As usual, John Piper’s theological and (I assume) pastoral instincts have led him to speak publicly about the hurricanes that have brought such chaos and damage upon our part of the world recently. Piper’s pronouncements have not turned out well in the past, from my perspective. At least this time, he gave us a prayer to pray. But, as you will see, like the Puritans before him, this neo-Puritan’s prayer is more like a sermon than a supplication. And, unfortunately, I think it exemplifies many of the problems with certain forms of Christian religion and those who lead and represent them.
For those who might think it unseemly to analyze or critique someone’s prayer, sorry, but this is not a private prayer. This was put out publicly and specifically as a model prayer for Christians to find help from in light of the troubling circumstances of recent days. I don’t find it all that helpful, and I’m afraid it reinforces exactly the wrong emphases at this time.
Here is John Piper’s prayer, followed by my comments.
A Prayer in the Path of Hurricanes
O Lord God, mighty and merciful, we are asking for mercy — mercy amid the manifestations of your great might. We are asking, for Jesus’s sake. Not because we deserve anything better than calamity. We know that we have sinned. We have exchanged the high treasure of your glory for trinkets. We have not loved you with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. We have sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind. We are pleading for mercy.
We make no demands. You are God, and we are not. We are bent low in submission to your just and sovereign power. Indeed, we are prostrate before the unstoppable wind of your justice and wisdom.
We know that you, O Lord, are great. Whatever you please, you do, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. You make clouds rise at the end of the earth. You bring forth the wind from its storehouses.
You have commanded and raised the mighty wind, and it has lifted up the waves of the sea. The floods have lifted up, O Lord. You have tilted the water-skins of the heavens.
You sweep us away as with a flood. You kill and you make alive; you wound and you heal; and there is none that can deliver out of your hand. You sit enthroned over the flood — enthroned as king forever.
We are like a dream, like dust swept off the street in a torrent.
But you, O God, are mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea. It is our peril and our hope that you can do all things, and no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
O Lord, do not sleep through this storm. O Lord, let not the flood sweep over us, or the deep swallow us up. Rise up! And do what only you can do amid these winds and waves. Rebuke them, as you once did. When they have done your wise and needed work, let them not have one minute more of strength. Command them, O Christ, to cease, we pray. And make a holy calm. For you are God, all things are your servants.
And give us ears, O God. Your voice, O Lord, is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. O God, forbid that we would not give heed.
Open our ears, you who once brought Job to humble silence, announcing from the whirlwind who you are, and that, when all is lost, the story then unfolds that in it all your purpose was compassionate and kind.
Whether we sit waste deep in the water of our Texas homes, or wait, uncertain, with blankets on a church pew, or nail the plywood to our Florida shop, or sit secure and dry a thousand miles from any sea, teach us, in mercy, what we need to learn, and cannot any other way.
And woe to us who, far away from floods, would point our finger at the sufferer and wonder at his greater sin, forgetting how the voice of Jesus rings in every tragedy: “Do you think that they were worse offenders? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The very word of God to all Americans.
And now, O Lord, unleash the common grace of kindness from a million hearts and bank accounts, and grant as great a mercy in rebuilding as you once gave verdict to destroy. Restrain, O God, the evil hearts of those who would bring sorrow upon sorrow by looting what is left behind, or exploiting loss for private gain.
And in your church awaken this: the truth that you once gave yourself for us that we might be redeemed, not first from floods, but sin and lawlessness. That you once died, not first to put us out of peril, but to make us pure. Not first to spare us misery, but make us zealous for good deeds. And so, O mighty Christ, unleash from us another flood — the blood-bought passion of your people not for ruin, but for rebuilding lives and homes.
O Father, awaken every soul to see where we have built our lives on sand. Show us from every storm the way to build our lives on rock. Oh are you not our rock! Out fortress our deliverer, our God in whom we take refuge, our shield, and the horn of our salvation, our stronghold. How great the fall of every life built on the sand of human skill!
And yet, how great the sure and solid gift held out to everyone in Christ! For you have said more wonderfully than we can ever tell:
Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword — or wind, or waves? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through your great love for us.
For you have made us say with deep assurance: Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor hurricanes nor floods, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And all in Jesus’s name,
Of course, because we share a common Christian faith, I can, at least on a surface level, affirm some of the biblically-oriented sentiments and quotes in this prayer. However, many of the perspectives uttered here, in my opinion, represent a kind of Christianity that is…
- Shaped by a form of faith that knows nothing of lament.
- Shaped by a form of faith that only knows how to say “Jesus is the answer,” but not the kind that can say, “Yes, Jesus saves us, but he does not give us ‘answers’ for all of life’s mysteries. Nor does he give us permission to act like we have those answers and to pronounce certainties where things are uncertain.”
- Shaped by a certain kind of Bible-centered faith rather than a Jesus-centered faith.
- Shaped by a systematic theology-centered faith rather than a faith rooted in the narrative theology of scripture.
- Shaped by the kind of faith that is too “God-centered,” about which our brother Michael Spencer warned us.
- Shaped by a view of God’s sovereignty that makes him responsible for all things, whether good or evil, the only standard being “what God pleases.”
- Shaped by a view of God that emphasizes God’s sovereign power and glory and a primary human response of submission. This has more in common with Islam than with the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Shaped by a view of humankind that says all people deserve this kind of devastation.
- Shaped by a view of life that thinks devastating events like these represent God’s “wise and needed” work on the earth.
- Shaped by a pastoral perspective that people need to learn certain “lessons” from these natural disasters.
- Shaped by a cruel evangelical tactic that says, “You’d better be careful. This can happen to you too. You’d better repent before it’s too late.”
- Shaped by an evangelical zeal that diminishes human tragedy in order to proclaim a gospel of spiritual rescue.
- Shaped by conveniently leaving out the part of the Book of Job where God commended Job’s friends for giving the suffering man their silence and supportive presence. Instead, he focuses on overwhelming God of the whirlwind. He also says that the outcome of the book is this: “the story then unfolds that in it all your purpose was compassionate and kind.” This utterly misses the point of a book that, in the end, assigns no reason or purpose behind Job’s sufferings. Indeed, I would argue that the very point of the book is that we cannot know, that our “wisdom” has limits, even with what God reveals.
- Shaped by a theology that uses what is arguably the greatest text in the Bible to revel in God’s love at a moment when all of us should be primarily thinking about God’s love by expressing it through tears, silence, lament, presence, service, and embracing. It is simply tone-deaf to pray like this while witnessing the overwhelming, calamitous circumstances our fellow human beings are dealing with this week.