So this week there was a big and vicious tornado that swept through Oklahoma killing a number of people and wreaking devastation in its path.
Within 24 hours there was a tweet sent by John Piper apparently that read like this:
“Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” [Job 1.18b-19]
Now don’t get me wrong, I have not been a big John Piper fan since the first thing I really heard directly from him was the ‘Farewell, Rob Bell’ tweet he tweeted when Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’ book came out [apparently in reference to Rob Bell’s theology on hell, or the perceived lack thereof].
Before that, there was someone in my old church who was always listening to John Piper messages and going off about how great he was. So that tweet and a rather mediocre devotion that he led at the latest Lausanne conference in Cape Town a couple of years ago are my only exposure to him. [Fortunately none of that is too relevant to the point I am going to be making here].
Now my initial reaction is to wonder whether Piper has some preset verse tweeting service, because I cannot imagine someone will respond that way to the tragedy that has just happened and the lives that have been lost. So benefit-of-the-doubt stuff here people.
And then I read this blog post by Rachel Heard Evans whose writing I often do enjoy, which is titled ‘The abusive theology of “deserved” tragedy’ in which she strongly suggests that this is how Piper has responded to a number of other tragedies and the mind boggles when I read some of the examples she gives. [And once again I’ll state this, because I know a lot of people I know think differently, but I believe that if you make public theological statements or commit public actions like that, then there is a time to be exposed publically – think Jesus, Paul…]
In fact this very second I flipped over to Twitter and read this quote from Rick Warren which just arrived in my feed: In deep pain,people don’t need logic,advice, encouragement,or even Scripture.They just need you to show up and shut up.
Which is perhaps what is most needed here. To show up and shut up. Let me explain:
All of the above is actually just the intro to what I was wanting to comment on here. It took just a few seconds in the comments section under Rachel’s blog post to come across such uplifting comments as these:
‘You can NEVER assume unwarranted motives or meanings on the speech of another human being regardless of past anything. You sir, are a bigot.’
‘Are you retarded? What better timing is there to teach the lesson of unavoidable suffering in this life? It’s real for people now. Job’s words should be a resounding trumpet to the faithfulness of the word of God. You obviously don’t value the bible much.’
And my own personal favourite: ‘If I had to guess what an fMRI scan of Rachel’s brain would have looked like during this post it would have been highly activated in the septum and the amygdala…’
And more. In fact, it really does seem like the comments sections of controversial or cutting edge blog posts and newspaper articles are where those lacking in Love [and possibly oxygen] seem to enjoy hanging out.
When Jesus was spending time with His disciples for one of the last times before He would be crucified, this is how He described the mission: 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13]
So you know what? By the time you refer to someone as a ‘retard’ you’ve lost. It doesn’t matter if the point you are trying to make is valid, it doesn’t matter if the argument you are fighting against is completely ridiculous. The moment you get personal and attacking and rude, you are missing what Jesus called us to. And so take some wisdom from Mr Warren and shut up [show up if you are able, but at least begin by shutting up]
We are to be known by the Love we have for one another. That does not mean that there won’t be times when we question peoples actions [both privately, which I would say is definitely the place to err, but also on occasion publicly] or that we will always agree. It doesn’t mean that a stance we take may disappoint or upset someone else or that we won’t make other people uncomfortable at times [Jesus spent a lot of time making people uncomfortable]. But we are called to Love. And when the church fights the church, then the enemy sits back [or goes elsewhere to stir things up] and smiles because… job done.
We have to do better.
I am reminded of one of my most recent favourite songs that gets stuck in my head by the character Andy Dwyer and his band Mouse Rat, from Parks and Rec which is called ‘The Pit’ and part of it goes like this:
Sometimes life gonna get you down
And sometimes you gotta take a look around
Thinking about love, but you’re standing in the pit
The rest of the song is pretty much ‘I fell into the pit, you fell into the pit, we all fell into the pit.’ [We’re not talking rock scientistry here, people]
But maybe he’s right. Maybe we can’t get to the Love part that our responses are meant to be about because we are standing in a pit.
Of judgement. Self-righteousness. The need to be right. The need to appear to be right. Self-centered theology. [it certainly doesn’t appear Christ-centered?]
All of this brings me back to the tornado…
Was it God huffing and puffing and blowing all those houses down? Because of all the bad things that someone did somewhere and we didn’t repent from?
That doesn’t sound a lot like my God. [altho, to be honest, when I read the bible there are some stories in there that I can’t fully wrap my mind around asthey don’t all always sound like my God either]
But whether it was or wasn’t caused by God because of some reason, surely the main question we need to be asking is how do we respond.
= = = = = = = = = = = = =
a little p.s. of sorts
Which brings me to Ricky Gervais, another guy I’m not a fan of… as he tends to push the line and then cross over it and jump all over the stuff on the other side that many people would deem sacred or sensitive or painful… but the comedian — famously an atheist — retweeted an MTV News message that read: “Beyonce, Rihanns & Katy Perry send prayers to #Oklahoma #PrayForOklahoma,” captioning it, “I feel like an idiot now… I only sent money.” which he later followed up with the twitter hashtag #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma.” [You can read the full article here]
On Wednesday he tweeted, “Praying for something but not doing anything to make it happen has the same effect as writing to Santa & not letting mummy read the letter.”
Ricky Gervais taking a dig, but he has a point and his diatribe sounds suspiciously like what the writer of James wrote,
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God.Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
So pray, yes, for sure, it’s an incredible thing we are called to do. But also go. And maybe shut up along the way. Join hands with someone heading in the same direction and seek unity and interdependence, rather than disunity, infighting and…
and… like clockwork I receive a tweet from Don Miller which directs me to a blog post which talks about John Piper pulling the offending tweets. What? Yes, there were two. And suddenly the story takes on a whole new twist… It is important that if you got this far you go and read that blog over here.
Which would be another blog on the importance of verifying news you hear before commenting on it and more importantly calling together the torch-bearing angry mob to run them out of town…
Let’s try remember the ‘Good News’ aspect of the message we are trying to share with the world.