Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
Now, perhaps I am just coming from a different place theologically than Piper (actually, I know I am), but I find the notions that God "designs" people's cancer and that cancer is a "gift from God" to be offensive. What is more, I find that Piper's proof-texting of Scripture to be troubling. In the book of Job, God does allow "the adversary" (הַשָּׂטָ֖ן, hasatan) to inflict Job, and his so-called friends did see his suffering as from the hands of God and due to his own sin. But, in the same way it is fallaciouss [sic] to see all suffering as the result of sin, so it is not the point of the book of Job to then attribute all suffering to the direct agency of God. Similarly, his series of proof-texts for his second point are perhaps relevant to part of his point that cancer is not a "curse." But saying that cancer is not a "curse" is not the same as saying it is a gift.
Williams goes on to say, "Perhaps I am wrong, or at least biased by my own personal experiences. Whether or not you agree with my perspective (which I would readily admit I have not developed in any detail in this post), one thing we can all agree on is that we should pray."
I think a few things need to be said about Williams' article.
- Williams clearly is speaking out of his own existential view of God. He states this explicitly twice in his article. Thus, when he calls Piper's use of Scripture proof-texting, he does so rather ironically, offering very little exegesis of the text, yet seemingly demanding that Piper do so himself, lest he be prooftexting.
- He offers no definition of proof-texting. Should we conclude that everyone knows what this means? From the context, it appears that Williams definition is simply, "using the text to defend one's argument." While I admit that I do know what proof-texting is, I don't think that is at all what Piper is doing. Had he done so, he would merely have quoted or referenced the text, not offered a brief, but substantial exegetical note.
- Williams seems to suggest that Piper is speaking "off the cuff" here, or rather, that Piper is presenting a view that he desires not to try to defend. However, that anyone familiar with John Piper knows that his intention here was merely to point the reader toward Scriptures he has previously thoroughly exegeted. Williams could have done a little research and found that Dr. Piper has numerous articles on his website about suffering and the sovereignty of God, as well as an entire sermon series on Job, in which he further exegetes this passage to which he refers.
- Williams offers no counter position other than his own experience and a Hebrew "lessonette" that does little to truly contradict Piper's "proof-texting." Williams himself admits that he has not explained his own position in any detail and that at best his offering was based on his own personal experiences.
So why do I feel the need to make these particular points about Williams article? It is simply because Rhett Smith makes the absurd comment that while he has seen blogs this week which have articles posted that both agree and disagree with Piper on God's role in cancer (and suffering in general), this is "the best post that [he has] seen on this issue this week." He has got to be kidding -- really! Now, while I agree that Williams ending paragraph is wonderful (he closes by calling for everyone to pray for Dr. Piper and to contribute to various cancer-fighting agencies), I think that Smith's judgment is impaired by his own personal theology, which is what I think is the problem with all those who espouse positions consistent with Open Theism. Though I don't have the time today to discuss open theism, I hope to have an article up on this movement, its implications, and resources you can obtain regarding it either tonight or by Sunday. Suffice to say, I believe open theism is a deadly theology that robs God of His sovereignty in order to give man what he most desires -- libertarian free will (hence, his rebellion at the Fall that continues today), something that Adam gave up at the Fall and we have never possessed because of his act (now, before you get all hyped up, notice the word "libertarian" as opposed to simple "free will" -- here is a brief article that is helpful in delineating between the two). Our wills are now in bondage to sin, only to be freed by the grace of God though the death of Christ.
I fear that Rhett Smith and others like he and Tyler Williams are hijacking classical Christianity in hopes of not being offended by God, and keeping others from being offended by Him as well and all this without laying out much more of a defense than one's own experience and feelings). God has never desired that we defend Him in regards to His own culpability for man's suffering. In Isaiah 53:10 (an undoubtedly Messianic passage), the prophet clearly states, "But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand" (NAS). And Luke records these words from the early disciples in Acts 4:25ff: "Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'- 27 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 peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." Both Isaiah and the early disciples are unconcerned about whether they, Jesus, or others are offended that the Father would have brought about the death of His own Son. They are only worried about one thing -- communicating the truth they find in the Scriptures and revealed to them through the Holy Spirit. Friends, if Christ could endure suffering as a righteous man, by the Hand of God, shouldn't we be able to accept the discipline that comes from that same loving Hand (Hebrews 12:4-14), knowing that it is indeed for our good, as Dr. Piper has pointed out?