Don’t blame the rapist — the rape was God’s idea, after all


In this enlightening video clip, famous preacher and author John Piper explicitly describes the inescapable conclusion of the Reformed doctrine of sovereignty: God has predetermined every sin.

After watching the video clip, consider this: in Reformed theology, a rapist will experience conscious, eternal torment unless he repents of his sins, and yet God chose the rapist to be an agent for the rape; therefore, the rapist had to rape because God predetermined it; and furthermore, God may have chosen (back before the first human being became conscious) to damn the rapist. (Better yet, the rapist is due for the same punishment as an average American middle-class Joe who never commits a crime, but that’s another matter.)

So, rapist, repent from what God forced you to do according to his perfect will, or, repent from being an agent for God’s perfect will. Oh, and it’s still the rapist’s fault, not the fault of the almighty, all-powerful sovereign God of the universe, who made the rapist rape.

You have to be angry at sin and God’s will at the same time.

Have you ever seen a horror movie in which the evil creep forces someone to do something despicable?

Of course this view of sovereignty doesn’t make sense. The ultimate end of Reformed views of sovereignty is to ask us to believe in a God who created goodness while also having a completely different definition of goodness — a definition that has not the slightest bit of analogy to our definition.

Can we even understand Christ’s sacrifice without analogies? Many people understand a soldier sacrificing himself for others during a battle, or a mother sacrificing herself for her children. Some people have described Christ’s sacrifice as a judge issuing a sentence on me and then taking the punishment himself.

(To declare the analogy imperfect doesn’t matter — the analogy is being used to communicate what is said to be the most important message, ever.)

If not the slightest analogy exists between our understanding and God’s understanding, the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture has to go because language itself becomes moot — and mute. Without some semblance of analogy, no bridge between our minds and God’s mind can exist.

Elsewhere, Piper has made a plea for us not to let our minds build “implications” too far out from Biblical teachings, a softened version of other statements he has made.

But biblical interpretation itself is the building of implications. That’s not hard to figure out. Why did Piper say that about “implications”? Why do people listen to him? It must be an ideological thing, like, as long as you’re against taxes, you’ll have the favor of Republicans, or as long as you’re pro-choice, you’ll have the favor of Hollywood, never mind the reasoning behind your position or your other positions.

And when an interpretation or implication nauseates our moral consciences, we ought to be able to say it’s a wrong interpretation or implication.

(This remains confusing to me: the Reformed folks, and many others, demand that we systematize the Bible’s teachings, and then they pull back at convenient moments and declare “mystery.” They specialize in rationalistic interpretations of Scripture while Scripture itself has for too many textual variations and outright contradictions to stand in a strictly rationalistic manner. To say the Scripture should be seen as poetic truth would probably be misunderstood because people today have too low of a view of poetry, similar to the degradation of the word “myth,” which was enormously valuable to C.S. Lewis.)

Of course, Piper’s view isn’t the only available view. In his book The Beauty of the Infinite, Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart writes, “At a critical moment in cultural history — not that there were not various fateful moves in the history of Western theology that led to it — many Christian thinkers somehow forgot that the incarnation of the Logos, the infinite ratio of all that is, reconciles us not only to God, but to the world, by giving us back a knowledge of creation’s goodness, allowing us to see again its essential transparency — even to the point, in Christ, of identity — before God. The covenant of light was broken. God became, progressively, the world’s infinite contrary. And this state of theological decline was so precipitous and complete that it even became possible for someone as formidably intelligent as Calvin, without any apparent embarrassment, to regard the fairly lurid portrait of the omnipotent despot of book III of his Institutes – who not only ordains the destiny of souls, but in fact predestines the first sin, and so brings the whole drama of creation and redemption to pass (including the eternal perdition of the vast majority of humanity) as a display of his own dread sovereignty — as a proper depiction of the Christian God. One ancient Augustinian misreading of Paul’s ruminations upon the mystery of election had, at last, eventuated fatalism.”

In Piper’s mind and in many evangelical and Reformed minds, God is “the world’s infinite contrary,” to the point where not the slightest semblance of analogy exists between our use of “good” and God’s “good.” Rape is bad for us, but good for God.

My church, full of feeling, does not think of these things, and offers Piper’s books, and quotes Piper in its materials. Which is worse — the belief that rape is good for God, or the insanely liberal theology of a denomination’s national church? Please tell me this is a false dilemma.

7 responses to “Don’t blame the rapist — the rape was God’s idea, after all

  1. usama al-taher

    So what would be your understanding of the 3 examples from scripture piper gives?

    Would especially like your take on how piper encourages people who are wrestling with God’s sovereignty to center there thinking on the cross.

  2. I don’t understand those 3 examples from Scripture. However, we could line up dozens of contradictions if we took a grammatical-literal reading of one verse and set it beside another verse. I think Hart offers a possible starting point: “One ancient Augustinian misreading of Paul’s ruminations upon the mystery of election had, at last, eventuated fatalism.” Beyond that, I think mystery might just really be mystery.

    Anyone can center their thinking on the cross without believing God (a) creates a person out of nothing, (b) forces him to sin, and (c) punishes him eternally for doing what he was forced to do. Oddly enough, by encouraging his listeners to focus on the cross and work out as much as their minds can from there, Piper is encouraging them to think it through until they can’t and then to accept mystery.

  3. doulos tou Theou

    So, are you saying the Bible doesn’t show the sovereignty of God?
    Is it the conclusions, that Piper’s explanation, take you too that are the problem?

    You don’t see Peter’s sermon & his speech in Acts 2 & 4 as explaining/ making the mystery of the cross understandable?

    thanks

  4. Sami, the Bible says tons about God’s sovereignty. The Bible covers Lutheran sovereignty and Calvinistic sovereignty and Arminian sovereignty and Roman Catholic sovereignty and Eastern Orthodox sovereignty and more — one could never exhaust the topic! We could spend eternity defining “sovereignty.”

    I didn’t say anything about the mystery of the cross. I referred to God’s predetermination of sins and verses related such as “the dice is thrown in the lap but its every outcome is from the Lord.” There’s plenty we don’t know about God and about the way everything is arranged — mystery.

  5. doulos tou Theou

    Ok.

    From what I heard in the video when Piper seems to be talking about God’s predetermination of sin, Piper looks to the cross & what’s the N.T. take on what’s happening there. He specifically looks at Acts 4 & comments on Peter talking about the Crucifixion. Piper then talked about that being the most heinous sin ever committed and God was in control. He then looked at Acts 2 to show that even as God “planned” the sin that those Peter mentions, it doesn’t excuse their sin.

    I’m with you on there being plenty of mystery in the Bible. I also think there are plenty of things that are made known by the Holy Spirit revealing the written word to people.

    thanks,

    ps In a lot of your posts when you talk about reformed theology you’ve never defined what it is. I was wondering if in your words you could define it as you’ve see/heard it presented to you.

  6. The opening question to Piper was whether God is in control of everything, even our sins. Piper immediately responds, “Yes.” Then he extends that response in both physics (dust motes) and morality (sins in God’s plan).

    However, I don’t think God’s plan in Acts 2 indicates that He predetermines all sins.

    “Reformed theology” was too broad, because I have experienced some wonderful Dutch Reformed writers, so I shouldn’t use the phrase.

    I know, historically, about sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola gratia. I also know “justification by faith” is a good summary of the Reformation.

    However, those aren’t the only concepts put forward by Reformed writers, and those aren’t the only concepts that influence Reformed people mentally, emotionally, and socially on a daily basis.

    I would say the Reformed theology to which I refer is most present and influential in the U.S. and the U.K., and it presents a God “who not only ordains the destiny of souls, but in fact predestines the first sin, and so brings the whole drama of creation and redemption to pass (including the eternal perdition of the vast majority of humanity) as a display of his own dread sovereignty” (Hart).

    Of course you can see this in two ways. Positively, you can rejoice in your own election. Negatively, you can turn to other human beings who aren’t elect and say, “Sucks to be you. God chose to damn you before the foundations of the earth.”

    Regarding the Bible, I think the majority thrust of U.S. and U.K. Reformed theology believes, with John Owen and with 17th century Protestantism, that even the punctuation of Scripture was directly, mechanically produced by God pushing the hands the Biblical authors (see “C.S. Lewis on Scripture,” by Michael J. Christensen). Owen likened the Biblical authors to mere ink pens and God to the author using the ink pens. So the Biblical authors were, in the moments of writing biblical texts, like mindless channels for God’s purposes. (As I’ve argued elsewhere, that doesn’t stand to reason.)

    But if the Biblical authors were like mindless channels, or puppets, for God’s writing, then why wouldn’t everything else and everyone else just be God’s puppets? Then you have to ask, why require repentance of someone you aren’t going to puppeteer to repent? Why hold accountable those who had no choice? Place a stone in your son’s hand, force his forearm forward, watch the stone go through your neighbor’s windshield, then punish your son for breaking your neighbor’s windshield.

    All these things, to my way of thinking, are threads within the same piece of cloth.

    Did God need any non-elect person who was born today? No. God is completely self-sustaining and independent of any human. But at least within a certain point of view, now that the non-elect person was born, he gets to suffer forever. So you have to wonder, within a certain point of view, why God allows the human race to go on? Because He likes horror movies, reality-style? He doesn’t need the elect. He’s self-sustaining and independent. He doesn’t need the non-elect. But, within a certain point of view, he keeps bringing people into existence already knowing they will suffer conscious eternal torment. I cannot conceive of this as being “good,” which is why I originally brought up the matter of analogy.

  7. An additional piece of a definition of Reformed theology, in this case as it is lived-out in the U.S. and the U.K.:

    As Thomas Howard writes: “…a sacramentalist is one who believes that the points at which eternity touches time are physical points: Creation; Noah’s Ark; Moses’ tabernacle; the Incarnation, entailing as it does a uterine wall, a gestation, a parturition, a circumcision, water turned to wine, a scourge, thorns, splinters, nails, a corpse, a body up from its tomb, a taking of that body into the eternal Trinity, and a Church made up of us mortals. This outlook is characteristic of Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Orthodoxy: Protestantism tends toward the disembodied, focusing rather on the great abstractions of divine sovereignty, grace, atonement, justification, and worship that shun as much as possible the physical and that focus on the cerebral. Hence the centrality of the sermon in Protestant worship.”