A Critique of John Piper’s Theodicy: “Is God Morally Color-Blind?” Part 2

If anyone has read the works of John Piper, Jonathan Edwards or any mainstream Calvinist you know that they are committed to the view that God’s sovereignty means God has exhaustively decreed every act of men (and demons), such that nothing has occurred that God did not first conceive of, determine and render certain through an irresistible decree. This would entail both good and evil (See here if that is news to you.) Moreover they are committed to the view that God’s decrees are always right and good and thus God’s decrees can do no wrong because all things are decreed in order to cause the goodness and glory of God to shine more brightly.

Given that John Piper is currently recognized to be Calvinism’s most notable proponent of this view I’m going to call it: “Piper’s Theodicy.”  That being said let’s breakdown Piper’s Theodicy in the form of a deductive syllogism for greater clarity.

1)   Every decision of every person and every act throughout world history is the effect in time of what God specifically and determinatively decreed in eternity past in order to manifest his glorious goodness.

2)   God can never do wrong or evil against anyone through any of his decrees because He is good.

3)   Therefore, everything that God decrees is right and good from his perspective.

Before we begin dissecting the incomprehensible horror and moral bankruptcy of Piper’s Theodicy, let’s first imagine a scenario in which the whole world of humanity was color-blind to red. What we perceive to be red and call red is actually interpreted as another shade of green in our minds—but we don’t know it. We assume we are rightly discerning the color red but in reality it is being misinterpreted as a lighter shade of green. The question that naturally arises is, if everyone perceives the same shade of green to be red, how do we know it’s actually not the color red we are seeing? Another way to put it would be, if the whole world is color-blind to red then whose perception or observation transcends our color spectrum to tell us our observation of red is mistaken and deficient?

Enter God. God informs us that what we have long considered to be red in our perception isn’t correspondent with true red, but instead has been misinterpreted. In actuality what we thought was red was simply another shade of green that the whole world has subjectively labeled as red as a contrast to other colors—including the darker hue of green we traditionally thought of as green.

And of course who can argue with God? Therefore we would all have to concede that we don’t actually know what the color red looks like. All our reference points for shades of red are actually being misinterpreted in our minds as shades of green. This would naturally entail that the color red never truly existed in our experiential understanding of the world because everything we perceived to be red was being misinterpreted as a shade of green.

This simple illustration is somewhat analogous to where Piper’s Theodicy would lead us in terms of qualifying good and evil in objective categories. Whether he admits it or not, Piper is saying that what you morally perceived to be shades of evil (red) on this earth were actually shades of good (green) all along, in virtue of the fact that God has decreed all events as good and purposeful puzzle-pieces that find their rightful place in his grand masterpiece of self-aggrandizing glory. But that would mean that from God’s perspective (the only one that really counts) there has never truly been an act of pure, moral evil done against anyone—just shades of good that were serving God’s good decrees. Any act of moral evil that one can call to mind and put forward as an example must necessarily be subsumed under the exhaustive category of “all things” that Piper insists God sovereignly intended and decreed for the good of his glory.

Thus unbeknownst to us there has never been an actual contrast of good because what we thought was a contrast to good—evil—was just a construct of our minds born out of a subjective dislike of certain events stemming from our failure to envision how they fit into God’s meticulously constructed, cosmic self-portrait—which of course must be good because God is good. Therefore the only way something can truly be rendered evil is if some “bad” event occurred in the universe that God did not decree—but that’s just silly nonsense for a Calvinist to consider because they insist it’s literally impossible that anything in this universe could have occurred independent of God’s prior conception, intention and origin of decree! Consequently there is nothing in this universe that could truly be said to be objectively evil.

Does this all sound radically bogus? That would be because it is. But is it a bogus mischaracterization of Piper’s, Calvinistic logic? Not in the least. It fits it like a glove—foul smelling and rank though it may be.

But it gets worse. Given Piper’s theo-logical analysis of God’s sovereignty, it must be asked as to whether or not God himself is morally “color-blind?” Does the “red hue” of evil even exist for God? Can God render or judge anything as being objectively evil from his perspective, or are all such alleged, evil events merely shades of good within his own perception?

Assuming the logic of Piper’s Theodicy it is hard to see why this would not be so. For if God’s decrees “can do no wrong” to anyone, then it follows they can only do right to people.

And if everything that occurs in the world was meticulously and purposefully decreed by God, not for evil ends, but to serve and fulfill his glorious, good ends—then it logically follows that everything that happened in our world was actually overridingly good! Evil never really existed! (Nor can it exist in the Calvinist scheme, as we will see).

From our limited, fallible vantage point some occurrences may be perceived as being wrong and evil, but from God’s vantage point it is not wrong or evil—just shades of good serving his good ends. Moreover nothing can really be said to be unfortunate or tragic—because it’s all been conceived of and purposed by God! Thus in the grand scheme of things all things are fortunate. All things are intended. All things are good. All things are right. All things are purposeful. All things are decreed to serve the good of God’s glory.

In Piper’s worldview we are slaves of God’s glory—our value consists in nothing else. We exist only as objects to be manipulated and used as pieces fitted together to gloriously display the cosmic, divine will—nothing else really matters.

Now perhaps you are a Piper disciple and you can’t possibly imagine that Piper’s Theodicy requires the above conclusion; but it’s really not all that difficult to see.  For if:

1) Every desire, choice and action of men and woman have their ultimate, conceptual origin and intentionality in the decretive will of God as Piper insists,

2 ) And if God never does evil or wrong in decreeing anything, and thus can only decree that which is good,

3) Then it logically follows that evil itself is simply an illusionary perception in our minds from not “having all the facts” as to how God purposed everything for the good of his glory.

Accordingly evil, as an objective moral category in the universe, simply disappears! It literally does not exist. If it did—what would be an example? Did divine goodness conceive of it, intend it and decree it? If so, then how is it evil in any ontological sense from God’s perspective?

Piper essentially admits this when he astonishingly parrots Edwards who first explained:

“God doesn’t will sin as sin or for the sake of anything evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things, that he permitting, sin will come to pass; for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence.” [1]

So there you have it. God’s universal decrees of sin are divested of their sinfulness because God doesn’t “will sin as sin.” Apparently these divinely decreed actions and events for sin and evil to “come to pass for the sake of the great good” only take on an aura of sinfulness and evil when their predetermined emergence along the stream of human history arrives and they suddenly “pop” into being via the wills of individuals determined to commit them. The key point not to be missed is that when God decreed each and every sin, it was not “sin as sin” but rather a neutered means to an end. The end of course being God’s glory… or at least Piper’s bizarre and twisted notion of God’s glory.

As alluded to earlier, Piper’s persuasion results in evil becoming just a construct in our minds we have created to protest against what we perceive to be undesirable events. Little do we know that all events—including rape, murder, child abuse, adultery, abortion and pornography—are actually good.

Why?

Because the same God that Piper’s Theodicy insists decreed who will be victimized and raped and who will grow up to be the perpetrating rapist, is the same good God that cannot “will sin as sin” and can “do no wrong against anyone” through any of his decrees. [2]

So given Piper’s theo-logic it follows inescapably that from God’s perspective all alleged evils of this world are ontologically grounded in the good of God’s decrees—thus ultimately rendering them good and absolving them of evil. In Piper’s construct not only does evil not exist—it can’t exist!

It has already been stated, but it bears repeating. If Piper were to disagree with the aforementioned conclusion, then it must be asked of him, what is an example of an act of pure evil?

No matter what he comes up with, Piper is forced to concede that such an act of evil was not just conceived by divine goodness, but was determinatively rendered certain through an irresistible decree of God for the good of his glory.

Piper would agree that God is the paradigm of all good. God is divine goodness. But if all evil is decreed by divine goodness for the sake of divine goodness, what then is left for Piper to point to as a contrast to divine goodness?

Piper’s key error is assuming that all acts of moral evil are intended acts by the divine will. Rather than stop at the biblical notion that God can exploit evils that he neither desired nor willed, and can use unintended evil to bring about good, Piper goes one step further and says God intended and purposed all evil for the purpose of intending good—thus divesting evil of evil and rendering all acts morally unintelligible at best and morally equivalent at worst.

 

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[2] Piper rightly tries to make the point that God can do no wrong to anyone with any of his decrees, but Piper wrongly tries to couch this truth into his overall, Calvinist narrative that God has unconditionally decreed all things— including all suicide bombings. His latter point is an extreme extrapolation based on unproven assumptions. See: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-made-it-ok-for-god-to-kill-women-and-children-in-the-old-testament

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About StriderMTB

Hi, I'm Matt. "Strider" from Lord of the Rings is my favorite literary character of all time and for various reasons I write under the pseudonym "StriderMTB. As my blog suggests I seek to live out both the excitement and tension of a Christian walk with Christ in the 3rd world context of Asia. I am unmarried yet blessed to oversee an orphanage of amazing children in South-East Asia. I hate lima beans and love to pour milk over my ice-cream. I try to stay active in both reading and writing and this blog is a smattering of my many thoughts. I see the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it and lived to be the only hope for a broken world and an even more broken and apathetic church.
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6 Responses to A Critique of John Piper’s Theodicy: “Is God Morally Color-Blind?” Part 2

  1. Peter says:

    It’s uncomfortable watching Calvinists struggle to make sense of what they believe. But it’s also encouraging. As long as they’re struggling, I think there is still hope.

    When I listen to Francis Chan, I can’t help but think he’s really close to abandoning Calvinism. Of course i could be wrong, but when I hear him talk about how God loves everyone I sense in his heart he’s talking about real love, not the kind of love that sends people to hell for doing that which they are forced to do and offering no opportunity for forgiveness.

    When I listen to MacArthur talk of God’s love, I don’t sense any inward struggle. It seems he’s gotten to a point where the absurdities of Calvinism no longer bother him. God wills that you be saved is true. God willed the rape of the 5-year old you read about in the headlines. It’s a mystery. Don’t think too much about it or it will drive you crazy. Just accept it on faith.

    I feel that Piper falls somewhere in the middle of these two. When I hear him talk about the two wills of God in relation to 1 Tim. 2:4, I recognize there is something inside of him (conscience) that chafes at twisting scripture to make it conform to the doctrine that he champions.

    I hope one day he’ll come to the realization that Calvin and Edwards were bright guys, but they were bright guys who for whatever reason were unable to abandon a theory that provided an explanation for God’s sovereignty at the expense of God’s holiness.

    When I explained to a Calvinist friend that his beliefs entailed God creating millions of people as sinners, making it impossible for them to do anything but sin, and then torturing them in hell for eternity for doing what they had to do, he didn’t deny it. Instead he just said, God’s love is far different than human love.

    How sick, and how sad…

  2. StriderMTB says:

    Hi Peter. You raise some very good points. I do agree with you about Francis Chan. I think he is either progressively shedding Calvinism like dead snake skin, or he is the most theologically crafty individual masquerading as an Arminian in the public forum while privately holding views diametrically at odds with his public persona and statements. Hopefully he is the former. I do like so much of what he says.

    John Piper is one of the most passionate preachers of our era. Every fiber of his being is infused with zeal to extol God’s glory and greatness. Unfortunately passion and zeal are inadequate markers for truth about God and history has a long record of showing how they are in fact very poor custodians of truth. If passion and zeal to extol God’s greatness and sovereign nature were sufficient carriers of truth, then we have little reason to condemn muslim imams whose zeal and passion for God’s greatness (“God is great”) puts many Christians to shame.

    Of course Piper would say their zeal and passion is misplaced because they have a wrong portrait of God. And I would say the same to Piper. When a extreme, muslim zealot blows himself in a market place because he believed it was the sovereign will of God, Piper can only disagree with muslim’s theological perception of God–and NOT the belief that his actions were grounded in God’s sovereign will. Piper must concede that God’s sovereign will decree it! So right idea, but wrong God. Add to that that Piper must also believe that God decreed who will be a muslim and who will be a Christian and you have a real, smelly mess on your hands.

    Piper is increasingly unnerving to listen to because of his scary talent to obscure true meaning with oratory–he borders on sophistry because he intentional shields his listeners and readers from the full, logical implications of his view. You feel compelled to take the bait because of how he couches things–but few discern the full scope and utter horror of his theodicy. For example, Piper will come out with a video that basically says, “When you lose your job or your friend dies from heart disease (never mind he was glutton), say ‘The Lord is sovereign! He gives and he takes away!'” Why does Piper say this? Because he believes the decrees of God are good and determinatively render certain every inch of our life.

    BUT when a person comes to Piper and says, “I committed adultery and my wife left me…” I very much doubt he says, “The Lord is sovereign! He gave your wife and took her away.” But why not say that? That is what he must believe. Every act of sin was determinatively decreed by God–including whether or not you would be faithful to your wife or commit adultery. Piper can’t pick or choose anything in his theodicy. All is horrifically subsumed under his extreme view of sovereignty that renders God’s character morally ambiguous and our actions decidedly rooted in God’s will.

    Like you said, “how sick and how sad…” Indeed.

    • Isaiah1v18 says:

      The Scriptures declare “without faith” It is impossible” for individuals to please God, yet Calvinists falsely declare Gods choice of Election is based on nothing within man, & that “without faith” God IS pleased within Himself to elect them for salvation & glory when they had no faith, while simultaneously being pleased within Himself to withholding Faith from the rest of mankind so that they would not be saved.

      Indeed, if their Westminsters Confessions of Faith are correct, & God has “ordained whatsoever comes to pass” for the “good pleasure of His Will” to “glorify himself”, then God has logically ordained to blaspheme Himself (as this happens on a daily basis). Indeed, the Calvinist version of God, wants to be blasphemed, wants to be hated & wants to be despised.

      “Why would He want this?” You may ask, and I did ask, & this is how they answered, “in order to display His glorious attributes of Hatred & Wrath for the reprobate”.

      What a travesty!

      He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with the falsehoods and errors of Calvinism & Reformed Theology.

      • StriderMTB says:

        Tis true and indeed a travesty. Calvinism is little more than character assassination upon our Lord…despite the well meaning intentions of its proponents. Liked the insight on faith. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Pingback: Big Trouble in Little Geneva: Good Series Exposing the Major Theological Problems Inherent in John Piper’s Calvinist Theodicy | Arminian Perspectives

  4. Isaiah1v18 says:

    I really enjoyed this article.

    John Piper, if your reason for worshipping God is merely from a sense of Predeterminism, God would rather you not worship Him at all. To say that God is pleased with your Calvinistic worship that lacks a self-determined inner will to do so , is to say God endorses Hypocrisy. That doesn’t work.

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