Theology can wait
John Piper, the fine Calvinist teacher and pastor recently did a blog post on the devastating tornadoes in the Midwest and South. In it he makes some theological points that made me wince. Among them:
“Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states, and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?
If God has a quarrel with America, wouldn’t Washington, D.C., or Las Vegas, or Minneapolis, or Hollywood be a more likely place to show his displeasure?
We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.”
So that is what he has to say? God did it, now get over it?
Piper draws three lessons from the storm:
- “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:20). In other words, just accept it, don’t question, and don’t complain.
- “Unless you repent…” (Luke 13:4-5). In other words, take every storm and every bad thing as a divine warning.
- “God’s own people are not excluded.” (I Peter 4:17). In other words, watch out, you might be next.
John Piper is a fine man of God, no question, but it appears that here he has gotten his calling a little confused. In the suffering and aftermath of a horrific loss nobody wants a theology lesson. The essence of pastoral ministry needed here is not teaching but comfort.
I’ve seen many people in deep grief, including some fine Christians. One pattern I’ve always noted is their tendency toward sloppy theology in their pain. At times they are accusatory; at times they vacillate between free will and predestination; at times they are all over the map, including into denial of faith. This is all part of the process, part of coming to grips, and must be understood in this light. When they ask questions, even troubling questions, they are looking for comfort, not explanations.
We Christians, particularly those who are teachers, can overemphasize our call to teach. Piper here demonstrates sound teaching and poor compassion. Oddly, he mentions Job in his explanation. It is Job’s three friends who, though they have flawed teaching, show proper compassion. “…they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2.12-13).
Our call to respond to people in grief is with love and compassion. Theology can wait.