Friday, August 21, 2009

God and the Whirlwind

A couple days ago, the ELCA denomination of the Lutherans voted to liberalize their stance on practicing homosexuals. Then a small tornado struck the place where they were meeting. After watching the storm from his Baptist church, Reverend Piper shared a few thoughts about it on his blog. I suspect this is one blog post he will end up wishing he'd not written. It's a shoddy hermeneutic he employs, and his conclusion that the whirlwind is a warning from God is a reading-into-Scripture that doesn't follow from his five premises. I really thought Piper was better than this.

This curious tornado touches down just south of downtown and follows 35W straight towards the city center. It crosses I94. It is now downtown.

The time: 2PM.

The first buildings on the downtown side of I94 are the Minneapolis Convention Center and Central Lutheran. The tornado severely damages the convention center roof, shreds the tents, breaks off the steeple of Central Lutheran, splits what’s left of the steeple in two...and then lifts.

Let me venture an interpretation of this Providence with some biblical warrant. ...

Read his entire post here.

Jenell Paris found a certain amount of silliness in the Piper post. Her take on the matter is a great example of how humor can be a better corrective than anger. And no, it doesn't descend into ridicule.

John Piper explains the biblical connection between the Minneapolis tornado and its target, the steeple of Central Lutheran Church where the ELCA was meeting to discuss homosexuality and church leadership. His conclusion? “The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin.”

Wow. Today the weather in Grantham, PA is “82 degrees, feels like 88.” The humidity is 73%. God is speaking to us, too, and I believe I have been chosen to interpret today’s weather for everyone else in Grantham, and perhaps even Mechanicsburg, our surrounding suburb. My spirit is unclear regarding Camp Hill or the city of Harrisburg, so I don’t think the prophecy extends that far.

Read the rest of her post here.

There was yet another preacher who weighed in on the matter. He said that God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Had he been asked about tornados, I think he would have included those, too.
Illustration: William Blake, "The Whirlwind: Ezekiel's Vision," 1803


  1. Arnold,

    I get the point here, but I see things a little differently. It seems like people want things to be consistently one way or the other. Either EVERY weather incident is a specific message from God, or NO weather incident is ever a specific message from God. What if God simply and freely uses the weather in every instance to accomplish His Own purposes? What if He occasionally sends a lightning bolt (or a tornado) to make a point? It doesn't mean EVERYTHING is equally significant and used for the same kind of purpose. After all, these Lutherans have His Word and are ignoring it, so He may have decided to send them a different form of communication to get their attention. Remember Jonah and the storm God sent to him? It's a very similar situation. The ELCA is running from God and His commands. Who knows, a flood may come next - complete with a rather large fish to EAT the building! (I'm just being silly now). But this is serious stuff. God commands the ELCA to repent of their wishy washy compromise. My family has deep roots in this denomination, so I speak from a certain amount of experience.


  2. Hi Derek -

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Let me start by saying that if a fish eats the ELCAs, I'll believe anything John Piper wants to say about it!

    Short of that, though, I find his article/interpretation frustrating, because it draws a conclusion that can be neither proven nor disproven. What compounds the frustration is that there is no shortage of counter-examples one could raise to show sincere God followers who are struck by tragedy and intent God-haters who receive nothing but health and good times.

    I fear that Piper's way of using Scripture in this case can lead to a prosperity Gospel (though I'm confident Piper finds the prosperity Gospel properly repulsive). A tornado comes to the ELCA, so God must be warning them to mend their evil ways. But when a tornado wipes out a Baptist college, as it did a couple years(?) ago, must we take that also as a sign that God wasn't pleased with something going on there? And if the Baptist destruction wasn't a sign of God's displeasure, how can we say that the ELCA tornado was?

    If God wants to use natural disaster to show his warning to a particular person or group of people, who am I to stand in His way? But there's so much "noise" in weather phenomena and whom they affect that I find it risky for anyone except the intended party to say what a phenomenon was intended to communicate - and even the recipient can misinterpret, especially those who operate out of works-based righteousness.

    On the other hand, Scripture is plenty clear about the subjects that matter, including the ones that came before the ELCA. They have Moses and the prophets. If they won't listen to them, why should we expect they would listen even if someone were to rise from the dead...or come down in a tornado?

  3. Okay, you're right. Piper was probably speaking out of turn, taking advantage of the opportunity. It was probably too tempting to pass up. But I don't want to have a knee-jerk reaction of saying God never sends weather to make a point. Your idea that the recipient is the best interpreter may be the best approach that keeps balance. But as you noted, even the recipient can misinterpret.

    Of course, there are tons of Old Testament examples of God giving or withholding particular weather patterns for various reasons (Elijah's 3.5 year drought, the plagues on Egypt, the sun standing still for a day, Hezekiah's shadow-sign in the stairwell, Gideon's fleece - God even let Satan send a whirlwind to kill Job's children!). But these were certainly supernatural events and not the norm. They weren't run of the mill weather phenomena. And I can't think of many New Testament examples, unless we take the entire book of Revelation as a proof text. And God did use some weather to shipwreck Paul in the book of Acts. In fact the more I think about it, the more complicated this subject becomes, so we should probably determine to stay in that cautious balance you're recommending. We don't have a theocracy or a covenant that includes rain and crops (or their lack) as part of the deal. In fact, we're promised the opposite: rain on the just and the unjust. That's the norm.

    I guess it just reminds us that for all his brilliance Piper still has feet of clay like the rest of us. That's actually comforting.