Yesterday, Rachel Held Evans posted a blog on “The Abusive Theology of ‘Deserved’ Tragedy.” Due to some personal tragedies, general life struggles, and the end of another school year, I’ve neglected the blogosphere lately, but a friend alerted me to Rachel’s post yesterday.
I read it with anger and frustration.
Not directed toward Rachel, though.
Directed toward the men about whom she wrote.
Men whose sermons I have soaked in for countless hours. Whose books I have read by the dozens. Who I have met personally, though briefly, at conferences and seminaries over the years. Men who have blessed me and challenged me and grown me and my understanding of the great God we worship.
Men who led me to declare myself a member of the Reformed, Complementarian camp many years ago. Today, I believe my tent is pitched much farther from them than I once believed. Right now, I’m not sure I’m in a camp, and to perceive you are alone is a scary place to be, especially theologically.
Dr. Piper’s first Tweet after the Oklahoma tornadoes was this:
Public outcry was apparently swift, and by the time I checked his Twitter feed this morning, the tweet had been removed and replaced with an explanatory tweet that was even more inflammatory to me:
My hope and prayer for Oklahoma is that the raw realism of Job’s losses will point us all to his God “compassionate and merciful.” Jam.5:11
— John Piper (@JohnPiper) May 21, 2013
I am amazed with how the increasingly militant Reformed camp proclaims covenant theology, that we’re under a New Covenant in Christ, but in tragedy, but how many cite the works of God in the Old Testament, under an Old Covenant full of wrath, to swiftly and absolutely explain tragic events to a watching world.
Last I checked, Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame of it for us (Heb. 12:2). Scripture proclaims the earth is groaning in birth pains for His Second Coming (Romans 8:22); He wept when His people suffered tragedy (John 11) even though He KNEW He was about to perform a work of Sovereign, glory-filled goodness; it’s His KINDNESS, not His wrath, that brings us to repentance (Acts 2).
What’s wrong, in a time of tragedy, of just saying, “Jesus wept“?
Or, if you want to quote Job, instruct people in how to respond to tragedy, not how to evaluate it:
11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was (Job 2).
Dr. Piper sounds more like Job’s friends later in the book, when they grow weary of comforting his grief and begin demanding to know the sin that caused the calamity rather than continuing to point him to the God who comforts in calamity.
Let me add that this is not a personal attack on Dr. Piper from me. His teachings have had a PROFOUND impact on my spiritual growth and understanding of the greatness of our God and the intensity with which He loves His children.
But this is a case of reminding all of us of the fallibility of all men and that no one person should be blindly followed or agreed with 100% of the time.
In this case, I wholeheartedly agree with Rachel’s assessment of the timing of these men’s proclamations of judgment concerning natural disasters. Who, after all, can claim to know the mind of God?
If this is Reformed theology, I’m starting a new camp.
Liberal Reformed: The Bible is infallible, God is Sovereign, and He is LOVE. He said so Himself (1 John 4:8).
Anyone care to join me?
FYI: For a view of grace-filled Reformed theology in the face of tragedy, check out this post over at A Cry for Justice: “How Reformed theology brings me freedom, and how I respond to unfair accusations”
UPDATE: Desiring God Ministries has published a response to those speaking out against Dr. Piper’s recent Tweets. For the sake of full disclosure and to help readers find full info, here is the link to their statement: