John Piper recently explained that he will not vote for an egregiously immoral leader. Of the two main political parties in the USA, he finds neither presidential candidate viable. So he has decided to write-in his vote.
Some however disagreed with his approach because they felt that the pro-choice actions of democrats amount to much greater evil than the arrogance and deceit of the republican president. The accusation amounts to this: Piper compares apples to oranges or equivocates on the seriousness of sin.
He does not. The objection betrays a misunderstanding of what sin is and does. It further implicitly undercuts the metaphysical reality of sin. If that sounds too abstract, it is not. Let me explain in order to make this response concrete.
The Bible describes sin as a corrupting influence that leads to death. In Scripture, the corruption of sin moves from father to child (to third and fourth generation), from leader to people. Proverbs 29:12 says, “If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked.” If the leader listens to evil, he corrupts his officials or at least chooses evil officials.
John MacArthur explains:
It is not appropriate for someone in high levels of leadership responsibility to lie. A known liar, a known deceiver, a known hypocrite, one who can go on an Easter Sunday with a Bible in hand, ostensibly to worship the resurrected Christ in a church, and then return to the White House for an illicit sexual relationship, that’s hypocrisy of the worst kind. This is a pattern of deception lifelong. And such a person does not attract around him honest people. So what you eventually have, according to Scripture, is corruption everywhere in association with that deceiver.
MacArthur hits the nail on the head. A bad leader, a liar, corrupts everyone around him. A bad egg spoils the bunch. Bad company corrupts good morals.
Sin as Corruption
What does this corruption mean? Well, Christians do not believe evil or sin has substantial existence. Since God created everything and declared it very good (Gen 1:31), there is no room for evil to be a created thing. It has no created substance. So what is it? Sin corrupts good, breaks it down, and destroys it. It runs away from God who is Life into Death. Which is why sin leads to death in Scripture. And that is why Jesus restores life to us (resurrection) after dealing with sin (cross).
So everything good can be corrupted, except God. We commit sin by corrupting the good (when desire, for example, turns to lust). It is evil That is what evil is. Sadly, human nature—our being—was created very good, but we have denied our nature and become less than what should be.
All of this was obvious to Christians throughout most of our history. Now, however, a number of cultural influences have made these ideas feel less plausible. We do not really believe there is a real thing called human nature. Human nature is just a phrase to classify people, right?
Well, Christians have said, no. Human natures are real, substantial things. They exist and can be perfected or corrupted. As a whole, sin no longer seems real to us since we are no longer realists. Sin does not corrupt natures, we think, because natures don’t really exist (just abstract laws). So sin means breaking a rule or doing some bad action.
It certainly does mean that. But it also entails the corruption of our natures, the deleterious destructive activity of bringing us into non-being as Athanasius argues.
Sin’s Corruption Illustrated
Given that this is so (even if formally we affirm natures), we still struggle to understand how bad “character” can lead to deleterious, damaging effects. If sin or evil merely means acts that we do and not the corrupting influence of sin on other natures, then that may make sense.
A great illustration of this is the power of the ring in Lord of the Rings. The corrupting influence of evil, on natures, and on societies can have such far-reaching and destructive effects. The king of Rohan affects the entire nation. The nine wring-raiths become wisps of ethereal beings, losing their substance. Gollum loses himself. The balrog becomes darkness and fire.
Evil in Lord of the Rings deprives and corrupts. And that corruption brings about great harm in Middle Earth. The same is true in real life. The ideology of Natzi Germany or ancient Persia led to wars and killing and suffering and evil.
Much of this plausibly happened due to the corrupting influence of sin of leaders, and through them, to the people. More could be said, but I hope that I am making the point more clearly now.
Sin according to John Piper
John Piper has lived in Jonathan Edwards and other earlier theologians. He knows Christian theology deeply and has deeply been affected by this vision of God (as Jake Meador has observed).
Piper knows the real and corrupting and damaging and vicious effects of sin on people. And so he writes:
This is true not only because flagrant boastfulness, vulgarity, immorality, and factiousness are self-incriminating, but also because they are nation-corrupting. They move out from centers of influence to infect whole cultures. The last five years bear vivid witness to this infection at almost every level of society.
He is right. And so he can affirm: “There is a character connection between rulers and subjects.”
If sin is real and if natures can corrupt and if corrupt natures (and so people) do great harm to society both metaphysically and physically, then Piper’s argument has great weight. There was a time when evangelicals valued souls as much as bodies. Both body and soul, matter and spirit have great significance and correlate deeply and inseparably.
Piper sees sin and depth of evil in both the left and the right. From the perspective of orthodox Christianity, he is right. The challenges to his article betray a lack of a theological awareness of how sin corrupts hearts and peoples.
Piper thus consistently opposes both pro-choice actions (abortion) and the corrupting influence of arrogance and deceit. Here, he is remarkably consistent in his Christian confession. He actually believes sin matters—and that sin greatly affects how people govern and nations act.