It doesn’t matter whether Rachel Held Evans took John Piper’s tweet about the Oklahoma tornadoes “out of context.” It doesn’t matter whether she used the incident as a springboard to talk about other problematic things that Piper has said in the past and polemicize against the underlying theology that she considers to be the source of such statements. The fact remains that tweeting Bible verses about houses falling down on children and killing them after that happens to someone in real life is bad pastoral care. Always. Period. No matter what you write before or after. I’m not trying to be a jerk; I know he took the tweets down and apologized. But I still feel like the zealous self-assurance of his disciples who tore into Rachel so ferociously requires a reality check. I don’t have much to add to what I’ve already said about this, except to relate some comments from Chaplain Mike at InternetMonk and Stephen Smith at Liberty for Captives.
From InternetMonk’s John Piper, Miserable Comforter:
Once [Job’s friends] opened their mouths, it was all downhill. They became “miserable comforters.” It is not simply a matter of timing. The friends’ words came after the accepted period of silent mourning. Their words were wrong. And so it is with John Piper. It is not as though Piper’s words, inappropriate in the tender moment, would be appropriate once wounds have healed somewhat, once things have calmed down and we have time to gain perspective on the tragedy. No, his understanding and application of the book of Job is wrong. He has taken his place with Job’s friends, not with the argument of the text.
From the point when Job’s friends open their mouths, the Book of Job becomes a protest against their “miserable comfort,” particularly by challenging all theologies of explanation.
I really feel like the need to weigh in on every public tragedy that comes along is disrespectful to the victims. We can and should pray. Perhaps it’s appropriate to tell others publicly that we’re praying. I suppose we can reference a tragedy in our preaching for the benefit of our own congregations. But to theologize in the public square especially in such an impersonal forum as twitter?!!! Not okay. When Job’s friends’ come across him, their first response is silence: “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13). Likewise our compassion for those suffering and our fear of the Lord should compel us not to “darken [His] counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38:2).
From Liberty for Captives’ 6 Reasons Why Christian Leaders Respond Inappropriately to Tragedy:
Some Christian leaders subscribe to particular theological systems which simplify the raw complexity of God’s working in the world. These systems offer a comfortable human framework constructed by the minds of men and women who wish to shield themselves from the full blazing mystery and complexity of God. While these systems offer some helpful interpretations and explanations of God’s working, they are finite and thus inadequate. In the case of a disaster, such leaders lean heavily on their interpretive framework to provide prefabricated solutions to a truly monumental problem… If you can say “God is sovereign and we should worship him no matter what happens,” then perhaps you can avoid the smoke and blood on the ground. But we should remember that even Job—after affirming God’s sovereignty—spent 30+ chapters weeping, doubting, and expressing anger.
It’s not that John Piper is an evil person or even that he has nothing constructive to offer theologically. His book Desiring God has been an instrumental part of my development. I will even concede that the Calvinist God is not necessarily a sadistic monster; I am with the Calvinists in their insistence on the ubiquitousness of God’s sovereign grace. No good ever has its source in us; it is always God working through us. What is problematic is what Chaplain Mike calls “a theology of explanation.” When you have to show that you have a 140 character theological answer for every event that happens, you’re no longer talking about God’s sovereignty; you’re exalting your own sovereignty as an explainer. That is where Calvinism goes foul, when it falls in love with its systems of explanation and its pantheon of explainers (Spurgeon, Sproul, Packer, Grudem, etc). rather than fearing the One whose mysteries are inscrutable.
This is precisely what the book of Job is polemicizing against, as Chaplain Mike relates:
[Piper] simply cannot admit to what the book of Job actually teaches — that all explanations are inadequate. The point of Yahweh’s overwhelming theophany at the end of the book is that we cannot hope to analyze the hidden counsels of God or translate the mysteries of life into systematic terms. To attempt to do so is to become “miserable comforters.”
God’s ways are a mystery. And we shouldn’t say even that much to people who are hurt by events that cannot be blamed on anyone. We can keep in mind for ourselves that “God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28). But rather than just tweeting this verse which is the cyber-equivalent of saying, “Go; be warm and well fed” (James 2:16) to people who are hurting, we should seek to embody this truth and be the vessels that God uses to work all things together for the good. That’s a much better witness.