Grieving John Piper's Grieving Advice

I do not for one minute doubt John Piper's sincerity. I do not doubt his motives, godly character, and desire to serve Christ and His people. I think he is to be commended for his obvious love for both God and His word. Because of these very positive aspects of his ministry and person, I am all the more disappointed, disturbed and even grieved when I encounter him giving advice on responding to tragedy -- an honest complaint I continue to make with Calvinists in general.

From my perspective, many Calvinists find holding various tenets of their views in any consistent manner next to impossible when encountering the real world. Suddenly, when tragedy strikes, what was once dogmatically defended in black and white -- that God is exhaustively and meticulously involved in every minutiae of our existence and has decreed the same -- is then played a bit "fast and loose." I see more evidence of such from Piper's "Letter to a Parent Grieving the Loss of a Child." If I were a parent, and especially a parent who had been listening to his sermons and reading his many books over many years, my response to this piece would be rather perplexed: "How can he make such statements," I would ask, "when I know that he teaches and believes something seemingly contrary."    

In his letter, he is responding to an email from a parent who lost a child prior to giving birth. He very delicately lets the woman know that he could never understand the experience. He writes carefully, humbly. Given the very delicate nature of her experience, his tender and careful response is much welcomed, I am certain. But I would like to make several observations regarding his response.

He begins by assuring the mother that her infant "simply skipped earth. For now. But in the new heavens and the new earth, he will know the best of earth and all the joys earth can give without any of its sorrows." (link) Piper rejects the restrictive, Calvinistic interpretation of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which states, "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit." (link) Some Calvinists imagine that only certain, unconditionally elect infants enter heaven, while the rest -- the "non-elect" or reprobate infants -- enter hell. 

Since only God could know absolutely if the woman's infant was unconditionally elect -- meaning that, from a restrictive interpretation of Westminster, then Calvinists who adhere to this doctrine could in no way whatsoever know if this child was among the number of the unconditionally elect. Piper, then, believes that all infants who die in infancy are among the number of the unconditionally elect. Regardless, he is insistent that the woman will see her infant in the new heavens and the new earth. Of course, another assumption is made in this confession as well, that of the woman and her husband being among the number of the unconditionally elect. But how could he possibly know that?



Piper encourages the woman to grieve in a healthy manner, and I think his advice here is spot on. If Jesus grieved at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), who are we to be "stronger" than He? In our weakness, God is proven strong within us (2 Cor. 12:10). But I also wonder how the grieving woman (and her husband as well) might learn to trust, love, and serve God more so because of this tragedy from a Calvinistic perspective.

Why do I ask such a question? Well, because in Calvinism, even the woman's loss was at the decree of God. Westminster states: "God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass." (link) Piper concurs: "The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby for his own glory, he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass." (link) Rape? Foreordained by God. Incest? Foreordained by God. Murder, sexual perversion, greed, lust, theft, pride, backbiting, lying, demonic possession -- all foreordained (and, might I add, brought to pass for His glory) by the Calvinist God.  
  
Now, in another confession, Piper responds to a question by Cathy Grossman from USA Today, with regard to how he would comfort some whose loved ones were taken by the 9/11 catastrophe:
Because, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. In other words, if I get shot tomorrow, if I walk out of here, and somebody didn't like what I said and would shoot me dead, God was totally in charge of that, and that will be the best thing that could happen to me. (emphasis added) (link
Are we not left to wonder, then, why he did not inform the grieving mother and her husband that their unborn infant's death was the best thing that could happen to the little one? Certainly the infant belonged to the Lord, like everyone else, right? How could Piper offer the above-quoted "comfort" to those grieving loved ones whose lives were taken by the 9/11 tragedy but offer a seemingly contrary comfort to the grieving woman and her husband?  

Piper has been caught, if you will, in this inconsistency on another occasion, when his life was threatened one Easter morning. (link) While we may wonder why Piper called the police that Easter morning -- given that God is totally in charge of that, and if he should die, then that would be the best thing that could happen to him -- we at least are given insight into his views on the character of God. Though a devil, like a roaring lion, may be prowling, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), Piper's view of God leaves us with the impression that such a prowling devil is merely a pawn in God's hands, the One who predetermined all such devouring (including the devouring death of those who die in infancy). 

I find no comfort or assurance of hope in the Calvinist God: I did not when I was a Calvinist, and I certainly do not today. Who has time to worry about devils and the effects of the fall and the evil motives of evil people when God has already foreordained all the sin and detestable wickedness that I shall ever endure? There is no amount of grief counseling that could lead me to hope and trust in the Calvinist God. What does bring me comfort is that Calvinists are in serious error. Otherwise I would have difficulty finding such a God worthy of trust or adoration.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.