August 10, 2020

Playing God With Tornadoes

dark cloudAnd the idiots have landed.

Monday I watched with great terror and shock as a massive tornado roared through Moore, Oklahoma, leaving at least 24 people dead. I was at work when someone said “the City is getting storms.” I live in Tulsa, 100 miles east of the City—Oklahoma City—and was trying to keep an eye on the weather. The City had a “moderate” risk of severe weather according to the Weather Channel, while Tulsa was in the “exceedingly high” risk area. I knew that when the City started to see storms, they would be on their way eastward to where I was.

So I pulled up an Oklahoma City TV station on my phone and … and watched on live TV as a massive tornado destroyed everything in its way. Buildings were ripped apart as though they were made of straw. I know people who live in and around Moore. My heart went out to them, even as I began thinking of what to do for my family if the storms held together. But they petered out before they got to Stroud (about halfway between Tulsa and the City), and we just got a brief rain shower.

Okies stand together (except when it comes to football), and those of us outside of Moore looked for ways to help the families who suffered such incredible loss. Don’t you think it pleases our Father when we look for ways to help others? Apparently that isn’t so obvious to some who cannot resist cramming their feet in their mouths at times like these. Before I get to these idiots, I want to share a story of someone whose life is given to giving.

My friend Vic heads up One To The Other Ministries, and a big part of what he does centers around natural disasters. Just as he did two years ago following the deadly Joplin, Missouri tornado, Vic and several others went to Moore yesterday to give food and water to those who were involved in the search and rescue mission, as well as to offer prayer and counseling to those who were still in shock from the storm. Vic didn’t cite any Bible verse for the reason he went. He didn’t make up a theology for why the tornado followed an almost identical path as the May 3, 1999 tornado that left 36 people dead in Moore. Vic went to serve those who were serving because that is what he does. (Last night Vic told me he had received offers of help from as far away as Cuba.) He was just one of many who gave of time and energy and resources to aid the survivors. Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder pledged $1 million to help in the recovery effort; the Red Cross reports lines of people gathering in the state to give blood and donate blankets, pillows and the like. That’s who we are. We are Okies, and we help each other.

So forgive me when I say I do not need any bad tornado theology at this time. Yes, I expected Fred Phelps to jump in with a “I’m glad people died to show how bad our country is for allowing gay marriages” rant. He is an idiot and the very few who follow him are idiots. And I wasn’t all that surprised when Pat Robertson said the tornado could have been prevented if enough people had prayed for Jesus to still the storm. (How many would “enough people” be, Pat? I was praying. I stood with my phone in hand, watching live a two-mile wide tornado tear apart a town, and I prayed fervently for their protection. I guess I didn’t have enough faith, huh Pat?)

piper-tweet-screen-shot-2013-05-20-at-11-58-46-pmI didn’t even flinch when I read a tweet John Piper sent out (since recalled) Monday evening that read, “Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.” (Job 1:19)  He followed it up with the next verse in Job: “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” I didn’t flinch when I read that, but I did want to puke. Piper sits in his pompous palace on his pompous ass and tosses out verses that are supposed to explain just why this tornado touched down and killed ten children and fourteen adults. (This afternoon, Chaplain Mike takes a look at just how miserable a comforter John Piper actually is.)

So why do bad things happen to good people? Why do earthquakes and tsunamis and tornadoes and hurricanes destroy so many lives? Why do good people get cancer that eats them alive from the inside out? Why do hard workers get laid off, setting in motion a chain reaction that leads to the breakup of families? Why is there rape and murder and theft in our world? Where is God in all of this?

For once, I agree with Al Mohler. Speaking on a special podcast he released on Monday night, Mohler said,

Evil is something we want to rationalize, we want to try to find a way to explain it. It is a natural human temptation, it is a natural Christian temptation, to try to rationalize evil and explain that we know how it happened. Once we understand it, we can control it. We do, as Christians, weep when other people weep, we share joy with those who are overjoyed. In this case it is grief.

Some of the bad that occurs in our world is brought about by our own choices. I’ve always said that this “free will” thing was a bad idea. When God breathed us to life, he did so knowing we would go our own way and do things that would hurt ourselves and others. Libraries of books dealing with this topic exist; I’m not even going to venture into their territory. I am talking right now about natural disasters. No one’s free will brought about this week’s tornado, no matter what Robertson or Piper say. So, why does this universe that God created seem so tragic so often?

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day (Genesis 1:31, NASB)

So, did God make this good world, and then take away his hand and let it spin on its own? No. We are told that Jesus holds all created things together.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16, 17, ESV).

So Jesus holds all things in his hands. That includes exploding stars and black holes, floods and plagues, hurricanes and tornadoes. Jesus created these as well as mountains, prairies, oceans and islands. I don’t know why our loving Father doesn’t banish all bad things from our world. I could never grasp why Dumbledore allowed Draco Malfoy to harass Harry Potter. Harry was the chosen one, wasn’t he? So why did he have to suffer so much? Bad things were constantly happening to him, which made for a great story for us, but a lousy life for young Harry. Yet without the areas of conflict, we really wouldn’t have much of a story, huh?

Perhaps we are part of a story God is  unfolding before the universe. Job certainly was. It starts with God receiving reports from various angels, including Satan, about what was going on in the worlds they are in charge of. God challenges Satan to take a good look at his righteous servant, Job. Satan goes on to destroy Job’s life with natural disasters, physical pain, and clueless “friends.” God seems disinterested in it all until Job begins to question what God is up to. Job learns a valuable lesson: There really is a God, and you are not he. Through it all, God never offers up even one explanation for the disasters that happened. Not one. And Job seems to be ok with that.

A story of Job’s faithfulness in the face of adversity? No. It is the story of God in all of his Godness being God. God is the God of life, yes, but he is also the God of death. Death is not evil to our God. Death was present in the Garden even before the Fall. This world operates on a cycle of life and death. The Creator, the one who holds it all in his hands, was slain from before the foundation of this world. He died, and once dead, even though resurrected, he holds death in his hands. He knows its taste and smell. His message to us is not, “If you would just try a little harder, you could become a good person like I am.” Instead, he says “Follow me to the narrow gate marked Death. Come with me through the gate marked Death, for on the other side is true life”

Dying is the one thing we can all do, and do well. And dying is the only requirement God makes of us if we want eternal life.

Some of us will live to be 105 by eating bacon daily. Others will develop cancer and die young. And others still will be killed by a tornado. It is not a form of punishment for sins—we are all sinners. It is not because of a lack of faith. When Jesus returns, will he find any faith on earth? It is not because God neglects us—he knows the number of hairs on our heads. We all die. And it is usually a mess when we do.

In the BBC production of Shadowlands—the story of C.S. Lewis and his wife—Lewis (known as “Jack” to his friends) is coming out of the church where his wife’s funeral had just finished. The parish priest is walking with him and says,

“Faith, Jack. It is faith that sustains us in times like these.”

“No, Harry,” says Lewis. “This is all one big mess, and that is all there is to it.”

For the people in Moore, Monday’s tornado doesn’t come with a gift-wrapped explanation. It is one big mess, and that’s all there is to it.

That is about the only way to describe things that otherwise make no sense. We seek to understand things that are incomprehensible when we really need to trust our God. For people like Piper and Robertson to try and reduce God to an explanation that will fit in a sound bite or a tweet is idiocy.

My friend Vic is no theologian. But he knows the God of life and death, and knows that Jesus, the creator of all things including tornadoes, holds all in his hands. Vic didn’t go to find an explanation; he went to find someone who needed help.

You can help, too. You can make a donation to Vic’s One To The Other Ministries that will enable him and his team to continue being fast responders.



  1. I cringed as well when I saw Piper’s tweet even though I’m on the other side of the world, because I live in a land that is well accustomed to natural disasters. If it’s of any interest to you, this blog offered to assess the tweet a little differently.

    • Thanks for the link. I have been following this controversy since the original tweet and had not seen this post. I mostly agree with the post – It probably would have been better to say nothing or to simply say that our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the storm. I do not always agree with every aspect of Mr. Piper’s theology or the way that he expresses it, but in this case, I feel like some of the statements made about him have been overly harsh and that some of his views have been mischaracterized. Based on the information at Desiring God, I better understand why he posted the verses that he did and why he ultimately removed them. Twitter is really not a good medium for discussing suffering and the sovereignty of God.

      I have experienced first hand the pain that can come when people try to comfort you after experiencing a major loss. Much of what I was told was very true and I believed it, but it did not comfort me at the time. Mostly what helped was people telling me how sorry they were and that they were praying for me. I know that even if someone said something that I did not find comforting that they were trying to help, and I appreciated them reminding me of truths that would be precious to me in the months ahead. I guess it is important to see that what comforts one person will not necessarily comfort another person, and that in times of suffering it is especially important to be quick to listen and slow to speak. As our family tries to do what we can to offer assistance to those affected by the storm, we pray that the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort would be especially near to those in and around Moore, OK.

      • “Twitter is really not a good medium for discussing suffering and the sovereignty of God.”

        There is one of the wisest, most needed statements of the day.

        Now, please tell me, why would a man, after a lifetime of ministry in a congregation, with real people, ever think Twitter was appropriate for this?

  2. I suppose if you want to beat a dog, you’ll find a stick.

    I live in a country where more than half the population has personally experienced violent crime. I find the only thing that that keeps many of us sane, is to cling to the truths of Scripture. The example of Job’s reaction to the disaster that struck him, was to worship God. It does not try to explain or rationailize the evil, to me it is an instinctive reaction to cry out to a loving Father in faith and anguish.

    I that does not work for you, ignore it, for others it may be a great help.

    • I’m from Oklahoma. My brother and cousins were in the OKC area when this thing hit. I can say that Piper’s tweet did nothing for us but come across as completely callous. We’d love to ignore Piper’s ass-hattery, but we’ve read the spewing of his foolish thoughts that he can’t seem to keep to himself, and the damage is done. So pardon us while we criticize someone who caused more pain in the wake of unimaginable pain.

      If that does not work for you, ignore it, for others the solidarity may be a great help.

  3. This comment section is going to be absolutely crazy…

    Jeff, how did these verses from Job in the tweets attempt to explain *why* a tornado touched down? I’m not saying they were well-timed or appropriate but where do you get from them a motivation to explain the why?

    • I think it’s because Piper – love him or hate him – does have form on this. He has previously interpreted natural disasters as judgements, and Jeff is extrapolating on that basis.

      But you’re right, Brian. The Craziness is about to touch down.

    • You touch on a key point here and one that has been brought up a lot since Piper’s tweet. Some regular critics of Piper has even mentioned that the passage he quoted was not inappropriate (timing? maybe).

      The real pushback he is getting seems to be more based on Piper’s past history of comments after such events, rather than actually the use of this passage.

      I am not a Piper fan, and althought his timing was poor (IMHO), but I think there is a sense of piling on here just because it is Piper.

      • Piper has set himself up for this. He simply can’t keep his mouth shut. This afternoon I will attempt to show his misunderstanding and misapplication of Job.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          There is always going to be somebody who’s going to shoot his mouth off.

          And guys who shoot their mouths off LOVE to have as big an audience as possible, whether it’s going to the Media or Twittering everyone and their dog.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      This comment section is going to be absolutely crazy…

      Crazy as when the subject is Evolution or Homosexuality?

  4. I have a difficult time equating weather and star-forming/destroying events with “evil” (as using the quote from Al Mohler seems to do.) And that difficulty possibly extends to natural disasters and even plagues (after all, much of our body weight consists of bacteria with which we are in a symbiotic relationship). Life on the biological level is eat, spawn and die (or the equivalent). Cells are formed, grow, die, attack, defend. The sun warms air, currents are formed, cold air meets warm air, rains fall, winds blow, oceans rise, rivers flood, etc., and sometimes people are in the way. Maybe I’m just more fatalistic/”realistic” than spiritual about these things.

    • cermak_rd says

      Me too. It’s not like we don’t know what causes storms. This attempt to combine natural events with supernatural entities reminds me more of animism than it does the Judaic tradition.

    • David Cornwell says

      I agree. These are all “natural” chaotic events. However evil is something that lurks, abides, finds lodging in the human heart, hiding behind lies,deception and power. It then snakes it way out into the open causing death and destruction.

      Don’t mistake what I’m saying. The chaos produced by nature causes human death and misery. But I just hesitate to classify it as evil. Can God intervene in these events? I think so, but it does not happen often. I have no theological anwswer to this. My consultations with the great theologcal minds have failed to produce an orderly answer that I can understand. The best thing to do is argue with God about it? Hmm.

      • David Cornwell says

        Just a brief further comment:

        The chaos produced by nature can be categorized as “natural evil.” It exists independent of human agency, although we might contribute factors relating to it. Disease, drought, tornadoes, etc fall into this category. I think this is the approach favored by Augustine.

        This category leaves many things open to argument howerver. Augustine might adjust his classification if he were living.

  5. ….and as predictably as Pat Robertson saying something insanely stupid, the atheists will be out in full force with renewed “proof” that there clearly is no such thing as a loving God, as evidenced by the death of innocent children and the destruction of homes and families.

    As you mentioned, we can certainly look to the fall and human choice for the man-made evil and suffering in the world, but have no such glib explanation for natural disasters, ironically known to some insurance underwriters as “Acts of God”……like He destroys on PURPOSE!

    It is impossible to communicate to a non-Christian that because Jesus Christ existed on this earth, told us about His Father and the Comforter to come after His Ascension, and died and rose again, we believe in what He told us and trust in Him. He did not promise a happy, healthy long life with a peaceful death from old age. He told us we would suffer…individually and as a community. What He DID promise is eternal life in His presence……which only comes about through bodily death.

    He also promised that God would work all matter of things for good for those who love Him. So, to the atheist I have no argument that they could understand. To other Christians, it remains for us to understand that His ways are not our ways, and that the Creator does not owe His creatures an explaination. We are to somehow trust—and get off of our rear ends and HELP!

    • cermak_rd says

      Well, it’s possible to communicate that message, it may not be possible for them to believe it. I think the atheist (most I know anyway) would agree that life is hard and that there are no guarantees and that everyone will suffer, they simply don’t believe there’s enough evidence to accept the eternal life bit.

      I don’t believe even when I was a Christian, and now I am a Jew, that I have ever believed that the Almighty would bring good or blessings to the living. To accept that, one has to wonder why the blessings are so lopsided in our world. Children still die around the world from preventable illnesses, after all.

      No, I believe that the blessing the living are imparted with is a sense of empathy and justice such that we as humans are moved to act.

      • cermak_rd:

        How is one a “Jew” when one has seemingly outgrown or rejected the ascribed or described being and behavior and nature of the God of the Jews and His covenant with them, the God without Whose calling and “blessing” of Abraham and the crowd at Sinai there is no meaning to the word “Jew” or Judaism?

        FWIW, I was born, brised and bar-mitzvahed as a Jew.

        • cermak_rd says

          I am a Jew in that I do believe in an Almighty who I believe to have been the entity glimpsed by Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. I try to live by the righteous elements of the Law as it developed over the centuries to this tribe. I have a heritage in these people and in this tradition.

  6. Everyone knows that God has nothing to do with it.

    That the real culprits are all those who are resisting our becoming ‘greener’ to prevent “global warming”.

    These events never occurred before we drove SUV’s.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      This is, of course, merely a straw man caricature of the actual argument. Global climate change involves long term weather patterns changing. Areas that used to get more rain might get less, and vice versa. This is why we see so many hundred-year floods nowadays. That “hundred-year” metric is based on past climate patterns. Climate change, well, changes that. So if your infrastructure is built based on assumptions of old patterns, you have a problem. Furthermore, as the climate changes from old patterns to new, the transition will involve more frequent and more extreme weather events. Hurricanes and tornadoes are nothing new, but more and bigger hurricanes and tornadoes are.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        This is, of course, merely a straw man caricature of the actual argument.

        BS it is. ANY Righteous Cause is going to attract its Fundamentalist fanboys, whether that Holy Cause is Young Earth Creationism or Stop Global Warming, God or The Plaaaaaanet. Kyle’s Moms whose only purpose in life is to Feel Righteous because of their Holy Cause. And Morally Superior to the stupid sheeple they lecture with wagging fingers. And these Fundamentalist fanboys always scream the loudest and preen the most in front of the media, because they like Their Righteousness to be Seen by Men.

        • But HUG, surely global warming denialists have their own Fundamentalist fanboys who preen for the media so Their Righteousness can be Seen by Men. Look at every Republican primary: “Global warming is a scam.” *WILD APPLAUSE*

          No question, there are definitely Fundamentalist fanboys about global warming. (See smug Hollywood types who just want to feel good about how they’re on the right side of an Important Cause.) But, as you often say, Communism begets Objectivism. And the fundamentalists who care more about Being Right drown out the actual science.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Look at every Republican primary: “Global warming is a scam.” *WILD APPLAUSE*

            And that’s BEFORE factoring in “End Time Prophecy — It’s All Gonna Burn”.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Let’s stipulate, for the sake of discussion, that there are indeed global warming fundamentalist fanboys, and that Steven has accurately characterized their argument. What is the point of seeking out the worst arguments and refuting them? I suppose that if said fundamentalist fanboys have a huge following, there would be a point. This is on the order of pointing out when Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck say something particularly egregious. But I can’t help but note that, claims of these people preening before the media notwithstanding, no one has seen fit to name names. What we are left with is dodging the substantive arguments while declaring victory and going home.

      • The “global warming” models are not working. The earth has cooled since 1998.

        Man-made “global warming” (climate change) is the biggest and most expensive scam in the history of the world.

        And politicians who wish to control our lives and dollars make much hay from it after natural disasters…of any kind.

    • No more global warming stuff please. Not pertinent to the post.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Whoops! Sorry for my post of a couple of moments ago. I wrote it before reading this.

  7. As JM Smith wrote:

    “not knowing Piper’s exact intent in posting the Job quote, we who follow Jesus should seek clarity from Piper himself rather than assuming we know what he intended and rebuking him for it. This is what, as N.T. Wright once wrote (in response to a debate between him and John Piper, no less!) that we urgently need: “a Christian ethic of blogging”. But the temptation to speak out against our theological opponents is strong, and any of us who’ve ever publicly rebuked a fellow Christian for something has likely crossed the line at some point in our zeal. This is why it behooves us as a community, as a body, to be on guard against our own righteous indignation and to wait and weigh our words carefully and prayerfully before we hit the “publish” button. I say this to myself as much as anyone else.”

    • No, we know Piper’s intent. Come back this afternoon.

      • Be very careful about judging someones motives when you have never discussed them with that person. Perhaps it is better not to set yourself up as someone who knows the intent and the heart of another.

        • We know his intent because he told us not because I have some special insight.

        • Oh the irony, David. I’m sure it has been missed on you, but if you took your own advice, you’d give CM the benefit of the doubt and realize that he may have information you are unaware of; maybe he’s even spoken to Piper–you have no idea. Instead you “judge someone’s motives.” I’d be very careful about that, David–especially if you’re the one advising people against it!

    • Clay Crouch says

      “But the temptation to speak out against our theological opponents is strong, and any of us who’ve ever publicly rebuked a fellow Christian for something has likely crossed the line at some point in our zeal.”

      Well, my first response to this was something like, “sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”. But on further reflection the kindest thing that I can comment is If Piper’s tweets were the best “comfort” a man who has been a pastor for 30+ years can offer, then the folks in Moore, OK would be better served if he just followed the initial example of Job’s friends and just kept silent.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Chaplain Mike, your comment suggests that we’re going to hear from you later today on this, so I hope I’m not stealing your thunder, but I just gotta jump in here.

      First, it should be noted that Piper has set a precedent for this kind of behavior. Back in 2009, he argued that a tornado was “a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us” to “turn from the approval of sin” and “the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction.”

      But let’s assume that, maybe, Piper didn’t mean to suggest anything slighting by posting Job 1:19 and Job 1:20 (Granted, he took down the posts, and someone from his team tried to post an explanation/half-apology, but let’s just play with the idea). The verses were posted by themselves as Tweets, with the assumption that folks would just naturally assume what Piper’s point was. That assumption goes to the fundamental problem of verse-dropping or proof-texting: that we can quote Scripture without understanding or explaining its context. Piper is a veteran pastor and author; in the face of a tragedy like the Oklahoma tornado, he should have been much more deliberate and empathetic, and less hasty, with his posts.

      Just like Moses at Meribah, spiritual leaders have to watch what they say, how they say it, and when they say it, and the extra scrutiny they receive is totally justified.

      • I don’t disagree with the problem of the timing and method Piper used, as well has his comments in the past. However, people are jumping on his motivation here.

        As CM wrote: “Piper sits in his pompous palace on his pompous ass and tosses out verses that are supposed to explain just why this tornado touched down and killed ten children and fourteen adults.”

        I hope CM has a clear-cut post this afternoon to show how Piper did that, otherwise, the critics of the critics are right: this is just a “out to get Piper” session.

        • That was Jeff Dunn, not Chaplain Mike, who wrote about where and on what Piper sat.

        • First of all, Chaplain Mike didn’t write that, I did.

          I am not “out to get” Piper. I happen to like a lot of what he says and writes. But this was very insensitive of him, not in the least comforting. And when you combine it with his previous comments on natural disasters, it comes across as condemning as well.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          First, I appreciate CM’s attempt at alliteration, but if that was his initial statement, might I recommend that he replace “ass” with posterior, just to preserve the poetic pattern of his prosecutorial palaver (that’s how you do it, Chaplain Mike)?

          Second, we can determine Piper’s motivation from his history of trying to engage in a “easy answer” type of theodicy. Looking back at his posts on the 2009 tornado, and 2011 earthquake in Japan, and several other similar events, you really can’t blame folk for inferring his intention based on precedent. If what we took from his statement was not what he meant, that’s a problem with the message and the messenger, not the receivers.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            I’m sorry; I guess my statement about alliteration applied to Jeff Dunn, not Chaplain Mike.

  8. Before I start, I want to remind everyone that I am nothing but a sinner, and frequently speak several levels above my pay grade.

    I lived in Florida for 30 years. From the time I arrived in the early seventies until 1992, when Hurricane Andrew rudely reminded the little developer godlings who run that state who is really in charge, we had no major hurricanes. We got complacent. Since Andrew, we have had tropical systems drop in us like Cincinnati families on their way to Disney World. Hurricane Dennis was one, and it was bearing down on Pensacola, where I was living at that time. Pensacola had been flattened by Hurricane Ivan two years perviously and they were understandably gun-shy.

    As we huddled in the storm shelter at work, one of my co-workers perceptively remarked “Sometimes we forget that Jesus has a scary side.”

    Dennis turned out to be not much more than a bad summer thunderstorm, and I felt compelled to walk out into it as the eye passed overhead. As the outer eyewall approached, I saw something besides the vicious boiling clouds. I saw energy, and life. The hurricane was like a wound clock, dissipating the enormous energies it had collected in its passage over the heated waters of the Gulf into the surrounding landscape.

    And the landscape was receiving it gladly. I “saw” the depleted nitrogen stores of the earth recharged by the frequent lightning strikes. I felt the air crackling with oxygen, and those parts of the ground not covered with concrete or asphalt greedily drank up the water. The structures of men, however were not designed with an exchange of this violence in mind. At once i ‘saw’ the storm as the trees and the grass saw it, as a necessary thing, taking the stored energies of the sun and the water and distributing it through a finely calibrated delivery system until everything got what it needed.

    Man had superimposed his web of exchange over upon this natural web, and his web experienced it mostly as destruction, because we are, and I use the following word deliberately, too God-damned stupid and unaware to work with the interior logic of things rather than just blindly following the impulses of our own concupiscences.

    We were created to run this planet. That was God’s purpose. We should understand hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes better than we do, and we should be telling them where to go and when to happen,. However, something happened far too early in our career as the viceroys of God; we got tricked into taking control before we were ready for it. “You shall be as gods”, that rat bastard told us, and he wasn’t completely lying. It was just that we ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge before we had partaken deeply enough of the other tree.

    That’s as Orthodox a theodicy as I can come up with on short notice, and I haven’t checked my Patrologia Graeca, but I think somewhere John Scotus Eriugena is nodding and smiling.

    • +1

      Snow is God’s way of telling you that you are living too far north (or south, depending on the hemisphere).

    • Josh in FW says

      I like this:
      “We were created to run this planet. That was God’s purpose. We should understand hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes better than we do, and we should be telling them where to go and when to happen,. However, something happened far too early in our career as the viceroys of God; we got tricked into taking control before we were ready for it. “You shall be as gods”, that rat bastard told us, and he wasn’t completely lying. It was just that we ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge before we had partaken deeply enough of the other tree.”

      Your post makes me wonder about the various Pre-European Tribes of the Great Plains and if they had any greater understanding than modern man on where to and where not to “pitch a tent”.

      • If I were God, I would impart that sort of knowledge to Jeff’s friend Vic.

        And likely, to the pre-European tribes who valued humility.

        I have been told recently that Orthodox knowledge of God and His ways is empirical, i.e. based on knowledge of experience. That blows my mind. That’s like The Lord Of The Rings coming to life-style wonderful. I’m just an idiot convert with more running sores on his spiritual body than a meth addict. That knowledge is too wonderful for me, and I think I am better off not knowing that.

        Pray fo me. I haven’t even attained to Vic yet.

        • Mule, we lived in Orlando from ’87 to ’04. Remember the summer of the three biggie hurricaines? We left the state to move to Virginia exactly seven days before the first one hit hard. For years our FL friends and family aske us…”did you get some special message from God to sell at the top of the market AND get out of the way of the hurricaines?’

          We did not. We were tired of the heat, humidity, and I-4 traffic……and wanted to get the last kid OUT of the house, so we moved 700 miles (it worked!)

    • UmiUmiSumi says

      Mule, you say many a good and helpful thing. You make this doubting ex-evangelical feel less lost and at the same time more and more interested in the Orthodox Church.

    • Christiane says


    • Robert F says

      Not sure, Mule. Entropy is at work in all things, and from every creaturely perspective things tend to become more and more disordered, despite appearances to the opposite in energy subsystems. Everything is winding down, every creature is winding down, heat death is the natural end of all things. If in energy subsystems natural disasters sometimes feed life and recharge habitats, that is a local phenomenon (perhaps providentially arranged? The recharging, I mean, not the disasters) but the wider system always shows entropy as the underlying and overwhelming thrust of energy patterns. Not only human beings but the entire creation groans for release from the bondage of death. Aside from the hope that is in Christ, the only thing that humanity or the rest of creation could say would be “When the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around….”(the Police).

      • Information (by definition) reverses entropy. That’s why we’re here. That’s why Jesus came.

        How would you view the Resurrection from a systems analysis POV?

        You have my permission (not that you need it) to be Not Sure. It’s a helluva lot better to be Not Sure about all the right things than it is be Sure of all the wrong things.

        • Robert F says

          Well, yes, Jesus changes the equation and the laws of physics. Entropy does not apply under his reign. But the physical phenomenon of entropy and the heat death for the whole universe which it would lead to if uninterrupted by God is to my thinking one of the primary effects of the Fall. My understanding is that at the purely physical and observable level, the very move towards energy complexity and organization in the subsystems feeds off of and causes greater loss of heat availability in the larger total system, and actually accelerates the process of entropy and the move toward heat death of the total system. To my thinking, a good example for how this works can be to think of our current technological civilization, which is a civilization that places a high value on the quick availability and dissemination of information. The technology that we depend on, with its demand for vast quantities of quick and inexpensive energy, is used to organize increasingly complex subsystems that seem to develop in upward complexity exponentially. But the price of such upward complexity is precisely the accelerating energy disorganization of the larger biosphere of Earth. To a significant extent, this is what pollution actually is, extracting energy for use to feed an energy subsystem and leaving in its wake even vaster junk heaps of energy that are either impossible or very difficult to retrieve or restore from the larger energy system.

          Yes, Jesus overcame this process in his Resurrection; in the Eschaton entropy will not be an operating principle. But until the Parousia, our bodies and the creation continue to move in the direction of the physical realities and forces that continue to exist and exert their influence. The world is still Fallen, and so when we look to the physical replenishment that a storm or natural disaster may bring to the local biosphere, we should be mindful that such replenishment continues to be at the cost of the continuing and expanding process of heat death for the total biosphere. For many animals and plants, the storm that you described brought death. I imagine that plants and animals, along with the human race, strive and yearn for deathlessness, for life freed from mortality and pain and destruction, and predation, and so I find it impossible to imagine that the violence of the storm you described could be in any sense welcomed.

          • “I imagine that plants and animals, along with the human race, strive and yearn for deathlessness, for life freed from mortality and pain and destruction, and predation, and so I find it impossible to imagine that the violence of the storm you described could be in any sense welcomed.” As God originally intended with the Garden of Eden…..

    • This might be the best comment I’ve seen here in my 2 or so years of following Internet Monk. And there are a lot of good commenters here.

  9. Over the past two years I have experienced job loss, ruptured appendix that nearly killed me, my house burned to the ground not to mention other serious issues that continually put me on the edge of serious depression, the one thing I try to remember is: this planet Earth is not mine or the human race’s final destination. I realize some things do not fit into a nice theological box.

  10. I’m thinking our friend JP would be well served to delete his Twitter account and stick to detailed explanations of his understanding.

  11. Here’s John Piper’s side of it.

    (sorry, couldn’t get it to publish with link)

    • We’ll be answering this later today.

      • Christiane says

        I don’t want to read Piper’s ‘reply’ to himself, Captain Mike.

        Oh, I’ll do it, but he’s had enough attention this week, so maybe I’ll wait at least until after the funerals in Moore are over. Some people deserve our attention at this time. He doesn’t. Not now.

    • Key to that defense is God’s sovereignty. The concern still seems to be that God must explicitly cause or allow
      tragedy in order to be “sovereign”. If something happened that God did not allow, then weakness or openness sneaks into theology. Blaming the victim becomes key to defending theology (separate from God).

      • Christiane says

        that seems an horrific theology . . . it makes God into a monster . . . how ever do people fall for this stuff?

    • Clay Crouch says

      John Piper did not write that post. Someone named Tony Reinke. He did reference some of Piper’s sermons and even an explanation as to why he pulled the tweets. Here is Piper’s explanation:

      Different motives were assigned to Pastor John for deleting the tweets. What he told us was this: “The reason I pulled my tweets from Job is that it became clear that what I feel as comfort was not affecting others the same.”

      How sad that a pastor of 30+ years hasn’t figured out what comforts those in shock and grief. Almost as sad are his apologists who either can’t see or refuse to admit their leader’s disconnect.

  12. The Pope’s comment about all humanity – including atheist – meeting together in acts of compassion is worthy of consideration. Piper? Well, God bless him. I still don’t think he ever recovered from being struck by a tornado called cancer.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Umm…now that seems a little inappropriate, even for me.

      • It was not meant to be inappropriate. Personal tragedy lends perspective on the suffering of others. I have commented before regarding a change in Piper’s writing after his tragedy, that The image of God he presents is far less gracious and more judgemental. I think he walk away from that experience with the wrong perception of God. I mean to be empathetic, believe it or not. :-/

        • Josh in FW says

          I believe it. I’ve found that it’s often difficult to express an idea in this medium and that comments can often be misinterpreted.

  13. Scott Fisher says

    I agree that the comments made by Robertson, Piper, etc. are not particularly helpful (at least I don’t find them to be). But I also don’t think labeling fellow believers as “idiots” or referring to them as those who sit on their “pompous ass” is helpful either or particularly edifying. I really enjoy reading the Internet Monk and and stimulated by many of the posts, but the tone of this one angered me. Are you seeking to call for more grace and mercy by being ungracious and unmerciful in your own judgement?

    • I’m grateful that Jeff wrote this exactly the way he did. Anger is sometimes an appropriate response, and this situation calls for it. Jeff’s post has been comforting to me–I live in OK and have family in the OKC area–after the callousness of Piper.

      So sometimes it’s better to let humans have human emotion, and talk about it. I’d rather have a faith that can contain the whole spectrum of human emotion than one that denies anyone that reality, especially in the aftermath of pain caused by these storms.

    • Twenty four of my fellow Oklahomans died in a horrible natural disaster on Monday. Hundreds more lost homes, businesses, friends, neighbors, families. When people thousands of miles away shrug it off by saying “the Lord gives and the Lord taketh away” (which was a tweet sent by one of Piper’s writers on his Desiring God blog), that comes across as very hurtful to us. Yes, “idiot” is a strong word. I reserve strong words for the times when they are needed. This is one of those times.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        When people thousands of miles away shrug it off by saying “the Lord gives and the Lord taketh away”…

        “Thousands of miles away” meaning “safely away from Tornado Alley”.

        Since Job’s counselors, it’s always been those who are safely away from it and have never experienced it themselves who dispense the smug advice to those who have.

    • Wayne Cook says

      Well, he could have referred to these types of comments like I did at church last night as a “damnable lie from the pit of hell,” but that would have been less gracious.

  14. That Other Jean says

    I believe I’ll stand with Marcus Cole, from Babylon 5:

    “Wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So now I take comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the Universe.”

    I don’t know, apart from the scientific explanations of how weather works or how diseases spread, why tornadoes and plagues and earthquakes and other disasters happen when and where they do. I do know that they happen to everyone, because that’s the way the world works. I didn’t cause them–no one did–but I ought to do what I can to help the people who were affected, simply because we’re all human, and we’re all in this together.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      I don’t know, apart from the scientific explanations of how weather works or how diseases spread, why tornadoes and plagues and earthquakes and other disasters happen when and where they do. I do know that they happen to everyone, because that’s the way the world works. I didn’t cause them–no one did–but I ought to do what I can to help the people who were affected, simply because we’re all human, and we’re all in this together.

      …and that’s what Piper should have said.

  15. Wonderful essay, Jeff. Thank you.

  16. Robert F says

    Is it worth all this suffering, these tornadoes and all this death, for God to tell a story?

  17. I would just like to clarify for those who mighty take issue: Jeff Dunn has NOT said in this post that John Piper is pompous. He clearly said that John Piper’s ASS is pompous. There is a genuine distinction. Especially if that particular bodily region happens to be the source of your tweets.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      As always, Miguel, your insightful logic and graceful corrections are irrefutable.

  18. Death was present in the Garden even before the Fall.

    I know this isn’t the best post to argue theology over, but that is kind of a new one for me. Somehow I missed it when I read through Genesis? Or perhaps this was taken from somewhere else? Just sounded strange because I’ve learned otherwise.

    Death is not evil to our God.

    …then why bother with resurrection? Why give eternal life as the antidote to the wages of sin?

    It is the story of God in all of his Godness being God.

    God instigating Satan to do such evil to Job hardly seems like an expression of his goodness. Personally, I just don’t get the book of Job (or human suffering, either). But I think that one of the main points hangs out around ch.4 v.7. It’s what I think of whenever I see a response to suffering of trying to place the blame or figure it out.

    • Miguel, there was the death of plants and insects and microbes in the Garden even before man was created. Stars exploded and died before there was life on our planet.

      But the greatest death of all was the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the earth.

      And death, while it no longer has any sting, is still the gateway to life for us all.

      • Ok. Not sure I buy it, but I can see where you’re coming from now. I thought Romans was pretty clear that death entered the world through sin, and the passage from Revelation can easily be understood as “as good as dead” before the world was made, because his fate was sealed in the foreknowledge of God. The death of Christ happened in a real human body, in actual time and space, so I’m a bit leery of using it as an example of the presence of death prior to the fall. I think a more defensible approach would start with the fall of Satan as the original spiritual death which worked out its consequences in the physical realm. Plants and stars are a different form of death from breathing organisms, and insects and microbes assumes a particular theory of origin. But ultimately, I’m pretty hung up on the idea that death is the consequence of sin. I mean, isn’t that how the cross comes into play?

    • Death being present in the Garden before the Fall: This is implicit in Genesis 3 from the fact that God wanted to guard the way to the tree of life after Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil: “He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Genesis 3:22) If Adam and Eve were already capable of living forever, this concern would have been moot.

      It also proceeds from common sense (for me, at least). Prior to the Fall, was there some sort of magical mojo in the universe that kept squirrels from falling out of trees if they climbed too high, or trees from getting struck by lightning, or forest animals from getting crushed by falling trees?

      I think death existed prior to the Fall, but it was nothing more than a physical event. After the Fall, death became a spiritual event as well: not just the end of our physical bodies but the end of any possibility of spiritual connection with God. This larger meaning of death, referred to in some parts of Scripture as the “second death,” is what entered the world through sin and lost its power through Christ’s death on the cross.