Piper’s God is right to slaughter women and children

John PiperHenry Neufeld quotes some words of John Piper as a post title:

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases

This was Piper’s response to a question put to him in an interview in the Christian Post:

Why was it right for God to slaughter women and children in the Old Testament? How can that ever be right?

Well, that is a very good question, and it has no simple answer. To be fair to Piper, he does go on to explore in more depth some of the issues of why large numbers of people die, and why God has sometimes commanded people to kill them. In this post I make no attempt to offer my own answer.

Piper’s main argument is that God has the right to do whatever he likes. Well, I would accept that God has the power to do whatever he likes. Unlike the gods of the ancient Maltese, he is not constrained by some higher concept of Justice – and Piper would be right to reject any suggestion that Justice constrained God to send his Son to die on the cross.

Nevertheless, for God, just as for humans, might is not right. The determining factor for what it is right for God to do is not that he is almighty, but his character, defined in such terms as love and justice. He has made this character known to us in the created universe, in the Scriptures, and above all through his Son Jesus Christ. In the same ways he has also revealed to us how he expects us to live. And since goodness and consistency are part of the character he has shown us, it is no surprise to find that, in general terms and making allowances for human limitations, what is good and right for him to do is also good and right for us. Certainly we see no sign of Jesus doing things which it would be wrong for us also to do.

By contrast, the God described by John Piper has the character of an arbitrary despot, one who asserts the right to do whatever he wants, even when this entirely contradicts the standards of behaviour he expects from others. It rather seems as if the deity that he worships is not in fact the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

10 thoughts on “Piper’s God is right to slaughter women and children

  1. I don’t know the context of Piper’s statement, but I will point out the simple fact of why we needed Jesus in the first place. The wages of sin is death. Granted, that death in Romans is probably referring to the eternal death rather than the physical, but if it weren’t for sin, physical death would not be necessary. Therefore, all people will die because they deserve to die for defying a just God. God’s justice can’t be fully understood by an unjust race. He has every right to kill me before I click “post,” but the fact that you are reading this is evidence of his mercy to keep me around a little longer. Therefore, I think He in turn would have every right to allow the slaughter anyone anytime he pleases for the greater good of His perfect Will. God in Jesus conquered death, and he conquered life, and therefore reigns over both and has power to implement both. I could be completely off base, but that’s the theodicy I’ve come to understand.

  2. Logical argument often leaves me with a headache (except mine! : > ), but the arguments of using Justice issues against the nature of the God who champions Justice in the first place wake me up to exasperation.
    Just wanted to say that first.
    But wouldn’t you say, GW, that such a statement as this, “God has the right to do whatever he likes”, is so anthropromorphically flawed that it doesn’t deserve to be uttered and logically considered at all?.

  3. ‘thou are the same Lord whose property it is always to have mercy’ wrote Thomas Cranmer in the Prayer of Humble Access, a prayer before receiving communion derived from the stories of the healing of the Centurion’s servant and the healing of the Syrophoenecian woman’s child. It is of the very nature of God as revealed in Christ that those who turn to him are reconciled. Mother Julian of Norwich goes even futher to say that it isn’t that God forgives (as if there was a time when he isn’t forgiving) but that his is always forgiving, if we will only turn to him and receive what he yearns to offer. This is no soft 21st Century stuff but arising from the depths of medieval and early Renaissance spirtuality and theology that certainly faced death more squarely than we do today.

  4. Collin, the context was clear from the article I linked to. My issue with what you say is that you seem to give God’s justice priority over his love, such that he would be right to act in an unloving way, but not right to act in an unjust way. I refuse to concede that hierarchy in God’s character, because it is unbiblical. God has the might to act unjustly as well as unlovingly. But he is right only to act according to his character, which is centred on both justice and love.

    Rob, I accept that there is an issue here of anthropomorphism. All talk of rights usually implies that someone else has granted a right – unless of course you are looking at the flawed attempts by atheists to give a basis to human rights. Perhaps it would be better to say that God has the might to do what he wants, even if it is unjust or unloving, but freely chooses not to do such things. But there is a consistency in his action which is lost when there is any suggestion that he has an unconstrained choice of what to do in each individual case.

    Nicholas, thank you for those quotes, which seem to hit the nail on the head. I probably wouldn’t use “property” as Cranmer did, but that is probably because this sense of the word, to me associated with software, has changed subtly since the 16th century.

  5. Pingback: “Christianity has a male feel about it” – John Piper « Katie and Martin's Blog on the Lutheran Church in Australia

  6. You said: He has made this character known to us in the created universe, in the Scriptures, and above all through his Son Jesus Christ. In the same ways he has also revealed to us how he expects us to live. And since goodness and consistency are part of the character he has shown us, it is no surprise to find that, in general terms and making allowances for human limitations, what is good and right for him to do is also good and right for us. Certainly we see no sign of Jesus doing things which it would be wrong for us also to do.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    I love that excerpt…and it is going in my quote file. It also immediately brings to mind a quote from George MacDonald in his sermon entitled Light.
    ~~~~~
    He cannot make the meanings change places. To say that what our deepest conscience calls darkness may be light to God, is blasphemy; to say light in God and light in man are of differing kinds, is to speak against the spirit of light. God is light far beyond what we can see, but what we mean by light, God means by light; and what is light to God is light to us, or would be light to us if we saw it, and will be light to us when we do see it. God means us to be jubilant in the fact that he is light–that he is what his children, made in his image, mean when they say light;

    Living Light, thou wilt not have me believe anything dark of thee!

    In proportion as we have the image of Christ mirrored in us, we shall know what is and is not light.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    I filter everything though the paradigm “God is love. God is light and in Him there is no darkness” and that Jesus claimed to be the exact representation of the invisible God. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”

    Cindi……..

  7. Allow me to share a conundrum if the form of anecdote:

    Yesterday, one of my vehicles wouldn’t start as it had been sitting idle in my driveway for several weeks. I quickly realized that not only was the battery dead, but there was a nest of newborn field rats living in my air intake filter compartment. I knew what I had to do, that is clean out the nest and kill the 6 babies. I did so with a pickax. Their death was swift but not immediate, and their went up to the heavens. I am not accustomed to violence in my suburban existence, and the task was very troubling for me. I literally looked up to the sky and said to God, “what were you thinking about establishing the created order in this way, and why is the world by design full of suffering and evil (I was the evil one from the perspective of the mother rat who looked on to the carnage from a distance…I could hear her crying out)?”

    Unlike Piper, I have no good answers to the quest for naming the source and cause of suffering and evil. Nor, as I smote the Canaanite rodents, could I bring myself to give glory to God for doing the work of “tending the garden” and preserving my property.

    My God teaches me to hate violence (at least against other human “image bearers”with everything that is in me.

    Thus, I personally remain unconvinced of Piper’s argument and the worldview that underlies it.

  8. Cindi, thanks for that. The George MacDonald quote is certainly very apposite. I like the way you brought in light as well as love here, as another aspect of God’s character which doesn’t allow Piper’s position.

    Krister, I think I agree with you – though I wonder why you needed to kill the rats and not just disperse them.

  9. Fundamentalism/inerrancy, the idea that every word in Scripture is of equal value or authority to ever other, there’s your problem. Somebody once wrote that Protestantism was the triumph of Paul over Peter and fundamentalism is the triumph of Paul over Christ. But its actually worse than that. The fundamentalist tends to pick all of the worst of the Bible and make it more authoritative than the best. Predestination, faith onlyism, and the Caananite Genocides, and insistence that God absolutely needs blood sacrifice are the rallying cry of the Fundamentalist. Whereas the rallying cry of a true Christian is the sermon on the mount, the OT passages that command you love others, and passages like Micah 6 where to answer the question on sacrifice and if God really needs or desires it the prophet says “he has told you, oh man, what is good, and what does the LORD require but that you do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” — There are two different Christianities fighting each other. The Petrine versus Pauline feud never ended. It just had a blanket thrown over it.

  10. Rey, thank you for your interesting comment – although perhaps this is Piper’s problem more than mine. I agree that here “There are two different Christianities fighting each other”. But what makes you so sure that yours, and not Piper’s, is the position of “a true Christian”? On what basis, other than your personal preference, do you privilege “the sermon on the mount, the OT passages that command you love others, and passages like Micah 6″ over the parts that Fundamentalists prefer? Paul as well as Peter is in the Bible, so why take sides in this battle? That is not a rhetorical point but a set of very real questions.

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