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Saturday, November 19, 2016

"The Authority of Scripture" is One Hell of a Drug

John Piper. Image source.
[content note: abusive theology, miscarriage, John Piper]

Well here's a horrifying article: Did My Lust Cause Our Miscarriage? In it, Pastor John Piper responds to this question: "Pastor John, did God cause, or would God cause, my wife to miscarry our child because I have a struggle with lust and pornography? I have a lot of guilt right now, and I don’t know how to think about God’s discipline and punishment for my sin. I’m very confused, please help."

Wow. Ah man. Yeah miscarriage is awful, I'm so sorry for your loss, it just sucks. Or rather, that's what a decent human being would say. In contrast, Piper doesn't offer any words along those lines, nothing even acknowledging the question writer's pain and trying to comfort him. Nothing. Instead, the article is about sin and God's discipline and something he keeps calling "the gospel" but sure as hell ain't good news.

And also, a decent human being would say NO. Don't blame yourself. Porn does not cause miscarriages, and it is just heartbreaking to imagine someone actually seriously wondering that... wow, to live with that kind of guilt, that kind of uncertainty, oh my. No, don't blame yourself. That's just terrible. But nope, Piper doesn't say anything like that. He explains that yes, it is possible that God killed your child as punishment for your porn use. We don't know if that's the real reason or not, but sure, it could be. ... Geez, how can you do that to someone? How can you put that kind of guilt on someone? This is abuse. This is abuse.

Let's look at some quotes from this horrifyingly abusive article:
Whatever he means [by "struggling with porn"], I am glad he calls it sin, which he does, because Jesus takes this sin so seriously, he uses a horrible picture to describe the warfare against it — and the worst possible warning against failure in the war.

Here is what he says: “If your right eye causes you to sin” — so he is talking about lust — “tear it out and throw it away.” What? With a screwdriver? This is gross. This is horrible. What? Your fingernails? “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). So, tearing out the eyeball is the most horrible description of the nature of the warfare, and hell is the most horrible warning of failure in the warfare. So, I doubt that any of us has ever overestimated the danger of failing to fight lust. And I am glad that our anonymous questioner has called it sin and is feeling bad about it.
In other words, God would rather you tear out your own eye than lust. Yeah, the bible does say that. (Or... something like that, but it's definitely possible to interpret it in a less abusive way than what Piper is doing here.) So we have a God who hates our natural sexual desires SO MUCH that he would like us to damage our bodies in whatever way is necessary to get those desires to stop. HOLY CRAP this is abusive.

(Also, did you catch that bit at the end? Piper is "glad ... [he] is feeling bad about it." Yeah, that's exactly the way the Christianity I learned totally didn't care about anyone's mental or emotional health. You "sinned" so you should feel bad. This teaching is so incredibly abusive and destructive. This is literally the reason I had depression a few years ago.)
Or, we can add with trembling: He may see us in need of such protection from temptation that he takes our life. That is what it says in 1 Corinthians 11:29–30, “Anyone who eats and drinks [the Lord’s Supper] without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Fallen asleep means died. “But when we are judged by the Lord” — that is, put to death — “we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32). That is breathtaking. In other words, death, the death of a saint, the death of one who is perfected, the death of one whom he loves, the death is the discipline of deliverance from condemnation. God takes him out so that he will not be taken out by the devil and by sin and go to hell. So yes, the Lord disciplines, and his ways are not to be trifled with or made little of.
WHAT THE HELL IS THIS. God sometimes kills people because he's sure they're going to fall victim to "temptation"- God would rather have you dead than let you sin. HOLY SHIT. This is... wow. This is abusive as hell. I spent 20+ years in the evangelical church and I never heard anything like this. I mean, yes, there it is in 1 Corinthians, I know, I've read that passage. But I never heard anyone at church say "sometimes God kills people so they don't sin." Yes, the church explicitly preached that everyone deserves to go to hell and suffer forever; I'm not shocked at all when I hear Christians say things like that- but I am shocked by what Piper is saying here. This is just a whole new level of DISTURBING.
May that discipline come in the form of harm, even death, to others that we love, as well as ourselves? And the answer is yes, it may. This was certainly the case with David’s sin of adultery [sic] and murder with Bathsheba and her husband. Nathan the prophet said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13). And then the next thing, “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord” — and surely that is what pornography is — “the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12:14).

So, I would certainly say in my own life — now hear this carefully — I would certainly say in my own life the most painful and humbling disciplining from the Lord has regularly been though the pain and suffering and sometimes death of those I love, rather than through any blows against my own body. Oh, that we only suffered in our own body. This has been the way the deepest Christians have always thought about the losses through the death of those they love. Jonathan Edwards preached numerous sermons about the way the Lord disciplines a church by taking away a godly pastor in death. Edwards’s godly wife Sarah spoke about kissing the rod of God in the death of her 54-year-old husband — a rod of discipline that she felt more than anyone. She called it a rod of God on her back. And she kissed it.
So Piper is saying yes, God might kill your loved ones to punish you for your sin. Just like God killed David and Bathsheba's baby. (So... God is not very "pro-life," huh?) And we're supposed to accept it and "kiss it." HOLY SHIT THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH SWEAR WORDS AVAILABLE.
I don’t know whether our friend who wrote this question lost his child in miscarriage as a direct discipline from God because of his pornography. I do not know. He does not know.
Oh my god. How can you say this? How can you say this to someone who is grieving and blaming himself? "Yeah, actually it might be your fault, yes." Oh my god. I'm ... holy shit.

Piper treats this as purely an abstract theological question, as if he was asked, "In a conservative/Calvinist interpretation of the bible, does God ever kill people to punish sin?" It's like he doesn't even notice that this question writer is devastated and overwhelmed, and how incredibly damaging it is for him to wonder if maybe it's all his fault. Can you imagine what this man is going through, emotionally and psychologically? Piper doesn't even try to imagine. It's like he doesn't think about how his theology affects actual people. None of that matters to him. It's all about unshakeable loyalty to every single word in the bible.
So, what our friend must do in this confusion — he says, “I am confused.” Okay, so I am saying, what he must do in his confusion is stop fretting about whether his pornography was the direct cause of his miscarriage. He should stop fretting about that. He will never know for sure the answer to that question, short of some direct revelation. Whether he knew it was or wasn’t, the lesson remains the same. The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away. And God’s merciful design for our friend is that he worship. Blessed be the Lord (Job 1:21). Worship more deeply the way Job did.
In other words, yes, God did choose to "take away" this potential child. We don't know if the reason was to punish this guy for using porn, but Piper says yes, it was God's doing. And so you should worship God. You should love the God who kills your family members, who hates you and your sin so much that he wishes you were dead.

THIS IS ABUSIVE AS HELL. Oh god. Oh geez. I'm... I know what Piper believes, and this is totally consistent with all of it, but I'm still shocked. I never expected to hear anyone say something like this so explicitly. And it's not even an abstract hypothetical- this is a response to a real person who is really experiencing a lot of grief and guilt. This is the response: yeah maybe it is your fault. Yeah God decided to kill your child, and you need to respond by worshiping God.

Here's the thing: Piper cites bible verses- about Jesus telling his disciples to tear out their eyes, about Job, about David and Bathsheba, about the Lord's supper in 1 Corinthians- and he's not wrong. The bible does say that. There are bible verses that say God killed someone's family members to punish their sin or make some kind of point, win a bet with satan, whatever. (See also my post about the worst bible story.)

Yes, the bible does say that. And Piper is so focused on the bible- or rather, on his interpretation of the bible- that he doesn't even realize how completely anti-human and evil this ideology is. His commitment to believing and valuing every single word of Scripture leads him to tell a grieving man "yes, God killed your child, and it's totally possible that it's your fault." How can you say that to someone?

Strangely, Piper doesn't mention that part in the bible where Job's "friends" told him God killed all his children to punish him for his sin and then God showed up and was like "SHUT UP ALL OF YOU, HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT" [slight paraphrase of Job 38-42]. Strangely, he doesn't mention that time when the disciples saw a blind man and asked Jesus "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" and Jesus was like "NOPE." Or when Jesus preached that victims of a disaster were not "more guilty" than others.

So yes, the bible contains a bunch of different perspectives on the reasons behind suffering. If the most important thing in your life is devotion to the exact words of the bible- if the bible is your idol- then yes, you would come to the conclusion that God may have caused a miscarriage to punish someone's sin, and they need to respond by worshiping God. But if you have at least one molecule of human compassion, you will see that any God who would kill a child to punish someone else's sin is not worthy of worship- and that a person grieving a miscarriage needs love and support, not a mountain of guilt baptized in religious bullshit.

What I'm saying is, "the authority of Scripture" is one hell of a drug. It causes people- who would otherwise be kind and loving- to respond to tragedy with the most shocking, despicable, abusive, anti-human crap, and then feel like they're doing a good thing, they're standing up for God, they're "speaking the truth in love."

I'm shocked. I really am shocked. Piper's words are literally spiritual abuse. And his God is a monster that no one should worship.

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