John Piper: Japan Earthquake is “Great Gift”March 18, 2011
In an article posted yesterday at his Desiring God website, John Piper offered his explanation of God’s purposes behind the tragedy in Japan.
In the opening paragraphs, he observes that we should feel empathy for and render aid to those hurt by this disaster. This is a good start. For some reason, however, he devotes most of this section to the importance of loving even our enemies. Who is he talking about? Japan, one of America’s biggest trading partners? We might need a reminder to love our enemies if the earthquake had hit Iran or North Korea. But Japan? 1945 was a long time ago. I’m baffled.
Piper then says:
But sooner or later people want more than empathy and aid—they want answers.
And boy does Piper have answers.
He begins by quoting various biblical passages about God’s superintending sovereignty over nature. These passages lead Piper to the conclusion that, “Earthquakes are ultimately from God.”
Why does God send earthquakes?
Piper’s reason #1:
The end-time earthquakes in the book of Revelation … are meant as calls to repentance—to warn people who deny Jesus Christ that a day is coming when unbelievers will cry to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).
Piper doesn’t explain why the Japanese earthquake is an “end-time earthquake”. As I’ve discussed (here and here), there is no reason to think that we are experiencing any sudden increase in earthquake activity. There have always been earthquakes and there always will be. Does any unbeliever actually interpret an earthquake as a call to repentance? As far as I can tell, the only people who interpret natural disasters as calls to repentance are fundamentalists. If this is God’s intent, he’s picked a really poor vehicle to communicate his message.
Piper’s Reason #2:
The end-time earthquakes in Matthew 24:7-8 are meant to be interpreted as “the beginning of the birth pangs.” That is, they are a wake-up call to this world that God’s kingdom will soon be born. So be alert and prepare to meet Jesus Christ.
Again, I can’t fathom anyone other than dispensationalists thinking that the take-home message from Japan is that we’d better get ready for the coming Kingdom of God. Frankly, if I were one of those “people who deny Jesus Christ”, these events would simply increase my skepticism about the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.
Piper’s Reason #3:
God’s unilateral taking of thousands of lives is a loud declaration that “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). The message for all the world is that life is a loan from God (Luke 12:20) and belongs to him. He creates it and gives it and takes it according to his own will and owes us nothing. He has a right both to children (2 Samuel 12:15) and to the aged (Luke 2:29). It is a great gift to learn this truth and dedicate our lives to their true owner rather than defraud him till it is too late.
So God is killing thousands of Japanese people to demonstrate that he has the right to capriciously snuff out our lives as he sees fit. What a “great gift” to learn that God may someday choose to end my life in some symbolic gesture to the world meant to communicate that we are all just pawns in his giant chess game. Don’t you love Calvinist sovereignty? Such a wonderful portrait of God. God owes us nothing. He takes lives at whim. And when he does, we should be thankful to him for reminding us of these wonderful truths.
Piper’s Reason #4:
The power felt in an earthquake reveals the fearful magnificence of God. This is a great gift since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). Most of the world does not fear the Lord and therefore lacks saving wisdom. The thunder-clap summons to fear God is a mercy to those who live.
Not only are natural disasters God’s way of reminding us that he can do what he wants with us peons, it’s also his way of making sure we are trembling appropriately before his magnificent capriciousness. No doubt when I am a parent, I will give my children a thrashing whenever I sense that they’re not sufficiently fearful of me.
Piper’s Reason #5:
When the earth shakes under our feet there is a dramatic sense that there is no place to flee. In most disasters the earth is the one thing that stands firm when wind and flood are raging. But where do you turn when the earth itself is unsafe? Answer: God.
This is rather underwhelming comfort after the first four points. Why should we feel safe with a God whose communications strategy frequently includes mass slaughter? What if God wants to communicate something to me! Perhaps he will inflict me with cancer to teach me patience or humility or trust. Or perhaps he will flood my city because we need to learn a lesson about his sovereignty. Maybe he will plunge our entire coastline into the ocean because not enough people are reading the Left Behind books and realizing that the end is nigh.
It’s clear that in Piper’s world, even Christians aren’t safe from God’s brutal rod of correction. Piper concludes by warning ominously that God may have yet another purpose:
That Christians repent of worldliness. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
Don’t want God to drown you and your loved ones, church folks? Better think twice about watching Jersey Shore reruns. You could be next.
Let me be clear. I’m not indicting God for the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. It raises difficult questions of theodicy. But, unlike Piper, I don’t believe that God is deliberately causing/allowing these disasters because he wants to send the world a message. We live in a world where natural processes appear to account for 99.9% of what we observe, including earthquakes and tsunamis. If God is permitting these events, I am more inclined to believe that he is permitting them because of a prior commitment to permitting natural processes to run their course (with his intervention being an exception rather than the rule).
I know that this is not a fully satisfactory answer to the problem of suffering. But if there is an omnipotent God and if he is good, surely this answer is closer to the truth than Piper’s idea that God is killing people just to make some rather generic points that only fundamentalists will get.
HT: Rachel Held Evans for bringing the Piper article to our attention.