What is the Nature of God’s Morality? Good Critique of John Piper’s Theology

The Christian Post recently had a post by John Piper, entitled: What Made It OK for God to Kill Women, Children in Old Testament?.  Here’s a snippet:

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.

So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing.

If you are troubled by Piper’s concept of God’s morality, you’re not alone!  Bob Anderson from the Society of Evangelical Arminians has written up an excellent response.  It can be found here.  Anderson writes that:

What is at stake is the morality and righteousness of God with the random killing of individuals or groups. The deterministic paradigm, which reduces the very concept of the “good” is manifest in Piper’s statement below:

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he
pleases.”

That is an appalling statement, because it contradicts the righteousness of God that we seek to affirm – the righteousness of the God who pleads with sinners to repent so as not to die. It certainly is an expression of sovereignty, but not righteous sovereignty. “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:4 NRS). By definition, Christians define God as the good and the good is for all. Evil, in and of itself cannot be the good. The good can only be derived when God labors within an evil situation to bring it about. Perhaps that is what we should see as the miracle of the transcendent God. God is not part of the evil that exists because of human sin. Rather he brings about good because he is not part of the sin.

Piper believes that God can do whatever he wants on the basis of power.  That is wrong.  There are certain things God won’t do because of his good character, even though he has the power to do so. God is moral and his morality is intrinsic to his character.  He does not arbitrarily kill people.

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30 Comments

Filed under Calvinism, John Piper, Society of Evangelical Arminians

30 responses to “What is the Nature of God’s Morality? Good Critique of John Piper’s Theology

  1. Tom Maloley

    God commanded that every man, woman, and child of the Canaanites be killed because they were sinners and the wages of sin is death. Was that right of him to do? Since all are sinners, wouldn’t it be right if God commanded that all be killed? I think that’s what Piper was saying, if I’m missing something please let me know.

  2. Isaiah 5:20
    Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

  3. Hi Tom, Sometimes God brings judgement upon a culture as a result of continued egregious sin, but scripture never records that bringing judgement gives him pleasure. God could kill everyone (from a power perspective), but we also know that he doesn’t want anyone to perish, and that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. That’s why Jesus came – to conquer sin and death. God certainly doesn’t “slaughter women and children anytime he pleases”.

    • Tom Maloley

      I didn’t see anywhere in that article where Dr. Piper said of God that “bringing judgement gives him pleasure”. Can you tell me where you got that? He did say that “It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases”, which seems to fit pretty well with Psalm 135: “6 Whatever the LORD pleases, he does,
      in heaven and on earth,
      in the seas and all deeps.
      7 He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
      who makes lightnings for the rain
      and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
      8 He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
      both of man and of beast;
      9 who in your midst, O Egypt,
      sent signs and wonders
      against Pharaoh and all his servants;
      10 who struck down many nations
      and killed mighty kings,
      11 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
      and Og, king of Bashan,
      and all the kingdoms of Canaan”

      I don’t think that “pleases” necissarily means “pleasure”, and I think it was in the sense that it is used in Psalm 135 that Dr. Piper used the term.

      • Hi Tom,

        It could be that Piper uses the word “pleases” in a softer form, to mean “God does what is right” rather than “God does what amuses him”. I hope so.

        The concern here is that Piper implies that God randomly kills individuals and groups (including children) without regard to whether or not those people have a pattern of ongoing and egregious sin. Whenever people groups were killed in the OT (including Israel), it was always as a punishment for a long pattern of sin.

        But Piper states that “It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases”. He implies that if someone is killed by cancer or a bullet, it came at the hand of God. He implies that if terrorists blow up the building he’s in and everyone in there dies, that’s all good too, it was done by God. He’s not talking about judgement for sin. He’s arguing that God goes around randomly killing people (or at least that God can). That is inconsistent with the character of God as revealed in scripture, and certainly inconsistent with the person of Jesus Christ.

  4. Tom Maloley

    Kevin,

    So if I’m understanding this right, we have 2 different questions here:
    1. Does God have the right to take life simply because he is God?
    2. Does God have the right to take the life of a person because they have sinned?
    Would you agree that the answer to #2 is yes? I think you do but I just wanted to make sure I understand you before we move on to talk more about #1.
    Thanks

    • Tom, Those questions can’t be answered without reference to God’s inherently loving and relational nature – as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus came to conquer sin and death. So I would ask the questions differently.

      1. Does God prefer to take life simply because he is God?
      2. Does God prefer to take the life of a person because they have sinned?

      The answer to both of those questions is “no”. God prefers that we know him and live.

      • slw

        If it’s too far afield, forget about it, but KJ, how do you perceive such things as earthquakes or plagues, which wantonly destroy multiplied thousands of women, children and men? Are these acts the acts of God? If so, why would a God who prefers that we know him and live perform such acts? They seem to fail on both accounts.

      • God doesn’t “perorm such acts”.
        We live in a world corrupted by sin and Those things are a consequence of that.
        God is not sitting in heaven continually throwing down lightning bolts, stirring up tsunamis and storms and shaking the earth to cause havoc. They are most often the natural result of a creation groaning for freedom from the corruption caused by man’s sin.

        That is NOT to say He does not sometimes use those things or even cause those things – as shown by the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah and the events in Revelation. But to see every natural disaster as a God-caused event is taking things too far.

      • Hi SLW, I did a post pretty much about that topic (earthquakes, etc) after the earthquake in Haiti. You can see it here. The short answer is that God doesn’t cause those things. :)

      • Onesimus, Well said. I agree.

      • slw

        I certainly agree with Tim that these “acts of God” occur primarily because we live in an universe broken with sin, but that doesn’t quite get God “off the hook.” In fell swoops the cursed brokenness of this world swallows the faithless by the multiplied thousands, most without the gospel. How can one jive God not preferring to take life with that reality?

      • Hi SLW, That is indeed a difficult question, for which I don’t have all the answers to.

      • SLW, to man life is tenuous and uncertain – death can come at any time by any means, so we all need to be prepared for the consequences. That is the situation as we live in a sin tainted world.

        God does not take delight in death, especially the death of the unsaved. But knowing both the beginning and the end He knows that not all will respond to the gospel. He also knows who WILL respond to His gospel. There are biblical examples of the extent He will go to to get the gospel to those who seek the Truth (Ethiopian eunuch for example).

        The uncertainty of life makes it imperative that we live each moment in a state of readiness. If we knew exactly when death would come – how many would think they could leave it to the very last moment before they “repented”? How many would try to “live it up” in a life of sin for as long as possible before trying to obtain their “fire insurance”?

        We all get sufficient time and opportunity to be moved to desire and seek the truth. The most important thing is what we do with those opportunities in the time we have.

      • Tom Maloley

        So I guess we are back to the original question, in a way. If God preferred that the Canaanites know him and live, why, from your perspective, did he command them to all be killed?

      • Tom,
        Because he gave them 400 years to change their ways but their evil became more and more entrenched and it was only when their sin had reached its full measure that Israel was sent in to claim the promised land and wipe them out.

      • Hi Tom, Sometimes God brings judgement upon a culture as a result of continued egregious sin. As Onesimus points out, that was the case with the Cannanites. It’s was a last resort, not something that God enjoyed or arbitrarily caused to take place.

      • slw

        KJ,
        The answers don’t exist if we’re too simplistic about the nature and character of God. I’m not sure they do even if we’re not. ;-)

        We can hear what God says to us clearly about himself (e.g. Christ coming, dying and rising from the dead for us), but we have to merely trust him about what he doesn’t reveal clearly (a la Genesis 18:25). It is too hard to understand how God can love the world and want everyone to come to Christ and wipe out 200,000 in seconds, in one fell swoop, most never having had an opportunity to even hear of Christ (e.g. Tangshan in ’76 or Sumatra in ’04). Rather than developing extra-biblical theories about salvation apart from knowing Christ, or post-mortem grace, or that surreptitiously alleviate responsibility from the one who is ultimately responsible; sometimes we just have to admit we do not have an answer or we do not know. We do know this: Jesus rose from the dead and if one puts his life in his hands trustingly that one is made right with God and will live forever.

      • SLW, I disagree with that God wiped out the people in Sumatra and Haiti. Sometimes things happen that God does not prefer. I don’t have pat answers for why those disasters happen, but blaming God is not the solution. And I reject limited atonement. Everyone has a genuine chance to be saved through Jesus Christ.

      • slw

        If not God, then whom? The Bible never attributes earthquakes to the Devil, it does attribute them to God. The earth itself is not sentient that it could do so of its own design. One could say, as did Tim above, that sin is the cause of such destructiveness in that its brought death and the curse (with which I actually agree), but that scarcely removes the awesome and frightful quality of God’s “cold-blooded” willingness to allow thousands to perish in a fell blow. I think the solution is to blame God and tremble. It is a fearful thing to be in the hands of the living God, period!

        I do not believe in limited atonement either, although I disagree with your application of it in this matter. I think the argument that implies it on the basis of practical results is, well, an overreach. It is better to leave these judgments in the hands of God knowing he will do well on the basis of who he is and what he knows then to posit something that, at best, is only twisted and milled from scripture rather than taught straightforwardly by the same.

      • SLW, I do think it’s a mistake to blame natural disasters on God. Why do they happen? I have ideas, but don’t know for certain! Read the post on Haiti that I linked to, and you can see some more of my thoughts there. As you state, it’s better to trust God’s character than to blame him for what we don’t know.

        I really don’t want to get into the inclusivism / exclusivism battle with you again. We have different views on the nature and extent of God’s mercy, and that’s unlikely to be resolved in the comebox. Despite differences on this matter, I consider you a brother in Christ. I don’t want to argue about it any more.

      • slw

        No worries, KJ. Iron sharpens iron, and it was nice to have the opportunity to be ground on a bit and to be grinding.

  5. Kevin, a while ago you gave a link to an excellent teaching series “Chosen and Choosing”. Yesterday I was listening to another series by the same preacher called “My God Why” that I think gives insight relevant to the issue raised above.

    The sermons can be found in the 2010 index of sermons in the left side bar (scroll down and click on My God Why).
    Tim

  6. Tom Maloley

    Hi Kevin,

    This is in response to your last reply to me:

    “Kevin Jackson
    February 16, 2012 at 11:27 pm
    Hi Tom, Sometimes God brings judgement upon a culture as a result of continued egregious sin. As Onesimus points out, that was the case with the Cannanites. It’s was a last resort, not something that God enjoyed or arbitrarily caused to take place.”

    In the last sentence I was wondering what definition of “arbitrarily” you were thinking of. In thinking about it myself I consulted the fine scholarly website dictionary.com:
    ar·bi·trar·y   /ˈɑrbɪˌtrɛri/ Show Spelled [ahr-bi-trer-ee] Show IPA adjective, noun, plural -trar·ies.
    adjective
    1. subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one’s discretion: an arbitrary decision.
    2. decided by a judge or arbiter rather than by a law or statute.
    3. having unlimited power; uncontrolled or unrestricted by law; despotic; tyrannical: an arbitrary government.
    4. capricious; unreasonable; unsupported: an arbitrary demand for payment.
    5. Mathematics . undetermined; not assigned a specific value: an arbitrary constant.

    I would guess you are using the word in the sense of definition number 4, is that right?

    Thanks

    • HI Tom, yeah, basically. Arbitrary = Doing something random based on a whim rather than for deliberate reasons.

      • Tom Maloley

        Kevin,

        The reason I bring this up is that I’ve found “arbitrariness” to be a common objection to Calvinism but have rarely heard a good reason for this objection. John Piper doesn’t think God is arbitrary (or randomly does things based on a whim rather than for deliberate reasons):

        “4) There is wisdom behind the apparent arbitrariness of the world, but it is hidden from man.
        Where shall wisdom be found?
        And where is the place of understanding?
        Man does not know the way to it,
        and it is not found in the land of the living . . .
        God understands the way to it,
        and he knows its place. (Job 28:12–13, 23)

        We see through a glass darkly, even from our New Testament perspective (1 Corinthians 13:12). But faith always affirms that no matter how chaotic and absurd things may seem to our limited view they are in fact the tactics of infinite wisdom.”
        http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/lessons-to-learn-from-jobs-friends

        It seems to me that “tactics of infinite wisdom” is not a random whim, but there are deliberate reasons that God does not disclose to us, just as he did not disclose them to Job.
        The Westminster Confession of Faith does not teach that God is arbitrary but says that God’s decree is based on the ” the free and immutable counsel of His own will” (WCF 5:1) No, it does not teach that God’s providence is simply reactions to the actions of creatures, but that doesn’t make it random or for no deliberate reason. It is according to the council of His own will and he has chosen to not reveal to us every detail and every reason he has, that doesn’t mean he has no reasons.
        Both Dr. Piper’s statement and the Westminster Confession are attempting to reflect the truth in another unarbitrary statement, Ephesians 1:11, “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”

        I would appreciate any clarification or response you might have, thanks.

      • Hi Tom,

        I agree that we don’t always have the complete picture. This is due to our limitations rather than to God hiding things from us. John 15:15 says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

        God is always good and wants the best for every person. Given that understanding of God’s character, there is nothing to fear about the unknown. But if God has a hidden nature that contradicts his will as revealed in scripture (as Piper teaches), there can be no comfort in trusting God or in his word. In that sense Calvinism is arbitrary.

        You might enjoy Roger Olson’s recent post about this very issue, which can be found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/03/further-thoughts-about-catastrophes-and-gods-judgment/

  7. Kevin, I realize I’m a bit late to the party here but I just happened upon this post.

    I’ve always looked at “the will of God” as being threefold:

    There are things that God declares will happen. The Messianic prophecies fall into this category. Those were going to happen regardless of whether or not people tried to stop them. A good deal of these are presumably unknown to us.

    There are things that God prefers to have happen. Coming to faith in Christ, people loving Him, people treating other people justly and fairly, etc. I’d suggest many (if not most) of these are known to us, having been revealed in the Bible.

    There are things that God permits to happen. In some sense, this means everything else in the world that happens. It would also make sense for natural disasters to generally fall into this category.

    Regarding your comments above, I’d like to propose a completely hypothetical situation…..

    What if, for God’s own purposes, He were to decide to send something like a tsunami, hurricane, tornado, or flood? Let’s say that this caused the death of a large number of people, but was part of accomplishing an as-yet-unknown-to-us good purpose that He had for believers.

    In your frame of reference, would that make God unjust?

    • Thanks for stopping by Robert. In regards to your question, no. I don’t think that God causing a disaster for good purposes is unjust. The flood would seem to be an example of that. Having said that, I don’t think he typically acts that way.

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