John Piper, tornadoes, and the effects of the Fall

John Piper’s blogging about tornadoes again. It’s not the first time he decided to venture into this territory. As a Calvinist, I understand the desire to cling to the belief in the sovereignty of God when disasters happen, but it feels to me like Piper has crossed a line into attributing motive to the almighty God of all the universe, as if mortal man can explain the mind of God. There’s something about his post that doesn’t set well with me, it just feels presumptuous. 

Piper operates from the assumption that God somehow sent the tornadoes for some purpose, and then proceeds to consider several possibilities and reasons why God might have sent tornadoes to small-town America instead of big bad sinful Hollywood or Washington D.C. (I’m not going to even go into the fallacy that Hollywood or D.C. is somehow deserving of a natural disaster, or the assumption that small-town America is less sinful). While he may very well be theologically correct in the abstract, to suggest that any of those reasons explain the tragedy or offer any sort of comfort to people who have lost their loved ones reminds me of Job’s friends coming to offer theological platitudes to explain why he’d lost everything. I think Job 38-39, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand,” is really the only appropriate approach–trying to explain God’s actions presumes that we are capable of understanding.

The reality is that we live in a fallen world, the effects of sin and the fall have permeated everything, including nature. In a fallen world, natural disasters happen, and it doesn’t have to be because of anybody’s sin, or because God is trying to send a message to anybody. The fall happened, and because of that, things can suck sometimes–this is an imperfect planet. While it would be nice to have all the answers, as long as we live on this planet we’re not going to be able to tie everything up in a nice little bow. To pretend otherwise is to put ourselves in the place of God and to act like we’re omniscient instead of the finite humans that we are.

As much as I’d like absolute certainty about everything in life, I’ve been learning to live with the ambiguities and the tensions and the fact that not everything can be explained in three point outlines. Real life is messy and sometimes tragic and it doesn’t fit into neat little boxes. And that means that sometimes natural disasters happen and it’s horrible, but rather than offering neatly packaged explanations, we need to acknowledge just how horrible the tragedy is and how painful it must be for those who are in the midst of living through it, and to show compassion instead of trying to explain everything. Not everything has an answer, but we can show love and compassion and mourn with those mourn.