I'm trying to skim a book this week as part of a potential writing project on the side this summer. The book is Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, an edited collection with John Piper and Justin Taylor as authors. Today I skimmed the first chapter by John Piper himself: "Suffering and the Sovereignty of God: Ten Aspects of God's Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan's Hand in It."
I agree theologically with almost everything Piper says in this chapter--it's more his understanding behind what he says that I disagree with. Here are his ten points in my words:
1. Satan's rule over the world is delegated.
2. God is sovereign over Satan's angels and demons.
3. God is sovereign over Satan's hand in persecution.
4. God is sovereign over Satan's taking of life.
5. God is sovereign over Satan's hand in natural disasters.
6. God is sovereign over Satan causing sickness.
7. God is sovereign over Satan's use of animals and plants.
8. God is sovereign over Satan's causing of temptation.
9. God is sovereign over Satan's ability to blind our understanding.
10. God is sovereign over the spiritual bondage Satan causes.
So I agree theologically with these comments, as well as with Piper's opening gambit: "God himself is the supreme value" (17).
Where do I disagree? I disagree with what stands behind this comment: "In the academic classroom and in the apologetics discussion, the agency of Satan in our suffering may lift a little the burden of God's sovereignty for some; but for others... there is more security and more relief and more hope and more support and more glorious truth in... looking... to Go for the cause..." (23).
In other words, God is telling Satan what to do. On the contrary, I believe that if this is the case, then Christianity becomes incoherent. No meaningful understanding of God as love is compatible with him directly ordering Satan to do all the things above. Only if God has given authority to creation to do less than his perfect will can the concept of God as love be coherent.
This comment brings me to a second disagreement with Piper. Piper insinuates that intentional agency is involved with everything that happens, both in terms of moral agents like Satan and humans and in terms of plants, animals and the creation. He thus has no room in his worldview for a creation that operates according to certain "laws" that generate events of pain and suffering apart from someone's will--in his case Satan.
I contend, by contrast, that Satan himself may or may not be directly responsible for all the pain and suffering that happens in the world.