After some harsh online criticism, Christian author and college chancellor John Piper deleted two tweets quoting scripture from the Book of Job in the Bible posted late Monday evening, the same day that a devastating tornado flattened an Oklahoma City suburb, resulting in at least 24 deaths.
"The reason I pulled my tweets from Job is that it became clear that what I feel as comfort was not affecting others the same," Piper was quoted as saying to members of Desiring God, a ministry he founded. His explanation was posted in a blog by Desiring God content strategist Tony Reinke.
"When tragedy strikes my life, I find it stabilizing and hope-giving to see the stories of the sheer factuality of other's losses, especially when they endured them the way Job did. Job really grieved. He really agonized. He collapsed to the ground. He wept. He shaved his head. This was, in my mind, a pattern of what must surely happen in Oklahoma. I thought it would help. But when I saw how so many were not experiencing it that way, I took them down," said Piper, who recently retired as lead pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn.
In his blog post, published at DesiringGod.org on Wednesday, Reinke explained, "Monday night, in the wake of the devastating tornado in Oklahoma, John Piper posted two tweets at 11:00pm (CST). Both tweets quoted the first chapter of Job. He first cited Job 1:19, and then Job 1:20, and they were posted together consecutively:
@JohnPiper: 'Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.' Job 1:19
@JohnPiper: 'Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.' Job 1:20
Later he decided to take down both tweets."
Perhaps, one of the most critical of Piper was Christian commentator and author Rachel Held Evans, who wrote in her blog, titled "The abusive theology of 'deserved' tragedy…," that Piper and others "are working off of a perversion of the doctrine of total depravity."
In her blog, after calling the Job 1:19 tweet highly insensitive, Evans predicted that "within the next 24 hours, a blog post will appear, explaining it all away."
She writes, "Because this is what John Piper does whenever there is a tornado…or earthquake…or shooting…or war. While the world is still in shock, while we struggle to find the words to convey our grief and compassion and to weep with those who weep, he jumps in with an explanation, and it's always the same: Bad things happen because God is angry. This is God's judgment on undeserving, sinful people. Repent. We brought this on ourselves."
Reinke wrote that many people may have been "unaware these tweets appeared online, but some have made what we think is unfair criticism based on misinformation worth briefly addressing."
He continued, "The impression given by online sources is that only Job 1:19 was posted, an isolated tweet some critics have thought 'crude' and 'insensitive,' thereby neglecting the most important point made in the second tweet, of Job's response, and why our sovereign God is still worthy of worship even in the midst of the most unimaginable suffering and personal tragedy.
"Job 1:20 not only comes in the direct aftermath of a storm, but also holds out hope and comfort to Christians directly affected by tragedy today, reminding us that trust in God and worship of God are always right, even when we are kneeling in tears in the rubble left by a tornado. Job wept and he worshipped. God's sovereignty over his suffering provided the basis of his grounds of worshipping God in the suffering…"
Reinke stated that he believes online critics "muddied the point" by sadly only citing the first tweet, Job 1:19.
Evans wrote a follow-up post on Wednesday, "Forgive Me," in which she admits to her readers that she has some shortcomings in tackling difficult issues, waiting until near the end of her post to reference the Piper controversy.
She concludes, "I stand by the message of yesterday's post – that the theology of 'deserved' tragedy has serious, ugly consequences – but I owe it to you to tackle big topics like this with as much care, precision, and grace as possible. So if I failed in that way, I'm sorry. Be patient with me. I'm figuring this out as I go. Thank you for taking the journey with me."
Reinke ends his post stating, "Our prayer at Desiring God for those impacted by the tragedy in Oklahoma City is echoed in Pastor John's tweet yesterday morning that sought to make explicit from James what was implicit in his Job tweets:
@JohnPiper: 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.' James 5:11"