Roger Olson, on the other hand, is no ignorant televangelist. He is a professor at Baylor University and one of evangelicalism’s most eloquent and prolific spokespersons. Today, in his blog, he criticized John Piper for supposedly claiming that last week’s tornadoes were not only foreordained by God, but foreordained as judgment for these particular communities and reminders of “their” need to repent. By way of contrast, Olson understands the events in the following fashion:
Like most Christians, I suspect, when I hear about a natural disaster that kills people I tend to think it’s simply evidence of the world’s fallenness and the not-yetness of the new world God has in store for those us. In other words, it’s evidence of God’s absence caused by our forgetfulness of God rather than something planned and brought about by God. And I see it as evidence of the not-yetness of God’s plan to free creation from its bondage to decay (Romans 8).The problems with Olson’s analysis, it seems to me, are two-fold. First, nowhere does Piper claim all that Olson says he does. On the one hand, Piper certainly does claim—admittedly in language different from what I would use—that God’s sovereign power and will lies behind the storms:
Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states, and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?And again:
We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.
The second problem with Olson’s analysis is what I consider to be his inadequate view of God’s sovereign control over such events. I agree with him that such events are prime evidence of the world’s present fallenness and “not-yetness” of creation’s ultimate redemption from bondage to decay, as per Romans 8. In that sense, I have no problem seeing such disasters as examples of God’s “absence,” at least in comparison to the new heavens and new earth, where God’s dwelling place will be with his people (Rev 21:3).
Olson is no Deist. Nor is he an Open Theist. He is an Arminian. Nevertheless, I wonder if he has really taken into consideration the implications of his belief in God’s omniscient foreknowledge. Did God know these tornadoes would occur? Olson, as I, would affirm that he did. Was God powerful enough to alter their course so they would affect less, or even no, lives? I’m sure Olson, like I, would affirm this as well. If these propositions are true, then the so-called “Calvinist dilemma” cannot be avoided. In some sense, whether one is a Calvinist or not, one must affirm that God, in his providence, allowed these tornadoes and their consequences to occur, while remaining both holy and good. One cannot simply hide behind Arminian theology to justify God.
Furthermore, a whole host of Scriptural passages must ultimately be explained by those who confess the Bible’s authority. I give you two:
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11).
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).
God is sovereign over all things that happen in his creation. His eternal plan is all-encompassing, and the ultimate eventuation of what he has purposed is rendered certain by virtue of his decree and providential oversight of his creation. Therefore, I would assert that Piper et al. are right, even if the language they use could be interpreted in unnecessarily harsh ways. Moreover, Piper is exactly right to look at such events as wake-up calls, pointing spiritually insensitive people to their need to repent. The key text is Luke 13:1-5:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Second, and most importantly, we must realize that, as God has chosen to deal with evil by tackling it head-on and bearing its consequences in the person of his Son, so we who follow him must conform to this cruciform pattern and implement Jesus' victory through suffering love (see especially N.T. Wright's brilliant Evil and the Justice of God). This will involve, not merely personal holiness and virtue—important as they are—but also manifesting the priorities of God's kingdom in the public sphere, viz., “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with … God” (Micah 6:8). May God have mercy on us and on the heartbroken people throughout the Midwest and South in this time of trouble.