You had to know it would happen.
After every major natural disaster, someone in the Christian community makes an insensitive post about how the disaster and the subsequent loss of life was the mighty hand of God’s judgment against sin (usually gays or abortion doctors), or about how we all deserve death anyway and so really it’s not that bad.
And I get it. I really do. I get the desire to explain away the hard things. I get the yearning to tuck away the destruction of an elementary school and a daycare center into a neat theological file folder so it doesn’t shake your faith too badly. I get the temptation to take the horrendously misused doctrine of total depravity and push it to its logical (and heartless) ends.
I get it. I used to be there, I used to do the same things. If the internet had birthed the world of blogging ten or fifteen years ago, I would have been right there, passionately writing those same themes and ideas — and powerfully alienating the hurting and grieving communities who most needed to see the mercy and compassion of God.
I would have been right there, alongside John Piper who has made headlines again after a ludicrously callous tweet, quoting a Bible verse about a house collapsing and sons and daughters dying (made in a weak effort to point people to God’s sovereignty). I would have been right there, alongside Pat Robertson who has made headlines again after saying if the people in Oklahoma had just been praying more, then God would have intervened and stopped the tornado. I would have been right there in the thick of it all, defending God… rather than having compassion on broken people.
But listen: I don’t blame John Piper and Pat Robertson and others for their comments. Those sorts of comments are born out of a particular philosophy, a certain perspective, an understanding and approach to the world that I once shared. It’s an approach that says to be a leader you have to have all the answers. You have to be able to explain everything. You have to know or else people won’t follow.
They are comments made in response to an incredulous world asking, “Why would God send a tornado like this?” or alternatively, “Why would God allow a tornado like this?”
Once upon a time I thought the most important thing was to be able to answer that question.
Now, I am finding the best response is perhaps the most honest one: I don’t know. I don’t have any idea why God would send or allow something like this. God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts. Maybe it’s because of sin, or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s because he’s angry, or maybe it’s not.
Maybe the answer to that question isn’t as important as just loving the people who are directly affected.
Whether that be through financial donations, or traveling to do disaster relief, or praying for the victims, or sending cards and letters, or whatever… acts of love speak infinitely more loudly than any sort of jumbled mess of an answer we can stitch together.
So I don’t blame the folks making those comments, because I understand where they’re coming from. I don’t agree with them, but I don’t blame them. I also don’t blame them because they are part of my family. They are part of my spiritual, jacked up, messed up, eclectic family and they are adopted children of God just as I am.
But it’s become sport in the world of Christianity to hurl insults at our family members. Back in February, I wrote about what happens when our fellow Christians make public displays of ridiculousness:
What happens is we distance ourselves as far as possible from the offending party… We are quick to announce to the world, “We are not like them.”
[I]t becomes a race to see who can denounce the others in the harshest, most public manner possible. “Open letters” are posted, interviews are given, sermons full of warnings and labels and epithets are delivered, websites are launched… But here’s my plea: can we please stop distancing ourselves from one another, and instead band together to help one another?
…I understand you want people to see you are not like Mark Driscoll. I understand you want people to see you are not like Rob Bell. I understand you want people to see you are not like Ted Haggard or Eddie Long or Catholic priests. So rather than rant and condemn, show them.
And love those whom you are not like. Maybe in that process, you’ll realize you are more like them than you care to admit. And you’ll realize we all need help and are all in this together. As one big jacked up family.
This debate is heating up again with Rachel Held Evans taking Piper to task for his latest comments. And I don’t blame Rachel for her passion and her blog post, either, because I understand where she’s coming from, too. She has a heart to see people fall in love with Jesus and experience freedom in the Kingdom of God, and it pains her to see things like Piper’s comments that hinder that journey for folks. Believe me, I get that.
And I get that for some people out there, this is a cause that forces one to take sides – to choose Rachel or John – and respond with tribalistic passion in defending your choice.
I get that, but I hope and pray that we all get something else: division is not healthy. Unity is God’s desire. We are called to love, not to tear apart.
Look: for pastoral care and wisdom and shepherding, I would take Rachel Held Evans over John Piper any day. But in the Kingdom of God, I do not have to choose. There is room at the table for both of them.
If this were truly a family reunion, I think John Piper would be our crazy uncle who stands in the corner saying embarrassing things that everyone shakes their head at. And I know some of you disagree with me and feel that way about Rachel Held Evans. But John is still family, and we still love him. Rachel is still family, and we still love her. I have seen cruel, mean things said about them on Facebook and Twitter and blogs that nobody would say to their faces. That kind of division has got to stop. John and Rachel are beloved by God. Valued. Cherished. And in the Kingdom of God, they share a seat at the same table — the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Whether you agree or disagree with whatever you think they’re trying to say, they both have hearts to see people know God. They both belong to us. We, in our narrowly defined personal versions of orthodoxy, are quick to speak and slow to listen. We are quick to pounce and prove and point… and slow to love. It seems to me we ought to practice loving one another now — otherwise that wedding feast is going to be a mighty awkward event.