January 17, 2021

Addendum to the “OTD” Post

In this week’s post, OTD: Obsessed with Tornadoes Disorder, I did not give enough emphasis to the most important point. It came up in the comments and should be given more clarity. So today I want to state it loudly and unequivocally.

• • •

When thinking about God and how he relates to creation and humankind, we must always start with Jesus.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the lens through which we know God and interpret his actions. “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18, NIV).

And what do we see in Jesus that might enable us to come up with an appropriate response to a tragedy like the recent tornado outbreak?

  • Well, how about this? — “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:35-38).
  • Or, maybe this? — “A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill….This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: …A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matt. 12:15-21).
  • Or, perhaps an old favorite, Jesus’ own mission statement, will do — “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19, NLT)

Jesus is the compassionate One who brings in “the time of the Lord’s favor.” If you ask me where I would start in trying to analyze ANYTHING in life and how God fits in, there it is.

This is not to say that Jesus never gives warnings, never speaks of judgment. But when he does, it is almost always reserved for religious “experts,” those who think they can read the skies and know the “signs of the times” (Matt. 16:1-4), who claim to speak a true understanding of God’s nature and will. It would be good to remember that in Jesus’ day those folks knew the Bible better than anyone else, were devout in their lifestyle, and didn’t get it all wrong in terms of their propositions. However, they had one huge, unresolvable problem: they missed Jesus, and thus even the right things they said didn’t cut it. We dare not do the same.

I would urge Dr. Piper and all our Reformed friends to heed the advice of one of their own, Ray Ortlund, who wrote: “The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only.”



  1. Or, as I saw for a Gospel reading one morning this week, Mark 4: 37-41:

    “37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?””

    His power was shown in calming the storm, not in sending it down on the heads of those who did not listen.

  2. I’m glad you posted this because you are soooo right. Whether we can come up with sound arguments concerning the wrath or lack thereof, they will know we are His by our love. I desire mercy and not sacrifice. Bear one another’s burdens and so on and so on and so on. Boy are we thick headed sometimes. Unless we become as children…lambs…peacemakers. It’s so blatantly obvious. How do we forget?

  3. Ortlund’s article was amazing…’enjoy’ other Christians? I’ve never heard that out of the mouth of someone Reformed before. Huge bravo.

  4. Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

  5. While I’m at it :
    It is absolutely fundamental to who we are. What is the greatest commandment? And the second is like it… Everything else is a raging storm of banter and God is not in it. As was said in the original OTD comments, “weep with those who weep.”

  6. I like to focus on the love and compassion of God, but what about Annais and Sapphira? Are God’s judgments bad? And does he still judge people or societies?

    • Bobby, if God were to speak a word of judgment through an authorized apostle in one of our church services and two people dropped dead as a result, I would have no problem attributing that to God’s righteous judgment. Such clarity is extremely rare, if it even exists, when interpreting events today. The question is not about God’s judgment, but our ability to name it when it happens.

      • Are supernatural demonstrations (i.e., magic tricks) enough to prove one’s prophetic bona fides? And what would you do if the devil possessed someone in your church, claiming to be God, and two people dropped dead as proof? Would you accept the devil’s teachings as the word of God? Or maybe that’s impossible in your theology. (But I bet David Copperfield could do it.)

        Or would you examine the CONTENT of the alleged message, to see whether it is consistent with what you know of Christ? Unfortunately that philosophy makes it very hard for God to command you to sacrifice your son, if that’s what he wants, but oh well.

        • First, there are no authorized apostles any more, such as those who laid the foundation of the church. And though I don’t necessarily go so far as to hold cessationist views, I am skeptical of the vast majority of claims that people make re: speaking for God.

          I can’t think of any theology that would jive with a command to sacrifice one’s son, which is what makes the story of Abraham and Isaac so mysterious.

          • God knew all along that Abraham wasn’t going to have to sacrifice Isaac—because God had ordained the ram from the foundation of the earth (no, really—I mean that, and I’m not even a Calvinist).

            The point was not for God to test Abraham (so that God would know what kind of a man he had to work with), but to get Abraham himself to understand what kind of a God he had to work with.

            This also served to wean Hebrew society away from the horrific pagan practice of sacrificing their first-born children to appease their gods. I think it took a near-miss for Abraham finally to get this.

        • Damien, miracles are not magic. That is a fundamental distinction. A magician is a proto-scientist; by performing such a ritual in such a manner, he or she can manipulate the forces underlying the universe to perform what he or she desires: bless a friend, curse an enemy, divine the future.

          This was the whole basis for Roman religious practice; they had made a pact with the gods where, by performing the appropriate state ceremonies, in return the gods would carry out their bargain. It was a contract.

          Prayer, on the other hand, asks God for His intervention, and the answer can be “No”.

          Secondly, if David Copperfield could perform “action at a distance” and cause the deaths of two people by no more than – what? the power of suggestion? actual psychic ability to stop their hearts? – then (a) the police would like a word (2) the Amazing Randi has a prize waiting to be collected.

          • I’m assuming it would be a trick of some kind, like sawing a woman in half. I’m not much of a believer in the supernatural operating in real life, so I would tend to see any claim of a miracle as some kind of trick. And if it were too big to be a magic trick, then I would think “aliens” before I thought “divine intervention.”

          • Martha….I do not think God ever says “no”, per se.

            I wish I could remember the author, but I agree with him/her that there are only three answers to prayers of petition :

            1. Yes!

            2. Not yet, my beloved child.

            3. I have a better plan in mind for you!

      • Mike, I agree with that statement. I’m probably more reformed than most of your readers. I think some have gone to far on their attacks on Piper. Some seem to be attacking the sincerity of his faith. I believe he is a man of deep conviction, with strong views on the sovereignty of God. I’ve heard him say in the past, that we should be loving and just weep with people during times of tragedy, and discuss the theology when they are ready. So I do disagree with the timing of the post. And I think he could have made his point a little less offensive. But I respect his opinion.Thanks.

        • Joseph (the original) says

          does Dr. Piper get a free pass from public opinion because he can recite theological conclusions that were made by other people? in other words, does anything Dr. Piper claims as ‘sound theology’ something of his own? or does he point to other ‘learned’ theologians that have formulated what he accepts as the best understanding of God & His ways?

          what i am getting at is this: Piper gets no kudos for non-original theological considerations. how does that make him someone worth noting, championing, to be revered?

          i see this trend in those that put such high-profile types on pedestals that others do not acknowlege, let alone salute. Piper does have a following. i don’t get it. his ideas are not original, but his actions do speak louder than words…

          the celebrity pastor/teacher/book writer/pulpit pontificator does not ‘earn’ anyone that divine critique-proof vest does it, ala “touch not the Lord’s anointed?”

          Piper inserts foot in mouth & the overflow of his heart still speaketh. loud & clear on more than just this one occasion. seems to be a character flaw no amount of book learnin’ can cure. why does he have such an influence on people? seems a bit like an acceptable form of Christianized idolatry. Piper just one of the ‘special-elect’ club members that garners a quick defense from those that feel he is being wrongly chastised when it is plain he deserves it…

          he speaks from a large, public pulpit & that gives him a free pass? his credentials give him immunity? he says what he does with impunity due to his higher dose of spirituality than the pedestrian rabble that reacts to the pronouncements he makes in the name of God???

          his theology is useless when he speaks out-of-turn on things he should not be addressing. he misrepresented God to those needing to know the Jesus that seeks to comfort the afflicted, not hear that God sent that tornado to get their attention…

          what a cold, heartless, intellectual bunch of religious bullshit. and it is right & just he be called out on it. in my theological understanding, God is giving Piper a much-deserved spanking…

        • Bobby Sparks, I agree with your post. I did not agree with everything that Dr. Piper said in his original post. There are some things that I would not have said and others that I would have stated differently, but I did feel that his main points were worth consideration. We can bless the name of the Lord even during times of unexplainable tragedy, and it is wise to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. I also didn’t get the impression that he was trying to say that these tornadoes were God’s judgment on these people. His original blog post does end with the fact that Jesus loves us and identified with us in our sufferings and by His death on the cross offers us hope now and in the resurrection.

          That being said, I think that it would have been better to simply offer prayers of support and encouragement and focus on the hope that we have in Christ. I agree that Dr. Piper should not be immune from critique, but it seems to me that those critiques will be more likely to be heard and taken to heart if they are presented respectfully and not in a mean-spirited way or in a way that shows contempt for the person. I think that this post by Chaplain Mike and the one that he referenced by John Armstrong are both respectful and helpful critiques to Dr. Piper’s original post.

          • Let me know when Piper is willing to start taking critiques on his theology. He’s been consistently saying the same things for years and years now. If someone refuses to change his tune, consistently refuting his claims isn’t wrong. Saying you think someone’s theology is dangerous and can lead people to bad places isn’t a personal attack, either. I really didn’t see much of anyone personally attacking Piper in the previous post. There may have been a few, I’m sure. I think that happens out of frustration more than anything, though.

          • I do not know if Dr. Piper has been challenged personally on the views that he expressed in the article about the tornadoes. I have read a couple of blog posts challenging various aspects of his article, but I do not know if he reads these or if anyone has brought these to his attention. Perhaps those closest to him also agree with his views or maybe he has considered the critiques and remains unconvinced – I don’t know. I agree that it is not a personal attack to consistently refute someone’s claims or to say that you feel someone’s theology is dangerous – my point is that how you state your concerns can make a difference in how they are received. As I said earlier, I think that this post by Chaplain Mike and the one by John Armstrong were very helpful. In the earlier post about Dr. Piper’s article, however, some (not all) of the comments seemed to me to be uncharitable and unhelpful.

  7. Mark 13 :14-20

  8. On a lighter note, I posted a Lent Joke on the Saturday Ramblings. It’s currently at the bottom. My relations are from County Kerry so I’ll say it’s almost plausible. It’s pretty funny.

  9. I did not read the entire article. I don’t have to. This:

    “When thinking about God and how he relates to creation and humankind, we must always start with Jesus.”

    Is where it’s at! Fo’ sho’! Thanks CM!

    • Rebekah, that sentence and its followup are definitely the take-away quotes of the day. Here’s the cap to it: “The Lord Jesus Christ is the lens through which we know God and interpret his actions.”

      But I found a related one in Martha’s comment at the top of the page:

      “His power was shown in calming the storm, not in sending it down on the heads of those who did not listen.”

      Martha? Are you reading this? The book! Get on it!

  10. “The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only.”

    I like that one…a lot.


  11. Chaplain Mike

    Great All Purpose Post/Counsel!

    You should save this for reposting in its entirety for other appropriate occasions.

    Sometimes I think the Ivory Tower Guys respond like this out of the fear that they will be misunderstood as too “soft and compassionate”

    Which begs the question about whether this would be at all a bad thing?

    “Darn, was I too caring and compassionate? Oh Well!”

  12. “Let it reduce you to Jesus only.”

    Amen, Chaplain Mike.

  13. I have a question – although I’m so late that I’m not sure anyone will be answering….

    I agree and I love Jesus. But I have many non-christian friends who make the (in my opinion, valid) point that the God of the Old Testament did some rotten things. Their question, which has sort of become mine, is how we excuse that stuff because Jesus is a nice guy who tells us to love our neighbor. What about the people groups God ordered destruction of? What about all the violence of the OT? What do we dowith that?

    • There are scores of books written on this very subject. There are a few different ways to approach it. There are people that say that the narratives of Israel’s ethnic cleansing are simply the writers ascribing divine motive to their own actions. There are people who say that these acts were simply necessary for God to bring about His plan, and the people killed were collateral damage. Israel was given clear direction in a way that people aren’t today, so we shouldn’t look at them as an example, but simply as events that happened in Israel’s history. There’s also people who point to the fact that the beings that inhabited these land may have been actually the offspring of the Nephilim and humans described in Genesis (we are told that they lived after the flood after all).

      Greg Boyd has written a number of articles about this subject. Here’s one: http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/jesus-repudiation-of-old-testament-violence/

      If you look around his site, you can find more. I just don’t want to put a lot of links my comment.

    • I would say there are difficulties and perhaps outright inconsistencies in the Old Testament. (Which language you use depends on your conclusions, and your beliefs about the divine inspriration and its implications.) Perhaps there was something unique and justifiable in Israel’s orders to kill the inhabitants of the land they were entering. Perhaps the writer is attributing divine intent to human actions. Perhaps God issues commands (or can only be understood) within certain limitations of the culture of the people doing the hearing–in other words, we’re so limited by our humanity that our understand of God evolves somewhat over time, even though God is unchanging.

      I would say that whatever is going on here, one has to take the overall ongoing revelation of God over time as a whole, and use the important or reoccuring messages in revelation as an interpretive lens. Use the interpret, universal, and clear to interpret the obscure and less clear. So broadly, I would take the social teaching the prophets (which are more universal) to be better guides for our attitudes than claims which are made about isolated historical events. One set of texts claims far more universality than the other.

      A striking contrast: one one hand, we have triumphal narratives about killing the inhabitants of cities; on the other, we have accounts like Jonah — Jonah refuses to preach to a pagan city, because he is afraid of God’s compassion and wants Israel’s enemies destroyed. Then when God acts as Jonah fears, Jonah goes up on a hill and throw a fit. God replies, 4:11: “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

      This is just my two cents, btw. I struggle with the issue too, and I would say that my own viewpoints are not totally settled.

      • Wow, my editing went a little awry.

        This sentence:

        “Use the interpret, universal, and clear to interpret the obscure and less clear.”

        Should read: “Use the universal and clear to interpret the obscure and less clear.”

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