This post by John Piper has spawned a ton of discussion as of late. To me, the core discussion, to isolate it from the specific situation of the tornado in Minneapolis that disrupted the Lutheran meeting where they affirmed the inclusion of gay clergy, is one about natural disasters and sin.
It’s not unlike the discussion that took place largely after 9/11 – namely, were the terrorist attacks God’s judgment on America for sin?
This discussion is many things, but one of them that it’s not is easy. It’s not easy to make sense of stuff like this. It’s not easy to make sense of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or any such things. But I do think, without trivializing those events, there are some general things that can be said about such things, particularly natural disasters.
1. Natural disasters happen because of sin in a broad sense. The fall of man in Genesis 3 didn’t just get humans thrown out of the garden; it had a cataclismic effect. We often sell short how deeply we – and our world – are effected by sin. Sin reoriented our whole sense of being and purpose, to where we no longer really even know what “good” and “evil” is apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That effect extends beyond humanity to the environment. Now all creation is groaning, and we hear its cry in hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. So in that sense, sin is definitely the cause of tornadoes.
2. We have the tendency to mistake God’s patience for His forgetfulness. Or approval. We sin, and nothing happens. We sin again, and nothing happens again. Eventually we start to trick ourselves into thinking that sin isn’t really that big a deal because no one’s getting zapped right after they do what they want to do. I’m not necessarily saying that the tornado in this case was “God’s judgment,” but I do think that because of this tendency to mistake God’s patience for His approval we’re often very surprised when consequences finally do happen.
3. God is more committed to our good than we are. There are a thousand moments every day that should move us to both thankfulness and self-examination – thankfulness that as Christ-followers, we will never feel the brunt of the righteous judgment of God. Self-examination in that we never know which moment is going to be our last and that we aren’t promised tomorrow. In some cases we need to repent. In other cases we need to take hold of an opportunity in front of us. The point is that God is speaking in a myriad of ways. The question is whether we are listening. Few things remind us as much of our own mortality than natural disasters, and so few things present a great an opportunity for us to trust in Christ.
4. If we choose to believe that this a “warning” from God or some form of His judgment, then the worst thing we can do is judge those we perceive it to be a warning against. That’s what we naturally do – “See? God hates you. Look at the funnel cloud! That proves it!” The best thing we can do is pray for them to truly encounter the gospel while humbly looking at our own lives with a spirit of repentance.
5. It seems extraordinarily arrogant to me to say categorically, “God did this because…” For the record, that’s not what Piper did. But some others will and have. How presumptuous to think that we can know the whole purposes of God? We can’t. Every decision He makes surely is for thousands and thousands of purposes. But just because we can’t absolutely hem in the purposes of God, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to learn from what happens in the world. But we should do so with the humility that recognizes our own limitations.