God: The Decider

Popular theologian and preacher John Piper, a Calvinistic Baptist, professes image of God that I call “The Decider.” Here’s Piper, playing defense for his genocidal deity:

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 I were to drop dead right now, or a suicide bomber downstairs were to blow this building up and I were blown into smithereens, God would have done me no wrong. He does no wrong to anybody when he takes their life, whether at 2 weeks or at age 92.

You had me at “It’s right for God to slaughter.”  Notice that Piper’s God does not simply allow every loss of life: each death results because God decides, wills, governs.  It’s all good and part of the plan because, hey, it’s God, and by definition the almighty can do no wrong.  God gives life, takes it away, and we should thank our lucky stars God for whatever time we’re blessed with.

Piper’s careful to say that God doesn’t just arbitrarily give us mortals the moral authority to kill people as we see fit; there are “times and seasons for when he shares his authority to take and give life.”  Nowadays is not the time for slaughtering men, women, children, and livestock because “the church today is not Israel, and we are not a political entity.”  Good to know.

In fairness to Piper, we should note what he’s not saying: the terrorist bomber has a divinely-stamped license to kill. But the terrorist may believe otherwise.  In either vision, God’s hands are busy pressing the detonator.  According to Piper, God takes life and does no wrong when the suicide bomber murders people.  God’s there, taking life in the human deed, but he’s blameless, without fault, ’cause he’s God and that’s how he rolls.

Biblical scholar Peter Enns has a helpful rundown of the scriptural problems with Piper’s God.   I find this image both horrible and fascinating, but I’m not surprised to see a pastor in the 21st century going full steam with this approach to God’s omnipotence.  Our history continues to be that of a blood-lustful species, even if we’ve made attempts to legitimize our violent impulses into forms acceptable to our modern sensibilities.  Piper’s image of God offends these, but it’s not exactly out of line with our nature.  Not that I believe in this image, mind you.  If this is God, you can call me an atheist.

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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24 Responses

  1. J.L. Wall says:

    Though there is something almost refreshing about the honesty of this type of theodicy (in Jewish circles, it tends to take the form of “diseased limb”/sins of secularism theories of the Holocaust). It’s easier, and, to a certain extent — Biblical passages notwithstanding — more coherent. How *do* we reconcile the God of the world we see around us with the God who lectures Jonah on the worthwhile lives of cattle?

    I tend to take the Book of Job as a reminder of our limitations when it comes to understanding/formulating any theodicy — and Jonah as a reminder that these human limitations don’t imply a God who doesn’t care. (Rather, a God who can only care, and care beyond, again, the limits of our understanding?)

    I’m with you, to an extend, on “If this is God, you can call me an atheist.” But that thought is always tempered by the realization that acknowledging the possibility of God is always to acknowledge the possibility of a God who is not the God in whom I would believe. “If you are not my people, then I am not your God” doesn’t signal disbelief with causal non-existence, but a God who is not the God of the Bible (or a people who are not deserving of a God?). In short, I can never fully condemn Milton’s Lucifer; I’m never fully certain whose side I would have taken in that rebellion.

    (On another note, I’m glad to see Enns critiquing the “Old Testament Vengeancy God” from within the OT. That scare-quoted over-simplification always irks me; it’s good to see someone making sure to point out that if you bother to read carefully, there’s frequently something much more interesting going on there.)

    • J.L. Wall says:

      “almost refreshing” — and, of course, repugnant at the same time, like water with the most toxic aftertaste the world has seen.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      But that thought is always tempered by the realization that acknowledging the possibility of God is always to acknowledge the possibility of a God who is not the God in whom I would believe.

      That’s very well put, J.L. Wall, and I agree.

    • I like how you put this very much, J.L.

      Perhaps this is God. It seems impossible to reconcile this God with the one who spoke through Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, but perhaps that disconnect is because of my limited human understanding. Perhaps.

      In which case, this God is one I am morally required to despise.

  2. Jaybird says:

    The problem of theodicy long has had people attempt to reconcile the triad by removing “evil exists”.

    It always strikes me as one that will be constantly reenforced by experience, though.

    (I’m not sure that getting rid of the other two won’t also get rid of this one, though… that said, this one is constantly reenforced by experience.)

    • Rod says:

      And if evil doesn’t actually exist, then what is it that we’re supposed to be struggling against? Doesn’t that lead to… I don’t know what exactly, I’m not a philosopher, but maybe nihilism?

      I grew up in a Calvinist denomination and the doctrine of pre-destinationism was the for me, the final straw. I was a young person with more than serious doubts, the story they were feeding me on Sunday just never seemed real to me. And then to hear that if I didn’t believe with all my heart and soul it was something that was pre-ordained from God, something beyond my personal control, but that I would be punished eternally in hell for that fact nonetheless?

      Eventually I just said, “Fish this crap.”

      • Jaybird says:

        There are worse things than nihilism.

        No, wait…

        Anyway, assuming that “meaning” is something like “Santa” at the end of Miracle on 34th Street, we can will it into existence if we just believe hard enough and get the government involved.

  3. Rod says:

    If this is God, you can call me an atheist.

    Well, there ya go. This is a big reason I’m an atheist.

    Because Piper’s version of God is totally coherent with scripture. What, in the final analysis, is the difference between an omnipotent God that causes these things to happen and an omnipotent God you merely allows them to happen?

    How can we distinguish a Universe in which God does exist from one in which he doesn’t?

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      To your first question, the classic answer would be that the second God respects freedom and the laws by which creation runs. At the risk of sounding incoherent, I would answer that we really don’t know what we mean when we use words like “God” and “omnipotence.” We tend to associate omnipotence with total power and control, meanings the word of course conveys. I suggest thinking of God’s omnipotence as a description of love more than of power.

      Regarding your second question, the classic answer would be “by faith.” O me of little faith: I don’t see that positing the existence of God explains much of anything that can be accepted without needing to posit God, so, at one level, I say we can’t make such a distinction. Those who believe in God interpret the world and its aspects differently, and we can distinguish between these and other interpretations, and in this sense distinguish between multiple worlds or universes. But, as said, to see the universe as created and governed by God requires faith.

      • An omnipotent God still cannot make the internal angles of a triangle add up to anything other than 180 degrees.

        • Boegiboe says:

          Bad example.

          On a related note, I gave a brief lecture on relativity a few weeks ago to a high school physics class. The idea was to show, as briefly as possible, that the value of pi for a circular orbit changes with altitude.

          God the decider doesn’t seem all that different from God the clockmaker except that God the decider feels more evil at first glance.

          • Jaybird says:

            “If I had the power to prevent a bad thing from happening to you, *I* would use that power!”

            There are days when this premise makes intuitive sense to me.

            There are days when it does not.

          • Oh, poo. You with your “knowledge” and “expertise” and “smarts.” Makes me want to burn a few books, it does.

          • Mike Schilling says:

            The idea was to show, as briefly as possible, that the value of pi for a circular orbit changes with altitude.

            Because of the Earth’s gravity? I would have expected that effect to be far too small to measure.

          • Pi is exactly three!

          • Boegiboe says:

            Nothing has more garbled my feelings on parental, and therefore God’s, love than becoming a parent and constantly feeling the tension between doing everything to make my daughter happy now and doing what she needs to know peace contentment in the future.

            It actually can be measured. That’s precisely why I was telling these high schoolers about it–so they’d understand that backing up all the weird thought experiments and strange mathematical concepts they would see is actual experiment.

            When choosing books to burn, start with Feynman’s lectures and all excerpts from them, including “Six Not-So-Easy Pieces,” which is what finally helped me understand the implications of gravity on geometry.

          • Jaybird says:

            Boegiboe, I’m always fascinated by the insights provided by children to parents on the nature of the universe.

            If you have an essay on how being a dad has changed your view of your relationship to God somewhere, I’d love to read it. Being an uncle hasn’t changed my atheism and I regret not knowing (and knowing I’ll never know) whether being a father would…

  4. NewDealer says:

    Liberal and Evangelical Christians really need to start studying the Talmud. They both seriously abuse the Old Testament. Interestingly both in the same ways; Jews use Talmud to mitigate if not outright disable the cruelty of Leviticus.

    Yes Leviticus does say for example that homosexual men should be put to death but to do so required that someone had knowledge of the act and gave them a warning that their act would result in the death penalty. Beyond that you needed 23 rabbis to agree to put the accused to death. In other words, it is basically impossible.


    Also I am reminded of something I heard on NPR after the huge tsunami in 2004. A Baptist minister said that God did plan it including that a four-year old died. The Rabbi’s response was something like “That is the most absurd thing I have ever heard….”

  5. Rodak says:

    And, just maybe, the Gnostics with their concept of the very imperfect, although very powerful, Demiurge, were suppressed because they were right, rather than because they were wrong?

  6. GordonHide says:

    I guess John Piper’s God is a better explanation of the reality we see around us. The more common sort of Christian God doesn’t seem to explain the “problem of evil” without some sort of doubletalk.

    Additionally, John Piper’s God fits better with a naturalistic view of morality. That is, a monotheistic God not being a member of any society does not need a moral code of conduct and may behave as he likes.

  7. CK MacLeod says:

    “If this is God, you can call me an atheist.”

    You’re an atheist. Since atheists today are all monotheists, this may not be too much of a problem for you, which may be a problem for you.

    “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”