The practical implications of sorting through the wealth of sometimes contrasting material on the providence of God are enormous. Thus, the question cannot be ignored. Consider the two different pastoral responses to a tragedy in one city. On August 1, 2007, the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge, an eight lane steel highway connection, collapsed during rush hour. The disaster resulted in the death of thirteen people with an additional 145 injured. The once comforting, “God has a purpose for everything,” easily becomes, “Why did God do this to me?” The response by John Piper, a local pastor and influential preacher, was that this bridged collapsed as a reminder that everyone is a sinner in need of repentance. He cites Luke 13.1–5 to support his conclusion. While tucking his eleven year old daughter into bed that evening Piper said, “God could have held up that bridge with one hand [. . .] with his pinky. Which means that God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills.” In Piper’s thinking, God let the bridge fall so that people would fear him and thus bring him glory. Essentially, Piper’s theology is one of determinism. God is in control of everything and it is the job of humans to recognize that fact and worship God for it.
Another pastor’s response was written to combat Piper’s. While respecting Piper as a “man of God” Greg Boyd takes his theology to task. “In the end,” Boyd writes, “this view requires that we accept that God punishes people with catastrophes—and then eternally in hell—for doing precisely what he predestined them to do.” So in Piper’s thought, God comes out a particularly sadistic villain. Boyd does not question the sinfulness of humanity, but he does question Piper’s interpretation of Luke 13, his view of God and his lack of accounting for free agency in God’s creation. Boyd’s view, though more complex, is much more theologically satisfying. The key is reconciling the sovereign reign of God and his personal involvement with creation to suffering and evil in the world. The question essentially concerns theodicy.