October 21, 2014

John Piper, Miserable Comforter

Severe Weather

  • @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

* * *

As expected, John Piper, retired pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, weighed in on the destructive tornadoes in Oklahoma. That same night, while first responders were heroically combing through the damage trying to find survivors, Piper sat comfortably at his computer and posted two theological tweets, texts from the book of Job (see above).

Most of the folks that I read who responded to Piper’s musings mentioned only the first tweet. This was not good, and not fair to John Piper. It gave an incomplete picture of his thoughts. It is bad form and improper when critics give partial quotes out of context and then pass judgment. In a follow-up piece at Desiring God, Tony Reinke defended Piper, explained why he put up the tweets in the first place, and why he subsequently took them down. Reinke correctly criticizes the unfortunate selectivity by those who blasted the outspoken pastor and the wrong impression it created.

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.

Point taken.

Problem not solved.

Even with both tweets, perhaps especially because of both tweets, Piper represents a “miserable comforter” who, remarkably, still has not learned the wisdom of Qoheleth: there is “…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccles. 3:7).

I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all.
Have windy words no limit?
Or what provokes you that you keep on talking?

- Job 16:2-3 (NRSV)

By steadfastly refusing to be silent, to take his place by the side of those who are suffering with mouth shut and heart open wide, he misses the point of the very Bible book he cites in a misguided attempt to bring theological perspective to the Oklahoma disaster.

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and 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 seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

- Job 2:11-13 (NRSV)

This is the high point of the three companions’ friendship and ministry to Job. Silence. Tears. Presence. Symbolic expressions of solidarity and mutual grief.

Once they 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.

screenshot-aftermath-moore-oklahoma-tornadoes-05202013-004-teacher-comforting-studentThe Theory of Moral Explanation
To be sure, John Piper does not fall into exactly the same trap as Job’s friends did. What came out of their mouths in the central section of the Book of Job was a traditional theology of explanation for life’s troubles that was based on Israel’s covenant with God. This was expressed most fully in the Torah in Deuteronomy and by her Wisdom teachers in the Book of Proverbs. We might call it a theory of moral explanation.

Simply put, obedience leads to God’s blessing and disobedience brings deprivation and suffering through God’s judgment. If Job is suffering, he must have sinned.

In a series of speeches, Job and the three friends pontificate on Job’s sufferings and argue about this conventional viewpoint. The friends insist that Job must be guilty and urge him to ‘fess up. Job argues that he is innocent, and challenges God and his “comforters” repeatedly to show him where he has sinned. The friends represent a Biblical, theological system of explanation which insists that life and its vicissitudes can be understood and explicated.

Clearly, the Book of Job is a protest against this paradigm. At the end of the book, God says to Job’s friends, “you have not spoken of me what is right,” (42:7), and this despite the fact that their speeches accurately articulate Deuteronomistic and Wisdom perspectives. They knew the Bible. God said their “Biblical” teaching was dead wrong.

This is one of those instances when we catch the Bible in the midst of an argument against itself. As Michael Spencer put it, Scripture (especially in the First Testament) is a lively “conversation in God’s kitchen.”

The conversational model allows for a number of helpful ways of approaching scripture. For instance, it allows a variety of viewpoints on a single subject, such as the problem of evil. Job argues with Proverbs. It encourages us to hear all sides of the conversation as contributing something, and doesn’t say only one voice can be heard as right. Leviticus has something important to say that Psalms may not say. This approach sees the development of understanding as a natural part of the conversation, and isn’t disturbed when a subject appears to evolve and change over time. This model allows some parts of the conversation to be wrong, so that others can be right, and the Bible isn’t diminished as a result.

It is my view that the story of Job, perhaps an old folk tale in Israel, took on new resonance in the light of the Exile. Those who sought to bring Wisdom to God’s people during that tumultuous time turned to it to counter the easy answers that some were giving as to why Israel was suffering in captivity. The argument of the book is that the approach of Deuteronomy and Proverbs is too simplistic, too pat. God is bigger than the sovereign, retributive monarch that those traditions made him out to be. His ways are more complex, mysterious, and unexplainable than obedience – blessing/disobedience – curse.

The moral explanation theory can’t cover all the evidence. Job is never discovered to have sinned, he never admits to having sinned, and God never accuses him of sinning. Those who take this line of reasoning end up at a dead end, and their words result in “miserable comfort.”

The Theory of “Meticulous Sovereignty” as an Explanation
As for John Piper, he is to be commended for avoiding the theory of moral explanation, at least on this occasion. However, for some reason he cannot relinquish the position that there must be some accessible explanation for tragedies like the one our neighbors endured this past week. For him, the “answer” lies in what Scot McKnight calls a theology of “meticulous sovereignty” — the idea that God directly determines or causes all things.

As Piper himself says:

God brings to pass all things — I mean all things. There are no maverick molecules, R. C. Sproul said. And that is right. Or Spurgeon said, every dust mote that flies in the air, or every little globule of spray in every harbor in the wake of every boat in the world, is guided on its path through the air by God.

John Piper believes this so strongly and has identified his ministry so closely with this doctrine that every time something happens which people do not understand, especially natural disasters and tragedies such as the Oklahoma tornadoes, he feels compelled to proclaim the meticulous sovereignty of God over the situation and urge that a primary response should be submission and worship.

To be fair to him, he does recognize that there are other aspects involved as well, and when forced to explain himself more fully, Piper will admit that compassion and care must be part of the response too. But — and notice this move carefully! — he still will only commend such actions within the paradigm of God’s meticulous sovereignty. This is how he puts it:

I think part of God’s will in permitting or ordaining a calamity is that we weep with those who weep. That is part of the plan.

He 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.”

Furthermore, on a pastoral and practical level, we don’t need such an explanation to exercise Christ-like love. We love others and respond to their pain and distress because we are brothers and sisters and neighbors to those who suffer, and our hearts break for them. It is the truly human thing to do. It grows out of the way God created us. It bespeaks the divine image we bear. It need not be explained as part of a system of meticulous sovereignty lest we somehow steal glory from the Almighty!

I think John Piper badly misunderstands Job’s ultimate position as portrayed in the Book of Job. Job does not simply submit to the sovereignty of God.

  • Absolute submission is the appropriate response of Muslims to Allah — “submission” is the meaning of the word “Islam;” to be a “Muslim” is to be a Submitter. This is not Biblical Judaism or Christianity.
  • Submission is not the ultimate response of Jews before the God of “Israel” — the name means “he who wrestles with God and prevails.”
  • Nor is it the perspective of Christians before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — we look at life through the paradigm of death and resurrection.

The One before whom Job bows and repents in the end of the book of Job is not the God who explains everything, either in moral terms or in terms of meticulous sovereignty. God does not explain himself, he refuses to explain himself, indeed, he goes far beyond explaining himself. He overwhelms Job with the mystery, he does not give him “answers.” There is no theology of explanation.

In fact, one might say that the book of Job ends with a stand-off.

  • God displays his glorious power but reveals nothing specific about his ways. Nor does he accuse Job of sin or wrongdoing.
  • Neither does Job back down. He readily admits his limitations before the hidden counsels of the Creator, but does not confess that his own ways have been sinful or deserving of punishment.

Job proves himself a true son of Israel — he has wrestled with the Almighty and prevailed. Like Jacob, he clings to the One who remains mysterious to him.

As Walter Brueggemann puts it, in the end Job and God are “permanently linked in an unequal relationship.” Job confesses that God can do anything he likes. God acknowledges that Job spoke what was right concerning him (42:7).

The God of Job is the God who encourages us to wrestle, not settle for explanations.

US-WEATHER-TORNADOThe End of Explanations and the True Comfort of Love
Any attempt at explaining “Job’s troubles” falls short. The moment we as Job’s neighbors open our mouths, we become “miserable comforters,” especially in the immediate aftermath of tragedy.

The book of Job teaches us that the one good thing Job’s friends did was to be present and shut up, to sit down and silently express their solidarity in suffering.

And if we are “Job” — the ones suffering — we must not buy in to the view that mystery can be explained.

Of course, to live like this does not come naturally or easily. More than likely, it will involve an ongoing, agonizing process like the one portrayed in the book. This process will sometimes look pious (like Job in the early chapters) but more often than not I suggest it will put us in an adversarial relationship with Almighty (like Job in the central part of the book) — arguing, complaining, lamenting, and processing our thoughts and feelings before God. To be sure, many times we will also find ourselves in conflict with those who represent conventional religion and its theologies of explanation.

The Job we see at the beginning of the book, the person John Piper tweets that we should imitate, is not the Job at the end of the book. His initial pious responses of humble worship may reflect the commendable reflexes of a righteous man, but he did not live that way for long. The reflexive worshiper became a wrangling wrestler who refused to be satisfied by conventional wisdom or doctrine, no matter how sound it seemed. And whatever “rewards” Job received in the end had nothing to do with simply bowing in worship or confessing that “there are no maverick molecules.”

Indeed, the high point for Job comes at the end of the book and at the end of the wrestling match. First of all, he achieved a hard-fought stand-off with Yahweh. Secondly, he was moved to show selfless love to his “friends” (his spiritually misguided and, it might be said, even abusive friends) by praying for them. God answered Job’s prayers and they experienced forgiveness and restoration.

And so we must pray for one another, that God will not allow us to remain in our status as “miserable comforters,” settling for theologies of explanation when the true and living God is so much more complex, mysterious, and glorious.

Furthermore, the text goes on to mention the loving acts of Job’s brothers and sisters: “Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring” (42:11).

What we have in the end of the book of Job is love. It is in the context of that love — divine and human together — that “the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (42:12).

That doesn’t mean, by the way, that Job forgot the tragedy that marked his life or ever stopped grieving for his lost children. Whatever God gave him did not “replace” what he had lost. But in addition to the material blessings and new brood of children that God provided, Job received a most wonderful gift — a community of people who would come and “eat bread with him in his house,” who showed a spirit of sympathy and comfort that would not settle for trying to explain life’s conundrums.

No more miserable comforters. That may be the greatest blessing of all.

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    if Piper’s inappropriate comment truly reflects his theology . . . then I suspect Piper does not comprehend
    the role of the Holy Spirit as ‘PARACLETE’,
    or ‘One Who comes along side us with His strength and comforting in the time of our need’

    if that is true that he doesn’t accept this role of the Holy Spirit, then Piper’s theology concerning ‘Who God is’ may be suspect at a very deep level, or at least skewed in a way that makes God something He cannot be

    has Piper envisioned God with some image that is more human than divine?
    it’s humans that seek after ‘glory’ and ‘reassurance of their greatness’,
    but God doesn’t need anything from us . . .

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The conversational model allows for a number of helpful ways of approaching scripture. For instance, it allows a variety of viewpoints on a single subject, such as the problem of evil. Job argues with Proverbs. It encourages us to hear all sides of the conversation as contributing something, and doesn’t say only one voice can be heard as right.

    I am reminded of the saying “Two Jews, three opinions.” Job argues with Proverbs. Jacob gets his leg broken getting physical with God. Abraham haggles God down to “ten righteous men in Sodom” like a bazaar merchant. Peter & Paul have a knock-down-drag-out over whether to let the Goyim into the Church. There is just something wild and pugnacious and REAL about this.

    God brings to pass all things — I mean all things. There are no maverick molecules, R. C. Sproul said. And that is right. Or Spurgeon said, every dust mote that flies in the air, or every little globule of spray in every harbor in the wake of every boat in the world, is guided on its path through the air by God.

    This is the God of Utter Predestination, the Determinist God who is OMNIPOTENT but NOT benevolent. Where God is beyond Good and Evil and Wills what He Wills and who are we mere creatures to call it Evil? Calvin, Mohammed, al-Ghazali, and all the fallout from the same. Where God’s only attribute is POWER. Absolute, Infinite POWER. Omnipotent but not benevolent. And being Godly — being like God — becomes the worlds of Lord Voldemort: “There is no Right, there is no Wrong. There is only POWER — and those too weak to possess it.”

    • God is good. And gives good things to all people – sometimes, and sometimes we see His wrath.

      • Beakerj says:

        nedbrek – what’s your point here? This sounds like a horrible trite quip in the face of tragedy & as a reply to HUG. Are you truly equating this tornado, or closer to home, the horrific murder of a soldier in the street by 2 islamist fundamentalists as being the wrath of God? How do you know when it is?

        I’m with Scott McKnight all the way here – Piper’s belief in the meticulous sovereignty of God leads him to say all kinds of harsh nonsense, & puts power above love.

        • HUG said that the God of Reformed theology is not benevolent. I corrected that statement, by referring to God’s just (and good) wrath against sin.

          • Luke 13: 1-5

            “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

            It’s all too easy when preaching the just wrath of God against sin to start pointing fingers. Were those people killed in Oklahoma worse sinners than the rest of us? No, and what spares us from being struck down? The forbearance and mercy of God. So were these people punished or made an example of? No, they weren’t. Isaiah 55: 8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

            All of which being said, let us not start slinging texts at each other or making an example of those suffering, but let us help and pray for each other.

          • But if God has meticulously predestined everything, then how is it just for Him to unleash His wrath against those whom He predestined to sin?

          • I find it helpful sometimes to think of predestination in terms of God having “written the story”.

            Just because Tolkien wrote the story in the Lord of the Rings, doesn’t mean Sauron isn’t the bad guy, or that his destruction isn’t a good thing.

          • Phil M. says:

            Just because Tolkien wrote the story in the Lord of the Rings, doesn’t mean Sauron isn’t the bad guy, or that his destruction isn’t a good thing.

            Jessica Rabbit: “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”

            Sorry, but I’ve heard different people attempt to use this analogy. It doesn’t work. If anything it implicates God even more.

          • There are really only two options:
            1) God is in control, and evil has a purpose (which we might not be able to figure out with our limited scope)
            2) God is not in control, and evil has no purpose

          • Phil M. says:

            There are really only two options:

            Those are the only options you see because you’re defining control in a certain way.

            There’s nothing contradictory in saying that God is in control and that there’s is much evil that serves no purpose. Admitting that evil events are random can seem like a big leap for some, but ultimately, I think it’s a much healthier view. It doesn’t mean that God can’t bring good from events, but it doesn’t mean that God planned on them happening.

            If we’re constantly looking for a good purpose behind evil events, in a way it inoculates us from calling them what they are.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            @nedbrek:

            That dualistic thinking (i.e., there are only two options) reflects a very simplistic thought process that isn’t very useful in discussions revolving around theodicy.

            In other words, it’s a little more complex than that.

          • Phil, two issues:
            1) If God is in control, but there is evil which serves no purpose, I don’t see how that makes God more evil than you imagine the Reformed view is. At least I can claim God is achieving some higher end (not that ends justify the means).

            2) If evil is truly random, then they are outside of God’s control (which means God is not in control).

            I’m not intending to find the good behind everything. I just trust that God knows what He’s doing.

            ———-
            Marcus:
            I welcome addition options, if you could summarize them.

          • Phil M. says:

            nedbrek,
            Well, I see that is going nowhere fast… I think you’re wrong. You think I’m wrong. Let’s leave it at that.

          • Nedberk

            3) God is victorious, he has/will win against Satan. He and Satan know it. But, just as WWII wasn’t over for those under the Nazis until the Nazis were physically defeated on their own turf, Satan is still getting his jabs in.

            God says he is creator, he says he is victorious, he says he is God, he says he will restore all things, and can create good things out of evil events. Where does it say he is 100% in control? Where does it say the whole story is already written?

            In fact, if Marth had continued quoting Luke 13, we would have got to this parable:

            Luke 1:6 (in response to Jesus explaining untimely death was no one’s sin) 6 Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig-tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”
            8 ‘“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’

            If the caretaker’s reply sounds familiar, think back to Moses. When God was fed up with the Israelites he told Moses he was going to wipe them out and start a new nation with Moses’ off spring. Moses stands up to God, telling God “No!” You brought the people here, now you have to continue with them.

            The leaders of the OT were judged for how well they stood up to God. Noah, who God confided in, didn’t seem too concerned that God was going to wipe out all the sinners that vexed him. He just built his ark and stuffed if full of animals. Abraham makes a half attempt at stopping God, by bargaining with him over the destruction of Sodom, but Moses tells God what he cannot do. Moses is judged as righteous, he didn’t roll over and play dead, he told God what had to happen. When God looks for leaders (not del-appointed human ones, read Samuel anointing David to see how humans chose leaders), he looks for those who will stand up for righteousness (which includes mercy).

          • Sorry, that was Luke 13:6

            and (not self-appointed human leaders…)

            Stupid auto-correct.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          nedbrek – what’s your point here? This sounds like a horrible trite quip in the face of tragedy & as a reply to HUG.

          I concur. Kind of like the Christianese version of a Seinfeld ironic quip. Ah, the Utter Certainty of the Predestined Elect with their Perfectly-Parsed Theology.

          With no idea how it would be received by someone whose introduction to Christ was through Jack Chick’s “This Was Your Life” and God as God of Wrath. Whose borderline Aspergers sets him up for Excessive Scrupulosity and Kid Genius Expected Perfectionism for constant Fear of Damnation. The fallout from Penal Substitutionary Atonement (which I think was either proposed or popularized by Calvin) replacing Christus Victor.

          “God is Good”? More like “AL’LAH’U AKBAR!” Where Praising God becomes survival by out-flattering the other courtiers in the Court of a Cosmic Baba Saddam.

          • Beakerj says:

            Hear hear HUG!

            You will already know that I don’t really believe the God of reformed theology to be benevolent in any common sense of the word. It’s really a game of semantics – you can say God is good until you’re blue in the face but unless it actually means good, rather than some re-defined hyper-religious version of that word it means absolutely nothing. In fact Reformed theology has sucked all the meaning out of the word good for me…right now that means I’m not sure who God is, & hence can’t find a way to have a genuine relationship with him. God is power is what I read in nedbrek’s statement…

          • See also: God’s justice is completely different from human justice (or justice as most people call it), but were going to use the same word to describe both things, even though there completely different. This is in no way an attempt to get someone to transfer their positive associations about justice to this new relm of God justice.

          • Beakerj, I’m sorry if it sounds like God is power. I am just saying that there must be some meaning to the story. A meaningless story doesn’t “save” God’s goodness, far from it.

          • Ichabod says:

            With all respect to Piper, he is simply a sad product – though a very influential and vociferous one – of a heretical belief system built on hate. John Gerstner distilled it perfectly: “God has no complacent love for the sinner at all. He has a perfect hatred of him.” We see the underlying reason from Calvin himself. These are “children of disobedience; and this justly, for all the impious are vessels of wrath. To whom therefore should they be subjected, but to the minister of the Divine vengeance?” This is the result of a theology that hates people, until God changes his mind and decides that they are okay. And then they can be loved. Decided to be loved, that is, by the same people who otherwise should be pitied.

          • Don in Oklahoma says:

            [i]With no idea how it would be received by someone whose introduction to Christ was through Jack Chick’s “This Was Your Life” and God as God of Wrath. Whose borderline Aspergers sets him up for Excessive Scrupulosity and Kid Genius Expected Perfectionism for constant Fear of Damnation. The fallout from Penal Substitutionary Atonement (which I think was either proposed or popularized by Calvin) replacing Christus Victor.[/i]

            HUG, this is also my childhood in a nutshell…and most of my adulthood, as well. I stil fall into the old patterns of fearing failure, rejection and damnation. This is what a theology like Piper’s has done for me. I want no part of that. If God doesn’t love me, what’s the point of it all?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It’s really a game of semantics – you can say God is good until you’re blue in the face but unless it actually means good, rather than some re-defined hyper-religious version of that word it means absolutely nothing. — BeakerJ

            See the entry on “People’s Republic of Tyranny” in TV Tropes. Especialy the RL example where the more adjectives about Democracy there are in a country’s official name, the nastier a dictatorship it is.

  3. Thank you, Chaplain Mike. I read through it quickly, but I think this may be the best thing written by anyone so far on the “Piper Disaster Tweets” controversies. FWIW, I recently acquired Robert Alter’s translation of the Wisdom books, including Job. I’ll now have to read it.

  4. My blog exploded with hits after my post showing the screen shot Monday night. We’ve had a lot of discussion on that original blog post and also on a follow-up blog post taken from comments from a survivor, Mandy, who lost her home during Hurricane Ike. Piper’s comment and the response from Christian leaders who defended his remark caused flashbacks for Mandy because it reminded her of the way some Christians treated her during her crisis. We need to learn from people who have walked the walk. Piper’s words hurt. Leaders who defended those words also hurt.

    I came across this excellent post by Steve Smith of Liberty for Captives: http://goo.gl/fPjJf

    When we are so caught up in theology that we miss the essence of humanity and common decency by helping in obvious ways – being the hands/feet of Jesus, providing food/shelter/support, that theology is fraudulent, IMHO.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Just did a quick skim down the above link. From what I could see in that first skim-through…

      THIS GUY IS DEAD ON.

      • Yeah, just looked at link as well. Thanks for passing along Julie Anne. I agree, have seen it so many times in my small town church.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      When we are so caught up in theology that we miss the essence of humanity and common decency…

      We become just like the Communists of the previous century, caught up in their Purity of Ideology.

  5. I agree with EricW. Very well done Chaplain Mike. I love this line “The Job we see at the beginning of the book, the person John Piper tweets that we should imitate, is not the Job at the end of the book.” Now that will preach!!!!!

    • …and suddenly, it makes sense why that Matt Redman song bugs me so much. I just don’t know if my heart will choose to say, “Blessed be your name.” Experience tends to say no.

      • Right! Why doesn’t the song cover the rest of Job? I am considering writing a couple of new verses

      • For my part, I take “Blessed be your name” not as a be-all-end-all, but as self-exhortation. It doesn’t supplant grief, but it reminds me that there comes a time to stand up and get beyond the grief. (And no, that time is not “immediately after a massive national tragedy strikes”!)

    • That’s just what I was thinking too, Marko!

  6. Randommentality says:

    Brilliant. Simply brilliant. It took me forever to finally understand that the point of Job was not to be a blueprint for how to be a Biblical victim of tragedy, but rather advice to the bystander on how to (and not to) comfort. I hadn’t thought about the conversation in God’s kitchen analogy before, that adds an entire new level which I shall have to ponder. I will steal it, if you (and Michael Spencer) don’t mind. It accounts for so much. But I want to think on it before adopting it wholeheartedly.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It took me forever to finally understand that the point of Job was not to be a blueprint for how to be a Biblical victim of tragedy, but rather advice to the bystander on how to (and not to) comfort.

      And how those who have not been through it themselves can be clueless and say stupid/hurtful things.

      And how God responds to such challenges when Job gets in His face near the end — not by crushing us like vermin, but a whirlwind tour of Reality.

  7. Brother, you have expressed yourself so beautifully. Thank you so much for this thought provoking and loving response.

  8. Chad in Denton says:

    Great article! Love it!

    The only thing I’d tweak is this:

    The old testament does teach that obedience leads to blessings and disobedience leads to suffering. That’s true. BUT! It does not logically follow nor is it of biblical to say then that all suffering must be a result of disobedience.

    So, the statement in the article that says, “Simply put, obedience leads to God’s blessing and disobedience brings deprivation and suffering through God’s judgment. If Job is suffering, he must have sinned” may represent something that some folks have believed, BUT it does not represent something that the Bible ever teaches.

    Anyway, wonderful article. Good things that represent the true nature of God need to be said that speak to this “Meticulous Sovereignty” stuff. And I’m so happy that the writer exalted the Mystery and Love of God!

    • It is not a matter of “all suffering is a result of disobedience.”

      Job is written in a specific covenantal context. The covenant in Deuteronomy is filled with the idea that disobedience will lead to chastening, judgments, exile, and suffering.

      • Calvinball says:

        This is only half true. Neither Job, nor his friends were Israelites. Job is an Edomite from Ur, Eliphaz is probably from somewhere in Edom or north Arabia as is Bildad, and Zophar is a Sabean.
        Non of these men were under the covenant in Deuteronomy.

        But, the friends were keenly aware of the rule of law put into place by the Creator. To say the bible never teaches retribution is to miss something important. The book of Proverbs is premised on the deeds-consequence nexus. That is the covenant of Job, not the Mosaic covenant.

        • You are forgetting, my friend, that this book is included in the Hebrew Scriptures for Israelites under those covenants and Scriptures. That is the point. The story is an example for them and the language of the book reflects those covenantal texts.

          The story of Job may have come from another context in the Ancient Near East, but it has been reworked and edited to teach the Jews in Exile.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I think it is important to recognize that the book of Job comes at a significant point in the Old Testament. I personally suspect that it was either written in the wake of the Babylonian captivity, or uncovered at that time, when the spiritual relationship of Israel to God had hit this unique paradigm shift. Until that time, the recorded narratives within the Bible seemed to all say, “If you do wrong, God will punish you with suffering.” As a result, folks tended to look at someone in suffering and deduce that the person had done wrong.

      Then Job comes in, and presents a parable in which the protagonist didn’t commit a wrong that would justify his suffering under the old “sin begets suffering” adage. It spoke to the experience of people in exile who were asking new questions that were not really at the forefront of their theology in previous generations.

      This doesn’t mean that Job contradicts previous Scripture, or that God changed His mind or character. God didn’t change; we changed, and our understanding of our relationship with Him changed.

  9. Adrienne says:

    Chaplain Mike ~ this takes me back to another one of your posts which I saved titled, “Addicted to Answers”. I saved it obviously because it really “hit a chord” with me. In the evangelical/fundamentalist camps we psychologically keep tragedies and fear at bay as long as we feel we have an answer for them. I don’t mean to sound trite or simplistic but who can really understand the sovereignty of God? Why do people always use that as the “answer” when there simply is no answer? Can we not just humble ourselves and not feel we have to be God’s PR man. Just say nothing. Just wait until you have not comfortable office in a comfortable home because it has all just been blown to smithereens in a matter of minutes. Or your child left for school that morning never again to come home. Then let’s hear your theology. Or better yet – a few months down the road as you deal with all the ramifications. Then will you still be God’s expert?

    This is what you said back in that post and interesting enough it too was about John Piper and the Book of Job.

    “People don’t ultimately need answers from their friends. They need love. Before God, they need the faith and humility to know that he is bigger than any explanations, and that all humans are so limited that we can never figure out the mysteries of his ways. It is best simply to clasp one’s hands over one’s mouth. If he didn’t answer Job, chances are we won’t get the secrets of the universe either. And if God won’t give us answers, what makes us think we should focus so much on giving them to others? Be present. Be quiet. Be a friend.
    To John Piper and all other pastors who might be tempted to do more: Please don’t.
    No one needs or wants our “answers.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Chaplain Mike ~ this takes me back to another one of your posts which I saved titled, “Addicted to Answers”.

      I got very familiar to “Addicted to Answers” in my younger days. It’s a natural result of being a Kid Genius who got hit hard with the emotional and social retardation side effects. (When you’re just a Giant Brain in a Jar, why not go Mr Spock into total intellect?) I wonder if Piper might be coming from a similar background where the tunnel-vision was on Reformed Theology instead of Pure Intellect but the end result was the same lack of empathy from concentration on Abstract Concepts (Theology, Theory, Intellect).

    • Over the past seven years or so, I have had to learn with a certain amount of ambiguity in my life. I’ve had medical issues that were difficult to diagnose. I was also affected by a very well known shooting. I have learned that while there are many situations that have distinct answers, many do not. Wanting to know “why” something happens does not necessarily give closure. I am finding that closure happens when we allow ourselves to heal. That can take time.

      What I find some troublesome with Piper’s theology is that it not only seeks to explain what my not be explainable, but offers no real comfort. There have been times when I’ve just want to say “Oh, just shut up John, you’re doing more harm than good”

  10. Thanks for your thoughts about this recent controversy. For me, I did not find that the initial quotes were inappropriate in and of themselves – it was more of a question of timing for me. A few years ago in the doctor’s office after learning that my unborn daughter had died, the first thoughts that came into my mind were from Job 1:21. Even now I cannot really explain it, but I sat there and cried and worshipped, and God greatly comforted me at that time. Indeed, the entire book of Job was very meaningful to me at that time. However, not everyone processes grief in the same way, and so I tend to be very reluctant to quote any scriptures right away to people who are suffering – even if they are very helpful to me personally. I do take comfort in the sovereignty of God, but you are correct that that all explanations are inadequate. Thanks for reminding us above all to love and pray for one another and to be aware that we can, even unintentionally, become miserable comforters, “settling for theologies of explanation when the true and living God is so much more complex, mysterious, and glorious.”

  11. I haven’t much to say, except thank you. Thank you so much.

  12. It improves things slightly only if 1:20 was also tweeted, but no one else seems to have seen that one. No one. Not even those that defended 1:19. 1:20 did not enter the discussion at all until Piper claimed to have tweeted it. That only compounds the problem for me.

    • I agree. There is nothing in the context of the Job 1:19 tweet to indicate that there would be a follow up tweet, so the followup tweet gets lost in people’s timelines.

      Twitter, with it’s 140 character limit, is also not the place to be making the kind of statement Piper wanted to make (as indicated by the blog post explaining the tweets and why they were taken down).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Twitter format is the social media equivalent of Max Headroom’s “Blip-verts”.

        Suitable for “I Made a Poopie!” and not much more.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Agreed. It would have been a nice place to post a simple statement of support and commitment to prayer, but it is a terrible place to begin a real conversation about theodicy and the justice of God.

        And I think we all like to believe that the little bon mots we throw up on social networking sites have meaning, but I think that demonstrates more of our arrogance than our cleverness.

  13. Aside from his (Piper’s) comments in the aftermath of the tornado…his preaching brought no comfort to the sinner (I listened to many of his sermons). They were almost all law and ended with the law. “RealChristians should ‘feel’ this way and that way about the supreme, unfathomable, all encompassing sovereignty of God.” (many adjectives removed). It always reverted to ‘you’, and how you should be doing this and not be doing that and should be feeling this way.

    What comfort is there in that? Not much.

  14. +1 !
    Good stuff, Chaplain Mike. Thank you

  15. Josh in FW says:

    CM, I just want to join the others here and say great piece. I feel better prepared to be a comforter.

  16. scrapiron says:

    I used to be a huge Piper fan, but even back in those days, there was only so much Piper I could listen to in a given week. The primary reason is that what he said with these two tweets is all he has to say. Ever. Listen to 50 John Piper sermons and what have you heard: (1) God has meticulously planned every event in history, including the ones that make Him look completely evil and (2) He did this so everyone will know how powerful He is and fall down to worship with fear and trembling. It all seemed very logical and neatly sewed up with no gray areas and no unanswered questions, and that’s who I was at that time.

    Then I had kids. When you become an actual father yourself, and you read that God is love, it becomes a lot harder to swallow Piper’s neat, tidy theology. For example, there is no way I’ll kill my son so my daughter respects how strong I am. No way in hell. Yet that seems to be the logical end to Piper’s theology.

    I have a lot of respect for Piper and think that his church has done a lot of good, but now my thinking is much closer to that of his arch-nemesis and fellow Minneapolitan, Greg Boyd. There’s got to be a better explanation for these kinds of things than Piper provides. I think he is just a really smart guy who is the product of a fundamentalist, modernist upbringing that left him no room for any way of thinking other than a straight, linear, logical one. His attempts to magnify God (which I think are genuine) actually serve to put God in a logical box. It’s the biggest possible box. A box whose size is beyond imagination. But it’s still a box.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I was debating this sort of thing with a friend of mine who has similar Piper/Calvinist theology. He has two kids. I said, “Okay, which of your two kids are you going to condemn to Hell just to show you are in control and all powerful. And by the way, doing that won’t make me want to fall down and worship you.”

    • “I think he is just a really smart guy who is the product of a fundamentalist, modernist upbringing that left him no room for any way of thinking other than a straight, linear, logical one. His attempts to magnify God (which I think are genuine) actually serve to put God in a logical box. It’s the biggest possible box. A box whose size is beyond imagination. But it’s still a box”

      scrapiron, first of all, your analogy about your kids is spot on. Secondly, Piper starts with a flawed premise on meticiulous sovereignty that colors everything else. he tries to make God controlling such evil as a tornado as a sort of love coming from his wrath. The narcissist god glorifying himself and that is his love.

      It is chilling to me.

  17. Ricardo DeGibraltar says:

    Here’s a brief theology of the Book of Job: “God Is Enough.” However, I think it agrees more with Piper’s reading than with that suggested here.

  18. Wonderful article.

    I hadn’t read (or heard about ) the tweets that inspired this post, but your exposition on Job is great. Particularly the last section, about inadequate answers, absolute submission and wrestling with God, was some truly inspired writing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  19. His initial pious responses of humble worship may reflect the commendable reflexes of a righteous man, but he did not live that way for long. The reflexive worshiper became a wrangling wrestler who refused to be satisfied by conventional wisdom or doctrine, no matter how sound it seemed.

    yes! I have heard so many sermons/articles that suggest the book of Job ends after his responds in humble, broken worship. There is a long, hard road of questioning that happens after..and your description resonates with me deeply. Thank you!

  20. I made similar remarks at my blog, but I think it’s important to remember that Job prayed for his friends that God would spare them, because in spite of all, they were his friends.

  21. Perhaps not everyone is comforted in the same way. Here is another perspective, and no – he is not talking comfortably from a distance… Some do find comfort in truth:

    “Out of darkness, light is already emerging. And instead of turning on God, like many of the faraway critics, they are turning to God for comfort, even as God sends his people to tend to their temporal needs.”

    Read at: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2013/05/23/moore-prayers/

  22. Wow. Well put. This is a post I will return to, often. I hope you don’t find this to be contradictory to your main thesis, but after reading this, my life actually does make a lot more sense. In a mysterious way, I suppose.

  23. My guess is John Piper believes God when He describes Himself as He does in Isaiah 45:7:
    I form light and create darkness,
    I make well-being and create calamity,
    I am the LORD, who does all these things.

    That in itself is a comfort. What happens in this fallen world is governed by the all-wise, all-powerful, all-good God of glory, whose ways are inscrutable to us (Rom. 11:33-36). The first embrace of comfort to the hurting, however, is the ministry of the peace of Christ, who Himself wept at the griefs of a fallen world. We long for the day when there will be no more suffering, mourning, tragedy, pain or death–all because of Jesus.

  24. Scott Douglas says:

    Piper did exactly what God does at the end of the book of Job. Piper points to God, and God points to himself. God asks Job, “where were you when I did these mighty works?” God asserts his own power and sovreignty in the midst of Job’s suffering. God doesn’t show up and say, “Shucks, I really wish I could have done something.” Piper is not giving a trite explanation, or really “explanation” at all, if by explanation you mean “this happened because of XYZ.” He is directing our gaze to a God who is there and who is God. And this is the only place where real comfort lies. His timing was off, and the medium quite possibly too limited for what he was trying to communicate, but his message is right in line with the book of Job.

    • Piper has been in the business of communication for decades. He has been celebrated for his great powers of conveying truth. For a person who had spoken and written so much, blaming his timing and the medium is a pretty weak defense. I think he has been in a bubble too long, protected and adored by like-minded people. He needs to stay in his bubble or change his delivery.

    • Scott, one of my complaints about Piper is that he thinks it is the pastor’s job to only tell that “God-centered” side of the story. There is a human side as well, and apparently he doesn’t get it, or isn’t interested in it. For that reason, I don’t think his message is “right in line” with the book of Job at all.

      Job is not simply about the greatness of God. It is about humans wrestling with God, wrestling with the tragedies of life, wrestling with religion’s “answers.” God’s speech, though climactic and essential, is but a few chapters out of a very long and complex book. Without the wrestling; the human speeches, arguments, disputes, complaints, and laments, there is no book of Job, and to represent the message of the book as “God is sovereign and does everything; I bow down and worship” is ridiculously reductionistic.

      John Piper’s answer to everything seems to be “there are no maverick molecules,” God meticulously determines every single event from the micro- to macro-level. That is an attempt to explain mysteries beyond our grasp that, I guess, he thinks provides a rationale which is comforting. But God didn’t say that to Job. He overwhelmed him with a majestic vision of mysteries that humans will never be able to explain. Piper’s God is too small for my tastes.

      • Debbie Kaufman says:

        I realize I am late in commenting, but it was difficult to talk about fully till now. I am Reformed in my doctrine to a large degree(90% as opposed to 100%) but I am also human as some have mentioned and feel, see the human side of this. I am from Oklahoma and Moore is a neighbor of where I live(about 11/2 hours away). The tornado that went through did not hit my community, but it did hit Moore, our neighbor community, and the devastation was beyond horrible. A whole town was wiped out, people, children, dead in 40 minutes time. That was what I saw and felt. It was beyond hurt. John Piper’s tweets were ill timed and hurtful, not helpful. He has many thousands of followers that saw those tweets. It is a big deal. When Piper tweets, people listen and agree with him. Wrong or not. In this he was wrong.

        The second tweet brought no comfort either, so it does’t matter to me if there was one tweet or two. The damage is the same. I could not say “Blessed be the name of the Lord” at the time either. Later yes, but not at the time. I don’t think I sinned, I think my God who loves me(cause the Bible tells me so) understood and comforted the hurting.

  25. Excellent post. More than just a response to exile, I think Job is a mystical book. The answer is truly mystical–I mean that in the wisdom tradition sense. None of the questions get answered, they are simply blown away by the encounter with God. (Although, as you mention, it’s worth noting that Job’s friends are told they are wrong–but Job is never told he isn’t innocent!) I wouldn’t think the story is a stalemate. Job is simply struck dumb by his experience of God.

    It seems like a big mistake to do technical theology with a book that’s crafted toward a mystical end. You’ll always miss the point. You’ll always be Job’s friends.

    • Good points.

      As for the “stalemate” at the end of the book, perhaps I should clarify. I think the paradigm of Jacob wrestling with God is quite pertinent here (Gen. 32:22-32).

      In one sense, no one can wrestle with God and win. God defeated Jacob and deeply wounded him. Yet Jacob clung to the angel and said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” With that expression of faith, God declared Jacob the winner and called him “Israel,” the one who had striven with God and humans and prevailed. God defeated Jacob, but Jacob was declared the winner. Jacob remained wounded his entire life, but he had won the blessing.

      I see that same encounter in Job. Yahweh overwhelmed Job with a mystical vision that showed God and his ways to be beyond human explanation. Job was deeply humbled. And yet the denouement of the story shows that God considered Job a “winner” — he had striven with humans and God and prevailed. Deeply wounded, he lived the rest of his days in God’s blessing.

  26. An acquaintance read Piper’s tweets and offered this wisdom; “The appropriate response to a piece of excrement is to flush, not hold it up for everyone to see.”

  27. Rick Ro. says:

    I just posted this thought on the Michael Newnham “God and Disaster” thread, that a theology that provides me the comfort that I need might not provide the comfort that OTHERS need.

    Maybe it’s our selfish nature, but I think we all have an unfortunate tendency to hit people in need comfort with one-liners that provide US comfort, little realizing how unhelpful those one-liners are. This tendency is worse for people like John Piper, who are used to large audiences and who feel their theology is right and that their theology is worthy of being listened to…and certainly since THEY get comfort from it, EVERYONE will get comfort from it.

  28. Hello Mike, I really appreciate the fuller attempt you make in the post of surveying the situation and I like how you view Job. I’d agree.

    But you have not escaped the mistakes which are being perpetuated in the blogosphere around this “tweet-gate” (as some are calling it). I’m a little surprised because you have more information than others did (like RHE) when they first addressed it. You have awareness of the second tweet. You have Piper’s explanation of those tweets. And yet you’ve somehow managed to recapitulate the same mistakes and assigned the same assumed motives to Piper that many others have.

    First I’ll just mention in passing that while you highlight the second tweet, nothing in this post tells me that you are aware of the third. (The tweet after the tweet – when this post was written I was not aware of the two that were tweeted together). This tweet helps to put the first set in context – surely James was aware of Job’s disposition both at the start of the book, and the end! :)

    Secondly, you’ve assigned past comments made by Piper to the present situation. We know all about Piper’s past comments and we know that he still holds to those convictions and we know that he would apply those same convictions to the present situation. But the fact is, his current tweets do not do that in this situation. (<– how people keep missing that fact is beyond me.) His current two (three) tweets were an attempt to offer comfort, not to function as a theological explanation for the tornado (an assumption you assign to Piper's motives). I'm amazed that this point has gone unnoticed and false motives continue to be assigned to Piper despite a clear explanation made in the Desiring God article you mention.

    Third, yes, those tweets were unhelpful. When all else false fail and people finally recognize the two points above, they are not satisfied and still want to (like the old witch hunt doctors) find a way to tie him to a stake. Their last hope: to remind Piper that quoting Job in the midst of such a tragedy is unhelpful and that (as you point out) the best thing to do in that situation is to remain silent. Okay. Great point! Thing is, Piper agrees according to the Desiring God article you cited. (Yes, that must deflate some of your rhetoric!) That is, in fact, why he took the tweets down. Because he realized they were not being helpful.

    Finally, you begin your rhetoric with this disrespectful and rather ignorant comment: "Piper sat comfortably at his computer and posted two theological tweets…" This is a HUGE judgment of motives. John Piper tweeted from Job because he believed that the passage he was tweeting from would offer comfort to those who needed it, not to pass theological judgment. And why would Piper think that a passage from Job would offer comfort to people who were going through a disaster? Because, when Piper was diagnosed with cancer (he wasn't sitting comfortably at a computer when that happened!), he found comfort in the book of Job.

    Your article is good in most of what you do say about what Job teaches and about how Christians should respond to the situation at hand with the OK tornado. But it is terrible in what it tries to do with Piper's tweet-gate.

    Try again.

    • Derek,

      Sorry, but you are just wrong.

      The only thing I will confess is that the line about him sitting comfortably at his computer was a bit snarky. My bad, and I did consider that I perhaps should not frame it that way.

      You say Piper was not offering explanations but trying to offer comfort. That’s not right. Offering comfort was his motive (good). Citing a Biblical example was his shorthand way of giving an explanation (God is sovereign, in control of every event, and therefore, though we mourn we should trust him and worship as Job did). Explaining is what John Piper does. All the time. It is his default mode of operation. It was also the standard operating procedure of Job’s friends, who I’m sure had commendable motives in trying to talk to their friend too. Motive is not the question. Pastoral practice is.

      As for going back to past Piper material, I only did so because the article I cited on removing the tweets encouraged readers to go to a particular podcast to understand more fully what Piper was trying to say. I did not go back and dig up old material, but merely followed the trail that those at Desiring God told me to follow so that I could get Piper’s message in context.

      I am glad John Piper took the tweets down. That was a good action and commendable on his part. Furthermore, his third tweet is appropriate and represents what should have been said in the first place.

      • No Mike, you’ve leaped in a few places and I’ll show you where.

        The Desiring God website did not encourage you to listen to the podcast to “understand more fully what Piper was trying to say” in those tweets Go back and read that part more carefully. It encourages you to listen to how Piper reconciles his theology with his responses. But his response here in this case is his attempt to comfort, not explain. As he himself clearly said:

        “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.”

        As a Wesleyan-Arminian I can read that statement and amen it. There’s nothing about his motives in those tweets that suggest he’s trying to explain what happened… you mistaken sir.

        If citing a Bible verse is to automatically be shorthand for “explaining” than there are many books that have explaining to do (especially gift books that list Bible verses as God’s promises). That is an assumption you have made, but it’s not accurate. And even if it was, one must ask what “explaining” was intended by those verses. You assume you believe what “explaining” Piper was trying to do only because you know his theology. Christian love (even for our theological adversary) dictates that we ought to assume the best when ambiguity is involved. I’ll go further and suggest that, perhaps we should simply base our critique of this situation on what was actually said and intended at this situation. You say that “explaining is what Piper does,” well the only explaining he has tried to do in this whole debacle is to explain that the motives that have been assigned to him (read: above) are not true in this case.

        You do realize, don’t you, that you are basing your critique upon Piper’s general theology and things he said in the past (that he no doubt still believes). But not on what actually transpired this week? (And the third tweet seems to clarify what he meant by the first two – James going to Job. Hopefully you want say that that was a predestinarian explanation too! It was, after all, a quoted verse by Piper.) :)

        I leave you with this remark I said to someone else on Facebook:

        “John Piper’s only mistake IN THIS SITUATION is that he thought those tweets from Job would be of comfort to people. He realized his mistake and pulled them. Nothing in this particular situation gives any of us an opportunity to go after his predestinarian views (as much as we might disagree with that part of his theology!).”

        • We are just going to have to agree to disagree here.

          And if you read my post and related comments more carefully, you will see that the first and most fundamental problem is not what Piper or anyone else said, it is that they opened their mouths at all.

          That is the first lesson of Job, one which we stressed throughout the week. Silence. Tears. Prayers. Practical support.

          No words please.

          If John Piper were wise, he would take a complete break from making any comments in situations like these. He lost credibility a long time ago, and there is no way he can speak without creating misunderstanding and prompting intense scrutiny.

          It amazes me that a man with so much pastoral experience can’t see that.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Piper did not write the explanatory article to which you refer. It was written by Tony Reinke, a “content strategist” and blogger for DesiringGod. Personally, I would think that if someone misunderstood what I stated, the statement that would explain my actions would have my name at the top of it. But I digress…

      Can you enlighten me on when is it okay to interpret someone’s statements out of context from previous statements? Regardless of whether or not Reinke alluded to previous statements by Piper in his article, the tweets themselves were woefully insufficient as self-explanatory statements. Who wouldn’t go back to read his 2009 comment on a tornado which Piper claimed was a divine warning against the ELCA for its position on homosexuality? Who wouldn’t seek out his comments on the 2011 Japan tsunami? That analytical process is totally justifiable, and perfectly natural, given the lack of explanation that a tweet can give.

      Sure, there was a tweet, after the second tweet, after the first tweet–and the final tweet was the tweet that should have been the first (and only) tweet. But, as Chaplain Mike pointed out, “citing a Biblical example was his shorthand way of giving an explanation.” Emphasis should be placed on the word shorthand, as in “the answers to the questions you have are simple enough to convey in a 150-word message. Yes, he was trying to offer comfort, but the comfort he wanted to offer was what felt comfortable for him; he had no regard for whether or not other people would take comfort in his statement.

      The righteous indignation in your post is misdirected. Try again.

      • I’m sorry but did I quote Reinke, or Piper? (hint: the latter!) Digressing too…

        Look, if Mike wants to go after Piper’s theology and hammer away at what he’s said and about homosexuality and natural disasters and so for, I’m right there with him. Shoot away!

        But if he wants to join the witch hunt by taking something Piper said this week that did not communicate what he’s said in the past and turn it into that, that is where he’s exasperated the debacle. Rachel Held Evan’s apology is fitting because she understands the point which seems to be missed here:

        “I assumed Piper was saying the same thing about this tragedy as he has said about many other tragedies in the past, and jumped the gun in my response as a result. I should have waited for him to clarify what he meant instead of assuming the worst. For that, I am sorry.”

        That is the truth. But large platforms apologize hardly…

        • But I did not say what RHE said. I did not pile on and call him cruel and insensitive. I did not impugn his motives. I did not make a caricature out of him. I didn’t join the “witch hunt” — in fact I did not even read any other critiques except for a few short blurbs on Facebook.

          I believe I did my best to be fair to Piper, who has ever and always approached these matters from an explanatory perspective, even when his motive is to provide pastoral comfort. Posting two tweets as he did — without the possibility of any kind of nuanced explanation — could only lend itself to people doubting what he was up to. I commended his removal of the tweets, but when all people have to go by is a couple of tweets and one’s history of commenting on such matters, you set yourself up for trouble. My piece was actually more of a response to the Desiring God article explaining why he removed the tweets, and I think I understood it correctly. Ultimately, it is the entire pastoral approach of people like Piper that I object to, as well as what I think is a misapplication of Job.

          Please understand, Derek, I have been a mini-Piper in the past and I too have long had the tendency to approach things intellectually and analytically first, and to believe that proper thinking will cure most if not all ills. This is not just John Piper’s problem — he represents an example of the kind of pastoral approach that I have been affiliated with for over three decades and now find wanting.

          If you’ve read much of Internet Monk, you will know that we have no problem with apologizing when we need to.

          • Look Mike, I feel your heart in this. But as you’ve pointed out, your post operated with more information than even Evans had and still you made a big deal of it about his predestinarian views using those two tweets as a platform. Evans did not apologize for being mean. She apologized for jumping the gun and making assumptions about what she thought he was saying based on what he’s said before. The same assumptions your post continues to make. You would have been better off just focusing on his ill approach in this situation.

            I’d also note that you didn’t seem to object to Piper’s pastoral tweet the day after (from James reference to Job). Don’t you see the double standard I’m pointing out. You said “his third tweet is appropriate and represents what should have been said in the first place.” But it was a tweet that had no nuanced explanation from a person who has a history of commenting on such matters…

            I’m glad that we have someone like you here with such a passion for pastoral concern, armed, ready and willing to take on the ill-gotten approach of people like the folks at the Gospel Coalition. But in this case, I’m afraid it seems to me John Piper had been Rob Belled.

            I’ll leave you with that brother. I think this post needs to be revised some. Peace.

          • Derek, you are still missing my point. It was Tony Reinke who said that the most important point of the second tweet was: “…why our sovereign God is still worthy of worship even in the midst of the most unimaginable suffering and personal tragedy.”

            If that is not representative of Piper’s “predestinarian views” I don’t know what is.

            Piper’s third tweet was more appropriate because it expressed a prayer for the people. As I said, I consider silence, tears, prayers, and practical support appropriate.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          a) I’m sorry but did I quote Reinke, or Piper? (hint: the latter!)

          You referred to “Piper’s explanation of those tweets.” The only explanation that was given regarding Piper’s commentary–at least, the only one linked in the above article–was the article written by Reinke. If there is an additional article, written by Piper himself, that explains his tweets, then I’d love to read it.

          b) But if he wants to join the witch hunt by taking something Piper said this week that did not communicate what he’s said in the past and turn it into that, that is where he’s exasperated the debacle. Rachel Held Evan’s apology is fitting because she understands the point which seems to be missed here:

          RHE went off on a totally different tangent in her statement. Chaplain Mike was careful to specifically address Piper’s intent in posting the Bible verses, based on a more compassionate reading of Job and the greater context of Piper’s overall theodicy in light of natural disasters. I have read the RHE article in question; I have no idea how you can assume that the reasons why she should apologize are the same reasons why Chaplain Mike should revise or adjust his statement. The two articles are just too different.

          And while some of the criticism of Piper’s statements were completely irrational and inappropriate, the majority of them, including Chaplain Mike’s and Jeff Dunn’s (and mine) were completely warranted. It’s not a witch hunt if we find a real witch.

  29. Oops, I misspelt my web address.

  30. Naperville Pastor says:

    You are a smart man inside of which is an axe to grind and show off. And in the process, you couldn’t be more wrong in judging Dr. Piper’s heart. Say you’re sorry. You owe him that much.

  31. Mike, are you telling me you don’t agree with that statement? Are you suggesting that our sovereign God is not worthy to be praised during tough times?

    See Reinke’s statement was made in way that can be accepted by both Calvinists and Arminians (and even Open Theists!). If his intent was to express Piper’s strong predestinarian views he could easily have worded it, “… why our sovereign God is still worthy of worship even in the midst of [after causing] the most unimaginable suffering and personal tragedy.” Reinke’s wording does not reflect Piper’s narrow predestinarian view.

    You missed my point about the third tweet. You interpreted the first two as you did because 1) it lacked a nuance explanation and 2) it came from Piper considering his history. The third tweet has the same qualifications. But you’ve found grounds to say “okay” to that one. You could just as easily done so with the other two since neither have anything specifically to do with judgment or predestination. You’ve placed Piper in a lose-lose situation.

    • I am saying that statement indicated to me that Piper was doing what Piper does and has done: take a situation and think he will provide comfort by giving a theology lesson — “God is sovereign, i.e. he causes and permits everything that happens to us, even these terrible events. Though we may weep and despair, ultimately we should bow down and worship him, as Job did.” Even if you believe that theology, it was pastorally insensitive, ill-timed, and reflective of the explanatory approach that I am criticizing.

      I think your reading of Reinke is overly generous. Given the person publishing the tweets and his history I don’t think anyone should be expected to have to parse explanations so carefully to understand what was being said.

      As for the first two tweets, my point was that Piper left himself open to interpretation on them. Merely quoting those texts requires explanation, especially given his history.

      The third tweet most certainly does not have the same qualifications as the first two. It was not a mere quote and it did not need interpreting. It expressed a prayer for the victims. A prayer and well-wishing is not the same as simply quoting texts, and this prayer was clear, pastorally sensitive, and compassionate. If that had been the only thing he tweeted and someone had brought my attention to it, I would have commended him without reservation for having changed in the way he responds to such tragedies.

  32. Most of all the commenters above seem to make up a cast of Job’s friends and are not really conveying any truth of Scripture. Oh and I wholeheartedly agree with the compassion and biblical sense shared by Derek. I need not quote any Scripture sense this has turned out to be a forum of those who seem to be on a mission of hatred towards those of the reformed tradition. I’m glad we’re not comforting anyone here because I’m sure feeling miserable.

  33. R L Lutz says:

    Indeed, Ernie. The prevailing thinking seems to be: “Piper holds to Reformed Theology. Piper made some insensitive tweets. Therefore, Reformed Theology must be insensitive.” By extension, I’m sure there are no relief workers who are Reformed — since it is a theology of hate. (Now that is, possibly, one of the most misguided judgments I’ve read. But it’s certainly entertaining, akin to listening to a teenage rant about how ‘boring’ it is to take out the trash.) Not to say I can (or want to) champion Reformed Theology, but if someone is going to accuse Piper of belonging to a coterie of Xians who idolize having “perfectly parsed theology” — and then parse out precisely why his theology is wrong — then that one has reached the apex of self-delusion. When a pastor, Piper or anyone else, makes an insensitive or ill-timed remark (even though Chap. Mike says timing has nothing to do with Piper’s error), doesn’t it seem more becoming simply to talk to the man? or smile, wag one’s head, and comfort the grieving in a way more suited to your own constitution? Anyway, God’s peace and provision to Oklahomans.

  34. Dave Erwin says:

    My take on all this is simple, One should not begin any theological discussion using Twitter the medium is totally in adequate to the purpose and will always land one in hot water.

  35. Ronnie Collier Stevens says:

    You insist that John Piper has misunderstood the meaning of the book of Job. Yet you say that Job never backed down. It’s hard for me to believe you understand Job 42:6 while sustaining such a thesis. When you speak of Job as a folk tale, possibly reworked, or edited does that mean the historicity of the story is not something clearly settled in your mind? Because if it never happened it becomes harder to argue one meaning over against another.I agree with you that John Piper (a great man with a regrettable tendency) wears the hat of a theologian when he should be wearing the hat of a pastor at times. But your analysis has not unlocked the true interpretive keys to a book whose historicity you subvert.

    • I don’t know if Job was an actual historical person or not, and it doesn’t really matter. The book of Job is wisdom literature, which uses a variety of genres to provoke people to consider the deeper meanings of life.

  36. Joe Rigney says:

    Mike,

    Two quick questions for you.

    1) Piper has said that he himself has been comforted in pain and loss (such as cancer) by the truth that he was attempting to communicate (what you call “God’s meticulous sovereignty”). As a member of his (former) congregation, I can testify that there are thousands of people in our church alone who are comforted in the same way, and that there are hundreds of thousands more throughout the world who are as well. I understand that you (and many others) aren’t comforted by quoting the first part of Job. But what about those who are more like Piper than like you? Why not say that different people are comforted in different ways and by different things, whether tearful silence or tearful quotations of passages? In short, why universalize either way? Wouldn’t a kind of evangelical catholicity embrace the reality that different people grieve and receive comfort in different ways?

    2) On the biblical side of things, you note the tension between covenantal explanations of tragedy (Deuteronomy; Job’s friends) and the explanation provided in the book of Job (God’s inscrutable ways). It sounds like you are saying that the latter is the only possible explanation, that Job trumps any kind of Deuteronomic explanation. Is that right? (I’m aware of the different situation between Israel as God’s special people and America which isn’t, but God judged Gentile nations in the Bible as well). I ask, because I think that Job and Deuteronomy are both possible explanations for suffering and tragedy, but the fact that both are possible is what makes the issue so complex. What’s more, I think Jesus endorses both by weeping at Lazarus’ tomb (and denying the sinful origins of the man-born-blind) and by his words in Luke 13.

    Finally, I don’t think ‘stalemate’ is the best way to describe the ending of the book of Job. Job repents in Ch. 42. Elihu challenges him because he saw that “Job justified himself RATHER THAN God” (I’m not yelling; I just never figured out how to do italics). Given that Elihu appears to be the voice in the book that most closely mirrors God’s own, I think we’re right to see that Job did, in the end, submit to God’s inscrutable wisdom. He’d heard of God; now he saw God, and what he saw led to repentance in dust and ashes (as well as God’s restoration).

    Thanks.

    • Joe, to answer your questions:

      1. This issue is not what brings some people comfort. The issue is, What is best pastoral practice? Especially when trying to communicate to a large, diverse group of people. Of course, in a congregational setting, a pastor who knows his parishioners may give comfort to individuals in a variety of ways. But as a hospice chaplain, I can tell you that words and explanations are usually far down on the list, or at least best when put off for a period of time. When people cry out “Why?” they usually aren’t looking for answers, they are crying out in pain.

      2. Yes, I do think both perspectives have something to contribute to the discussion. That’s why both are in the Bible. I wasn’t arguing for one to the exclusion of the other, I was merely trying to point out the message of the Book of Job.

      3. Yes, I know Job “repents.” But I fail to see how that means that he confesses any sin or wrongdoing, which is the way we usually use the word. Perhaps it has more of the connotation that Job “turns” (the meaning of the Hebrew word) from arguing any longer with God, since he has now come to see that his situation involves mysteries beyond human comprehension. God is the One who says that Job had spoken what was right (42:7) and that the friends had been wrong.

      The place of Elihu in the book is much discussed and very difficult to understand. I’ll admit I’m still working on that.

  37. This is a very good discussion. I’d like to back the dialogue up though.

    Why do we need to believe that God meticulously planned these tornadoes. At the risk of being accused of being a deist, doesn’t God create the world, in infinite wisdom and justice, and, at least to some degree, allow natural forces to occur?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I think the Deists had a point, but took it too far and made their point into “Forty-Two — THE Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything”.

      Their valid point was that God probably set up the physical universe as a self-sustaining, self-maintaining operating system and app. Like booting up an operating system and a copy of SimEarth and letting it run mostly on automatic. That frees up the User for the good stuff — like intervening directly on occasion, or interacting with the Sims on the SimEarth without having to handle all the overhead all the time.