THE VICTIMS? GOD?
Last week, after a deadly tornado struck Harrisburg, Illinois, I wrote this post in which I noted that Pat Robertson and John Piper were, to that point, silent about the hows and whys of this natural disaster. Robertson had previously said that a 2010 earthquake struck Haiti because the Haitians had made “a pact with the devil.” Piper had said that a 2009 tornado in Minneapolis was sent by God as a “warning” to the ELCA about the ordination of partnered gay clergy. I speculated that the two were silent about the Harrisburg tornado because the people of Harrisburg are too much like their constituencies.
It is easy to demonize those with whom we disagree. It is easy to say “Aha! God sent this disaster to you as a sign of his judgment.” But It is a different matter when disasters strike those who are just like us.
Since my blogpost, more tornadoes have devastated the American Midwest, and today both Piper and Robertson weighed in on the subject. Their responses are almost diametrically opposed and quite revealing.
This time around, Pat Robertson says that God doesn’t send disasters against wrongdoers. Tornadoes are naturally occurring events. Still, Robertson tends to blame the victims. “Why do you build houses,” he asks, “in a place where tornadoes are apt to happen.” He also says “Don’t blame God for doing something foolish.” He also suggests that more prayer might have provoked God to intervene, stilling the cyclonic storms.
Piper takes a very different approach. He raises the question, “Why Henryville, and not Hollywood?” Why were small Midwestern towns destroyed and the urban centers of libertine sinfulness spared? Piper’s answer is a resounding shrug. God sent the tornadoes, but God’s will is inscrutable.
Piper’s reply evidences what I call the Monotheist’s Dilemma. If there is only one God, then that God is responsible for both weal and woe. Piper’s respect for God’s sovereignty is in perfect keeping with his neo-Calvinist theology. Wrestling with the question of why the righteous sometimes suffer and the evildoers sometimes prosper, Piper’s answer is that we really cannot know. I might wish he had been as circumspect in his remarks about the Minneapolis tornado in 2009.
So, Pat Robertson blames the victims and John Piper blames God. In the end, I think it is safe to say that both Robertson and Piper have taken softer positions than they did previously. Neither of them is quite so ready to pinpoint the reason for these tornados as God’s judgment against specific people for a specific cause.
It’s easy to see God’s wrath in a disaster that strikes those whom we think are not like ourselves. When the victims of a disaster look just like us, it is a different matter.
I'm not ready to blame either God or the victims. This week’s tornadoes provide us once again with an opportunity to care for our neighbors in their need. Please give to a reputable relief agency. If you don’t have another relief agency in mind, I can recommend Lutheran Disaster Response.
The illustration for this blogpost is William Blake’s depiction of God speaking to Job out of the whirlwind. Trying to think of the right descriptor for John Piper’s theology, I noodled around terms like “neo-Calvinist” and “hyper-Calvinist” and “super-Calvinist” until I came up with “Super-neo-Calvinistic-expalidocious.” Now I can’t get it out of my head.