As New York City deals with the COVID-19 pandemic John Piper has a message for the Big Apple. Again, as always Piper reveals as to how he is a miserable comforter. This time its New York City that gets the “good news.” The message is God is sovereign and yes, he strikes people down in sin. Or in other words God is a tyrant and people are nothing but puppets on a string to appease a narcissistic bully. Don’t you just find that comforting?
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32 ESV
New York City’s COVID-19 pandemic started to take off in early March of 2020. In the medical crisis the situation exploded with its highest day being April 14, 2020 with 11,571 infections. The situation overwhelmed the health care system in New York City. In New York City up until May 23, 2020 there are 196,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and 16,149 people have died. The dead have been a challenge for a funeral homes, with a suggestion at one point of even turning one of the parks into temporary mass graves. While this is all going on you also have the economic situation from a city in lock down. New York City has experienced its highest jobless rate since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Against all this pandemic, death, medical crisis, unemployment and stress John Piper has a message for New York City. Its a message that many should find very comforting and reassuring (NOT!) from one of the key leaders of the New Calvinist movement in the United States
Coronavirus and Christ
From my research it appears as that when John Piper had a trip canceled to Asia he used the time to write a book. Plus this is also the first time he recorded the audio book. The book John Piper wrote is called, “Coronavirus and Christ.” The 112 page book comes from two burdens that John Piper had. The first one is that Piper wanted to create a “Bible saturated, God centered, Christ exhaulting rock a solid place to stand during ” the COVID-19 pandemic. The second part is calling the world and the church to repentance. The book itself is broken down into two sections and first asks who is this God who rules over the coronavirus? The second section asks what is God doing through the coronavirus? Piper claims that this is a book about reality and not foolish, sentimental substitutes.
In the book in Chapter seven Piper said that the coronavirus is God’s judgement on people. “Some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions,” writes Piper in a chapter as one of six answers to the question “What is God doing through the coronavirus?” He cites as a past example of divine judgment “the sin of homosexual intercourse” discussed in the New Testament Book of Romans. In the book John Piper draws from his past experience of cancer. He did an interview with Collin Hanson over at The Gospel Coalition which you can listen to here. In that interview Piper talks about God’s sovereignty and the plans God has for the coronavirus and the purpose of it as well. This is part of the transcript:
John Piper: The key is this, knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the virus and doesn’t is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it. That’s the key. In other words, if I give up sovereignty to protect his goodness, I lose the very power that enables him to work all things together for my good. That’s my first approach to reconciliation, is to say sovereignty, while it creates problems, on one hand, is the solution in that very problem on the other hand. But here’s the other one and I think this is really more important, and that is to realize for our sakes, for our children, I think for anybody that would listen, that God’s sovereignty is purposeful. Since it’s purposeful and he’s good and wise, his purposes are always good, even if you can’t see all of them.
John Piper: I mentioned in the book that God has billions of purposes in this. There’s 7 billion people being affected by this one way or the other, and He’s got 10 purposes for each of them, at least. Whatever that number is, 10 times 7 billion. I know, you know, 0.00001 percent of what he’s doing and only know it because what’s the Bible is true. I go to the Bible and I look at the story of Joseph sold into slavery. And at the end, you see God meant it for good, those brothers meant it for evil. That’s the sentence I write over the fall.
John Piper: Satan mean it for evil, God meant it for good. I write it over the crucifixion, Satan, meant it for evil. Judas, meant it for evil. God meant it for good. I write it over Ruth, I write it over Esther, I write it over Romans 8:32. It says, “God’s going to give us all things.” Then one of them is we’re being killed all day long and yet we’re more than conquerors. I think the answer is that our friends, the goodness of God and the sovereignty of God are not at odds. The key answer is his purposefulness in all of his painful providences are good.
John Piper also addresses those who quote the Tower of Siloam. This is what he says.
John Piper: In Luke 13, he’s confronted with, “What about the people on whom the Tower of Siloam fell?” He looks them right in the eye and says, “You’re astonished that that tower fell upon them? It’s not about them, it’s about you. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” I think that is Jesus’s way of saying whenever you begin to speculate about what other people, how they had sinned, when something horrible happens to them, you should pause and realize, “No, horrible things are in the world to cause you to repent.” It’s a summons to repent and I don’t think it would be at all a stretch to say that applies to this moment. I think God is summoning the world to repent and realign their lives with the infinite worth of Jesus.
John Piper and God’s Sovereignty
In addition to Coronavirus and Christ which was published early in 2020, on May 20, 2020 John Piper did a podcast at Desiring God in “Ask Pastor John.” In the podcast Piper stresses the issue of God’s sovereignty. God is sovereign over every detail, every molecule, virus, teste fly and more. The podcast is from when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in 2012. But its clear that the teaching here applies to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are all the work of God and doing his will. Look at what Piper says in the following transcript:
And lest you think that’s trifling, try this. This is Jesus talking. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” In other words, they are utterly insignificant. “And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29–30). The role of the dice in Vegas — every one of them — or in your board game at home, and the tiny birds dying in a thousand forests, are governed by God. That’s Jesus’s way and Proverbs’s way of saying there aren’t any details too small for his control. That’s his way of saying it. If he were here today, he’d talk in terms of molecules. He’d say with R.C. Sproul, “There’s not one maverick molecule in the universe.” From worms in the ground to stars in the galaxy, God governs.
Take the book of Jonah. You’ve got a very big fish, and the Bible says that he commanded this fish to swallow Jonah, and the fish obeyed (Jonah 1:17). So, fish do God’s bidding. If he tells them to do this, they do it. And he commanded a plant to grow up to give Jonah some shade (Jonah 4:6). “Plant, grow up.” It obeyed. Plants do the bidding of God. Then he commanded a worm to kill the plant, to make Jonah hot, and to scold him for his bad attitude about Nineveh (Jonah 4:7). So, the worm obeyed.
I take this totally seriously. Bacteria, tsetse flies, murderous viruses do God’s bidding. They’re not free, any more than the worm or the whale or the plant just happened to grow up. God sees everything, and if anything is about to happen that he doesn’t want to happen, he just says, “Stop,” and it obeys. And if it didn’t stop, he didn’t tell it to stop, which means he’s got a plan for it. Or the stars:
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26)
Why are stars where they are, doing what they do? He is mighty in power. That’s why. I’m totally not a naturalist. I see fingers of God in the atom and in the galaxies, all the time, every millisecond of history — controlling everything.
And what message would John Piper have for New York City right now? What would John Piper say if he could stand in Battery Park or Times Square or Grand Central Station? He’d preach of God’s sovereignty and his will. This is supposed to bring people comfort in this difficult season.
There is no wind, there is no storm, there is no hurricane, there is no cyclone, there is no typhoon, there is no monsoon, there is no tornado over which Jesus cannot say, “Be still,” without getting off his throne, and it will obey him. And if it blows, he intends it to blow, and he has purposes for it that are better than avoiding it.
That’s what I’d preach if I were in the middle of New York right now, with the long, six-hour lines at the gas stations and 98-plus people dead and new bodies being found everywhere. I wouldn’t preach, “My God is helpless.” I would not. I would not take away the hope of these people by saying, “You don’t have a God who can help you, because he’s just too weak to stop a storm.” How could he control the storms of your life? How could he help you at all if he can’t speak what Jesus spoke? I wouldn’t preach that way. I don’t preach that way.
Why John Piper Would be a Miserable Comforter and Again Why I Could Not be Calvinist
Before I get started writing a response this blog has written a number of articles about John Piper. You can access them below as they deal with different topics.
- “The Little Red Book…of John Piper?” deals with the issue of when celebrity pastors become personality cults.
- “John Piper and Guns: How the Celebrity Pastor Movement is Crippling People’s Faith” deals with John Piper entering the debate of whether of not Christians should arm themselves with guns. The article is about how celebrity pastors stunt Christian growth in that they accept what they are told and don’t wrestle with difficult topics themselves.
- “How can John Piper be Correct on Donald Trump Being UnQualified for the Presidency, and Yet Believe C.J. Mahaney is Fit to Lead?” When Donald Trump was inaugurated as President 45 John Piper published an article in which he explained why Trump is not qualified to be President. While I agreed with him he did this while simultaneously supporting C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries who was allegedly involved with the cover up of child sex abuse. Why the double standard?
- “My Mother’s Pancreatic Cancer, John Piper and Me” This is the story of my Mom’s pancreatic cancer and how her brainwashed son (me) gave her John Piper’s pamphlet telling her that her cancer was a gift from God. My Mom rightfully called me out on it later on.
- “John Piper on When God Loves You Enough to Take Your Life. According to John is a Brain Tumor a Sign of God Disciplining Someone?” This deals with an interview Piper gave in which he states that God discipline someone with death. That is how God can love you, in that he can strike you down.
John Piper would be the most miserable comforter that exists in evangelicalism. John Piper’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is classic fundamentalism in my view and its highly flawed. It guilts, burdens, and enslaves people in misery. If you read both articles or listen to them you will notice that in John Piper’s world his definition of sovereignty includes no mention of God’s love. So what is created? A theological Joseph Stalin who is a tyrant who crushes and is brutal. The God John Piper worships is a narcissistic bully who takes pleasure in peoples suffering. The God that John Piper believes in has created a world in which everyone is a puppet on a string. There is no free will. There is no sympathy or mourning allowed. To do so would question God’s sovereignty as John Piper defines it.
There is another aspect that I find horrifying as well. God can strike people down at will. That is according to what John Piper teaches of God’s sovereignty. That would apply not only to COVID-19 but also to AIDS and other diseases as well. That would also imply that AIDS is punishment on God for the gay man who picks up the virus from hooking up with someone he met in a gay club. But is that always the case? Is every AIDS infection God’s punishment? What was Ryan White punished for? Ryan White was an American teenager who contracted HIV in the 1980’s from a blood transfusion and died of AIDS at 18 in Indiana. What was God punishing Ryan White for? What about a bi-sexual man who cheats on his wife who contracts HIV and then passes it on to her through sex? If the wife contracts HIV and has been faithful what is God punishing that person for? And yes I heard a story like that in college physical health class. This is the problem with fundamentalism its too black and white and as we know life is not black and white at all.
And keep in mind for John Piper all of this is the good news. Yes New York City was hit by a massive pandemic. Yes people are dying in the ICU’s. Yes the mass grave at Hart Island is growing fast but people in New York City should smile, relax and be comforted that the God who strikes people down is the one who is sovereign. Since God is working through this pandemic he is all the one who let it go forth. Maybe it was just a bad day for God and in his anger or contempt he wanted to smite people in civilization. All of this explains why I could never be a Calvinist. To be a Calvinist is to believe in a God who is a monster. And the biggest flaw with this kind of theology is that Calvinism makes the problem of evil worse. I used what John Piper said about the Sandy Hook shooting to make my point. You can read that in, “How Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism Make the Problem of Evil Worse: John Piper, Adam Lanza and a Massacre in Connecticut.”
So I guess in a perverse way with the sovereignty that John Piper defines then those who seek medical treatment in New York City would be committing a sin. After all if this pandemic is God’s will than the doctors and nurses are sinning against God in treating people. The ones honoring God the most are the funeral home directors and those who are burying people in mass graves at Hart Island. This is John Piper’s world and that is the Gospel according to John Piper. New York City, you are better than that. Neo-Calvinists you are too.