[StriderMTB’s lengthy article, “The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s ‘Two-Wills’ View,” has been divided into 30 parts and edited for serial publication on this website. Here is a link to the original post. After the entire series is published, it will be made available as a single article on this site. Critique 21 is included in this post.]
Critique 21: DOES CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION REQUIRE GOD TO DECREE SIN AND EVIL?
Piper next devotes a good portion of his article attempting to ground God’s decree of sin in Christian persecution. He writes,
The apostle Peter wrote concerning God’s involvement in the sufferings of his people at the hands of their antagonists. In his first letter he spoke of the “will of God” in two senses. It was something to be pursued and lived up to on the one hand. “Such is the will of God, that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15). “Live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men but for the will of God” (4:2). On the other hand the will of God was not his moral instruction, but the state of affairs that he sovereignly brought about. “For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong” (3:17). “Let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (4:19). And in this context, the suffering which Peter has in mind is the suffering which comes from hostile people and therefore cannot come without sin.
Apparently Piper assumes if there exist scriptural passages that speak of believers suffering persecution in accordance with God’s will, it must mean God decreed the sin of the persecutors and thus must be evidence of his Two-Wills view.
Once again Piper lapses back into assuming his theology in order to prove his theology. To start with when Piper says, “can’t come without sin” he really means, “can’t come without God decreeing sin.” He wrongly assumes that if it is God’s will that followers of Christ endure hardship and persecution at the hands of wicked persons, then it must serve as evidence that God’s will has predetermined everything—which would necessarily include the sinful characters, sinful motives and sinful dispositions of all who would persecute Christians. But this is to commit a categorical error. As we saw in the case of Jesus, God does not need to meticulously or exhaustively predetermine the means in order to reach a predetermined end. Rather it can be God’s will that a person suffer and even die for the sake of the gospel, and yet God can will such martyrdom without having determinatively willed the sinful, evil motives of the persecutors. This is critical to note.
In point of fact some might object that if persecution is God’s plan for his faithful, and since persecution is carried out by the wicked, wouldn’t that therefore mean God’s plan for the persecutors was that they should have wicked characters, just as equally as it being God’s plan that believers suffer persecution? Again, we can reject this conclusion on the basis that God, in virtue of being God, does not need to exhaustively predetermine the means to bring about a purposed end in the life of any believer. Rather God can exploit the freely chosen acts of the wicked to serve his own purpose for any believer. In point of fact in Acts 7:51-52 Stephen states that the very persecutors of God’s faithful prophets were themselves those who “always resisted Holy Spirit!” And in Luke 7:30 we are told these very religious authorities “rejected God’s will for themselves.” This means that it was not God’s plan from the beginning of time that such persons have such characters. Rather those that persecuted God’s faithful became such persons only after they resisted the Holy Spirit and thus rejected God’s plan for their lives.
Moreover it is not a “decree of sin” for God to will that I be persecuted or even killed for the sake of the gospel. God is not morally obligated to extend my life one second further. He can choose that my life be cut short silently from a brain aneurism or violently at the hands of evil persecutors— and in neither case does it require God to decree sin or determine that certain individuals should have certain, depraved characters to bring about such ends.
Instead God, via his infinite wisdom in knowing how any number of possible circumstances will play out, can know that if Christian X is placed in circumstances Y that it will result in Christian X being persecuted for the sake of the gospel. This should come as no surprise to us given that we have already noted how the Father knew that if Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the manner that he did, and cleansed the temple as he did, it would arouse the jealous hatred of the authorities and lead to his determined suffering and death. God is fully able to “work out” (Eph 1:11) or exploit the events of an indeterminate world and in the end bring about certain determined ends in line with the overarching counsel of his will without the prerequisite of having all things be causally determined by his will. The former makes God wise and omni-competent, the latter makes God omni-causal and the ultimate origin and source of all evil. Piper fails to consider this and it is his chief interpretive error.
When reading Piper we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into a situation wherein we lapse for even a nanosecond in forgetting his underlying thesis. He is at all times wanting to put forth the motion that a biblical understanding of sovereignty means God willed to predetermined all things— and left nothing out! Therefore every word and deed, including every sinful decision, has been meticulously pre-programmed and predetermined by God’s “will of decree.” However if Piper’s view is correct that suffering for doing good in accordance with God’s will serves as evidence that God’s will determines everything— then so is suffering for doing evil!
In other words if Piper’s interpretation has a true pulse on God’s sovereignty then it would mean suffering for doing good is just as equally God’s will as suffering for doing evil. It would be a distinction without a difference. But if all things are equal then it means there is no longer any sense of “better.” Yet the Apostle Peter expressly declares “it is better to suffer for doing good… than for doing evil.” Peter is clearly contrasting suffering for doing good from suffering for doing evil. He sees a distinction with difference. The former is better because its God’s will, meaning the latter is not! If Peter were writing from a Calvinist perspective, where all that occurs—both good and evil—is equally God’s expressed will being realized on earth, then his point is rendered utterly meaningless.
At minimum, the Apostle Peter is arguing, “As far as the lives of Christ’s followers are in view, doing evil and suffering for it is never a result of God’s will.” The fact that even Christians fall into temptation, do evil and suffer for it tells us there are determinative wills other than God’s operating in the universe.
It is additionally informative to note that in 4:15-19 Peter contrasts God’s will with sin, telling believers they should never “suffer…as an evildoer” but instead should “suffer according to God’s will” with the subsequent reaction to such persecution being to “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” Yet if all that we think and do has been divinely decreed for us, it would necessarily include our reactions to persecution! So if Piper’s theological determinism is true, how I react to persecution is not really under my control. All my reactions are merely the intermediary effects in time of what God decreed in eternity past. Therefore if I do wrong and choose not to entrust my soul to God in the face of persecution, it would just as equally be God’s sovereign will as if I had chosen to do otherwise. In a world governed by exhaustive, divine determinism, whatever we choose to do is all the evidence we need to conclude it was not God’s sovereign will that we do otherwise!
 Though there are certainly aspects of the past and future that God determined, it is an extreme and unwarranted extrapolation to take these isolated incidents and assume God has determined everything—including the evils the Scripture envision God warring against. Calvinism replaces Scripture’s warfare view against evil for a blueprint view of divine causality of all evil.