In a recent podcast, pastor and theologian John Piper tackled a listener question about why God creates certain people to be attractive and not others. Piper’s response has sparked criticism, particularly with regard to the way Piper addressed individuals with disabilities in his remarks.
An anonymous listener wrote into the “Ask Pastor John” podcast expressing how they emotionally struggle with their physical appearance. The listener asked, “How can I accept the fact that God, though capable of making me beautiful or at least average looking, chose to create me in an unattractive manner?”
Piper’s Theology of ‘Physical Ugliness’
In his response, Piper first expressed that while he felt sympathy for the listener, he’d be lying if he said that he knew exactly what the person is experiencing. “When I hear a question like this, it makes me groan, partly because I can count on three fingers, maybe less, the people who have ever called me ugly or handsome,” Piper said. “In other words, I groan because I know I’m being asked to speak to a sorrow that I’ve never tasted.”
Piper then explained that he sees this question about physical ugliness as part of a broader subset of questions regarding “disfigurement and disease and deformity and injury.”
“And if anyone thinks this is not relevant for them, keep in mind that you may not start life ugly, but you may well spend the last year curled up in a fetal position, weighing eighty pounds and wearing a diaper,” Piper said.
Piper offered his theology of “physical ugliness,” rooting his answer in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. “I think the deepest answer to the question of why there is so much ugliness and deformity and injury and disability and misery in the world is found in Romans 8:18-23.” Piper explained that while humanity is “subjected to futility,” Christians are “subjected in hope” for the redemption of their bodies in Jesus.
“The phrase ‘redemption of our bodies’ covers the whole waterfront of aging miseries, disease miseries, disability miseries, ugliness miseries,” Piper said.
Piper went on to say, “Ugliness and disfigurement have their roots in the origin of human sin.” Piper clarified that he wasn’t speaking about a particular sin on the part of the suffering person, but rather the “origin of human sin in Adam and Eve, which infected the whole human race.”
“In his wisdom, God decreed that there would be physical manifestations of the horrors and outrage of sin against God,” Piper said. “God brought the physical world, the bodily world, into sync, into correspondence, with the moral world.”
Emphasizing God’s sovereignty, Piper said, “Satan is a real secondary cause under God.”