues God brought upon Pharoah in order to accomplish it? Why doesn’t my view of God easily allow for tornados that warn of judgment on a wayward church? It’s an honest question.
5. I say I believe in a God who intervenes and who is not remote. Yet, when faced with evidence of a possible intervention I find myself a practical Deist who finds supernatural explanations more far-fetched or even childish. I am more likely to call something “a coincidence” that Piper so naturally calls “Providence.” Am I a confessional Theist but a practical Deist? “Lord, I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)!
6. Theologically speaking, however, Piper has it easier when it comes to interpreting such events. His Calvinistic view of God’s meticulous control over every single molecule and every weather pattern necessarily leads him to the conclusion that God ordained this tornado for this particular day from the beginning of time. My view of God’s sovereignty allows for more chance and coincidence. I do NOT believe God ordains and meticulously controls every molecule including the daily weather patterns. My view of God certainly allows for such interventions if God so desires. I guess my view of God’s sovereignty demands more discernment and humility. I believe the questions of God’s sovereignty, free will, evil and suffering are more complex.
7. CONCLUSION: So, I honestly do not know if God sent that tornado as a warning to the ELCA to repent. Maybe He did. Maybe He didn’t. What concerns me is my own tendency to confine God to my own little theological box; my tendency to doubt God’s involvement in ordinary, local human affairs (and weather systems); my tendency to look for natural explanations and possibly miss the supernatural; my tendency to invent a more “socially acceptable” God who intervenes to save but rarely to judge.
I am not so bold to claim this tornado was a warning sent from God. All I know is that those who so adamantly oppose the notion that he could have if He wanted have little biblical ground to stand upon. For a final thought to tease and ponder: When a church like the ELCA and its leadership are no longer willing to heed the clear message of Scripture, then perhaps God is forced to find more creative, forceful, non-verbal ways to get His message across. But who can really know if this was the voice of God?
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?…For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”