[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 27 is included in this post.]
Critique 27: IS GOD’S JUSTICE A COSMIC UNINTELLIGIBLE CHARADE? MORE SCRIPTURE PLUCKING AT THE EXPENSE OF HISTORICAL CONTEXT: PIPER’S MISHANDLING OF JEREMIAH 10:23
Piper includes Jeremiah 10:23, an often repeated verse within Calvinism to keep the young and restless ranks in line with theological determinism. So let’s deal thoroughly with it.
“I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer 10:23).
Like we saw in Proverbs, Piper lapses back into his unfortunate habit of cherry-picking phrases out of the Scriptures and sprinkling them like salt around his theology of universal determinism to give it added flavor. Given his propensity for Scripture plucking, it is no wonder Piper looks to Jeremiah 10:23. He believes he has good evidence to assume every decision and every physical step men taken is merely the effect in time of what God eternally decreed or willed. However such an interpretation wholly misses the mark and completely fails to appreciate the historical context surrounding the passage.
For starters Jeremiah is in the throes of despair, recognizing that judgment is about to visit the house of Judah for her many sins. He writes,
“Woe to me because of my brokenness —
I am severely wounded!
I exclaimed, This is my intense suffering,
but I must bear it” (Jer 10:19).
Jeremiah wishes the impending disaster and destruction on Judah’s cities could be averted through repentance, but he also knows that time has passed. Judgment, the curse for breaking God’s covenant, must now come to Judah. Jeremiah recognizes that men do not normally intend or determine to walk towards known destruction, but nonetheless the destruction Judah is about to experience cannot be walked away from. Because of Judah’s willful (un-decreed!) disregard of God’s prophetic warnings, Jeremiah rightly recognizes that something much bigger is in play than merely peoples basic desire to go one way and not another. Judah is about to come under severe discipline from God. Jeremiah personally identifies himself with the house of Judah and recognizes that he too cannot avert for himself what is about to come. As a prophet to his people, the call of God upon his life is to bear the nations suffering, even though he is not to blame. His way of life is truly not his own. It is in this context that he specifically proclaims concerning himself,
“I know, Lord,
that a mans way of life is not his own;
no one who walks determines his own steps.
Discipline me, Lord, but with justice —
not in Your anger,
or You will reduce me to nothing.” (Jer 10:23-24).
Though this is specifically a personal prayer of Jeremiah, there are overtones that apply to the nation itself. For instance, God promised blessing if His people obeyed and God promised cursing if His people disobeyed–nothing can alter those destinies, yet they are destinies conditional on the obedience, or lack thereof, of his people. In other words, had God’s people obeyed they would have stepped into a determined realm of unavoidable blessing. Yet the opposite is also true. If God’s people rebel and do not repent in the time allotted to them, they will step into a determined realm of cursed judgment they cannot avoid. In that sense their “way is not their own.” Jeremiah rightly understands that the people of Judah have not heeded God’s many warnings and “didn’t seek the Lord” (v. 21). Instead they committed themselves to a stubborn and willful disregard of God’s every attempt to get their attention. As such, Jeremiah knows Judah has stepped into a unique, sovereign realm where what is about to occur cannot be thwarted or averted. As briefly noted above Jeremiah recognizes that he too cannot escape the coming judgment and that “his life is not his own.” His path is irreconcilably linked to Judah’s, and the path Judah is about to walk on is a determined destiny of consequence due to Judah’s own sin, not God’s decree. God warned them long ago, but they did not heed God’s warnings.
In fact God tells Jeremiah to give his people this exact history lesson:
“I declared: Obey Me, and do everything that I command you, and you will be My people, and I will be your God, in order to establish the oath I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is today…. I strongly warned your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt until today, warning them time and time again, Obey My voice. Yet they would not obey or pay attention; each one followed the stubbornness of his evil heart. So I brought on them all the curses of this covenant, because they had not done what I commanded them to do.”
Once again prudent wisdom and common sense tells us Piper’s universal–all–is–determined reading is grossly out of place. Imagine how utterly inane the entire narrative becomes when we assume, as Piper must, that God meticulously determined their every step (literally!) into idol worship and stubborn disobedience which consequently resulted in judgment. In Piper’s two-wills view God condemns them for having the very moral character he conceived and willed they ought to have, and then judges them for behaving in a manner exactly consistent with such predestined character. Given Piper’s premise that God sovereignly directs every step men take, Judah is punished for doing nothing more than “stepping” into the preordained footprints God marked out for her in eternity past. Is that justice? Let’s not forget Jeremiah’s one request in the follow up verse was that God judge his people according to his justice and not his anger (v. 24). There is no getting around the fact that in Piper’s two-wills view divine justice becomes a cosmic, unintelligible charade.