John Piper’s Insensitive, Careless Tweet

Preacher/Theologian John Piper is one of those guys who gets off on telling women that God has a special role for them: to be subservient to their husbands and never in a position of authority. He’s one of those guys atheists salivate over because every time he says something, the pendulum moves a bit closer to our side.

So when he started tweeting last night in the wake of the Oklahoma tornado that has already killed dozens of people, bloggers like Nate Pyle were ready to take screenshots. Good thing, too, because he caught a tweet that has since been deleted:

It’s that middle one that raised Nate’s eyebrow:

I’m not sure what bothers me more about this. That in the face of loss and tragedy Piper callously quotes a random scripture to make a point I cannot fathom, or that 50 (since I imported this picture I saw another that had 65!) people retweeted it.

Granted, Piper did take the quote down rather quickly. But I cannot for the life of me figure out what he was trying to communicate. Was he trying to say that this stuff happens because God ordains it to happen? Was he trying to make a cause and effect connection between people’s sin and God’s judgement as he has in the past? Or did he find a verse that reminded him of the days events and so just tweeted it out? I can’t figure it out.

It doesn’t matter. It should never have been there.

Incidentally, Job 1 tells the story of how God told Satan that Job was a faithful servant and would never curse him no matter how shitty things were in his life. Satan doubted that, so God (in an awful judgment call) gave Satan the power to make Job suffer so they could all see how Job doesn’t blame God for it. Soon, messengers are telling Job that some of his animals have been stolen, while other animals have died by fire… and then we get to the verses in question:

While [a messenger] was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 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!”

What significance could that possible have after the tornado? Like Nate says, it doesn’t matter.

But let it be known that after dozens of people had died and untold numbers of people were trying to figure out how to make sense of a natural disaster that took away their family members, homes, and memories, Piper saw fit to quote a Bible verse depicting the death of innocent lives at the hands of a dickish, “benevolent” God.

This afternoon, Piper issued a follow-up tweet that made even less sense:

Of course, there’s nothing compassionate or merciful about a God that would kill off innocent people just to prove a point to His enemy.

You know, for all the faults of the Catholic Church, at least the Pope tweeted out something in response to the tragedy that was at least genuinely heartfelt:

I learned a lesson from all this, though: Always take screenshots of pastors who have a habit of putting their foot in the mouths. Thanks, John Piper.

(Thanks to Ward for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • eric

    Always take screenshots of pastors who have a habit of putting their foot in the mouths

    Sorry, my computer only has 50 GB of storage…

  • Jeff Simons

    I hope you mean it only has 50GB of storage left. because only having a 50GB harddrive in today’s day and age is a crime.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    My thought is that he is trying to do some preemptive damage control for that pesky little question that crops up every time a tragedy occurs: Why did God allow this to happen?
    The standard message of the book of Job according to Christians is that Job remained faithful to God even when his life was falling apart. The bit about why Job’s life was falling apart is always ignored, but that is probably the message that Christians heard from Piper: “Bad stuff happens but we must remain true to God.”
    Now if only more Christians would read the Bible, they might notice that the interpretation makes no sense…

  • Rob Crompton

    In the book of Job, the reason why Job’s life is falling apart is that God and Satan are behaving exactly like the Duke brothers in the film Trading Places.

  • pagansister

    Mother Nature can be a bitch sometimes, but disasters are NOT caused by any God—it is nature doing what it does, as horrible as it is sometimes, this being one of those times. Why would GOD kill innocent people to prove his power over everyone? Why does anyone actually think a “benevolent god” would do something like this or the other disasters that occur on a fairly regular basis? Am pleased to see that the Pope has a post that is kind and understanding, whether one believes in his church or not. Piper’s? Seriously?

  • Crazy Russian

    You know, it’s one thing when people with no scientific knowledge of the nature make wild guesses about gods causing natural disasters. I can understand that: you have to cope with these things somehow, after all, and if a made-up story is your best guess, then fine, so be it. However, quoting these stories in absolute seriousness in 21st century is absolutely inexcusable, and it only makes you sound like a pious asshat. Clinging to ancient fantasies and pretending that it somehow helps or “gives people hope” is complete bullshit. A tweet saying “Go donate to Red Cross” or something would be about 1024 times better.

  • Carmelita Spats

    The new mad, maudlin and medicated pope is creepy. His hypocritical tweet triggers the gag reflex, like watching flies feed. He cares about the post born? This is the same celibate brute who believes that condoms spread AIDS? How many children die of AIDS in Africa? Fu)k him. He refuses to meet with victims of pedophile priests in Argentina. Mr. Francis needs to face the victims of Father Julio Grassi. He impeded investigations. His moral cowardice disallows those who suffered sexual torture to obtain justice in Argentina. I’m sorry but I have zero empathy for pedophile enablers or heads of organized crime syndicates.

  • arensb

    The Book of Job, condensed version:
    Satan: I bet if I kick your dog enough, he’ll bite you.
    God: You’re on!

  • Ian James Currie

    Devastating natural disasters always make things get a little weird for the faithful. It forces them to grapple with an uncomfortable reality that either a) there is no god or b) the god they worship will murder children for no conceivable reason other than it can… Honestly the pope’s comments are more offensive to me. Seeing as how The Vatican controls a vast fortune and his call to “action” was telling everyone to pray. He is the most influential person in a world wide religious community of billions and he asks his followers to join him in doing nothing. I’m sure there’s a solid gold alter somewhere in The Vatican worth enough to rebuild a couple houses. Prayer only benefits the one who’s praying.

  • Sarah

    I remember reading the Book of Job as a child and getting so angry. And this was as a very good little indoctrinated Christian. The usual Christian defense when it comes to God and disasters is that everything happens for a reason and “His ways are higher than ours.” But the the book of Job SHOWS you God’s reasoning and nope, he’s just being a dick.

  • Sarah

    Exactly. The Book of Job was one of the first things that made me question my religion as a child. I was so disgusted.

  • Philbert

    A direct, ungarnished quote from the Bible is sufficiently embarrassing that it has to be retracted? Might be time to rethink that whole religion thing.

  • duke_of_omnium

    How terrible is it that I read the Pope’s tweet about “young children” and immediately thought of pedophilia?

  • DougI

    If there’s one thing fundies love it’s natural disasters because it gives them an opportunity to preach. Or as they call it, “disaster relief”. It’s not like those who lost their homes have a door to close onto their faces.

  • Mitchell Powell

    I’m a former evangelical, and Piper’s tweet struck me as — within the insane bounds of evangelical discourse — a pretty decent one. Here’s how I read it.

    The background is Job, a thoroughly decent man, who is recieving a series of confusing and frightening messages as his life implodes around him. One is when somebody comes and tells him, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking, and a mighty wind struck the house, and fell upon them, and they are dead.” Then for thirty chapters Job and his friends argue about whether God is just, with Job arguing that God is being unfair and Job’s friends defending God.

    God shows up at the end of the book and announced that Job’s friends are slimy and insincere, and Job’s got it right.

    Job always seemed to be a beautiful book to me — an admission by Christians that sometimes awful terrible things happen for no apparent reason, and that the right side isn’t the one that tries to come up with soothing reasons for it. That sometimes the right thing to do is to shut up trying to justify God and just sympathize with people in trouble.

    The quote seemed to me to be about as close to the opposite of a Pat Robertson move as the constraints of evangelical thinking will allow.

    I think this is one of those problems that happens from the fact that evangelicalism has a series of built-in coded ways of talking about theologically painful things. It’s not so much a dickish move as it is an example of Christianese.

    Here’s my rough translation of the tweet from Christianese into English:

    “This is an awful thing happening to decent folks, just like an important story in my culture about a mighty wind tearing apart a decent family.”

  • Tanner B James

    well he did put the qualifier “especially” in front of “young children” which makes it kind of creepy.

  • Scott_In_OH

    I am close to the families of all who died in the Oklahoma tornado, especially those who lost young children. Join me in praying for them.

    I’m not as charitable on this as Hemant.

    So it’s not as sympathy-worthy if the child I lost was 15 years old? Or if it was my grandmother who died? Or my wife? Or my brother?

    I found the “especially” phrase jarring and even sickening.

  • LesterBallard

    Just another Christian piece of shit. I loathe and despise these people and their sick, vile theology.

  • Robster

    Traumatised people are always good value to preachers as potential victims of their religious fraud, they’re in need of something and the religiously afflicted will use the opportunity to get more of their empty pews filled. Their main problem is that the new victims, coming from a natural disaster will have little money to fritter away on godbottery, they’ve got better things to do with their money than offer it to a completely useless god/jesus/mo/mother/mary/ghost/allah thing that it seems can’t do anything.

  • Mitchell Powell

    Aww, someone doesn’t have the love of Jesus in his heart . . .

  • Agrajag

    It’s pretty stadard fare. If 100 adult men, and 10 children and 10 women tragically die, the event is often described without mentioning them. “120 dead, including women and children” — which is technically accurate, but misleading. Informative would be: “120 dead, most of them adult men”, but you never see that.

  • baal

    I mostly agree with your point but the speakers of Christianese (or any other specialist) has a duty to translate their words to normal English if they want to be understood. This problem is worst in tweets where the context of the author’s meaning are invariably absent.

  • LesterBallard

    I don’t have it on my face, either. So what?

  • Mitchell Powell

    True. Part of the problem is that evangelicals often spend a great deal of time in their own little circles and forget what normal English is like.

  • Alice

    The idea is that it’s more tragic because they barely got to live at all. They missed out on all the joys (and difficulties) of the different stages of life. They never got the chance to fulfill their potential or accomplish dreams. All people who die lose the future they could have had, but children barely got to live at all. Also, for people living in a first-world culture, the death of young children is seen as shocking and unusual because we don’t see it happening as much as it did in previous centuries. Many Americans take it for granted that they and their healthy loved ones will live to be old.

    But I agree that all deaths are worthy of the same amount of sympathy and they should never be compared to each other or downplayed.

  • Malevoces

    The Book of Job is one of the most sophisticated in the Bible. Anyone wanting to understand would do well to read War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, particularly the section in Theresienstadt with Aaron Jastrow’s commentary on it (the movie is excellent here as well). Job is a defense of faith, of the “Lord givith and the Lord taketh away” variety. The justification is simply that the will of god is unknowable, but one must have faith that each thing that happens in some manner serves the greatest good. It can be profoundly comforting to those who understand it. It is indeed one of the very best books in the Bible.
    Now, obviously this is all more easily explained by “shit happens” and the chaos of weather sometimes kills people, and while one might believe this, is it really necessary that we throw this in the face of someone experiencing a horrific loss. Humans cope, this is one way they do it. Many atheists have found great peace in understanding their world. It seems somehow wrong to insist that others must come only to the same conclusion, and particularly at such times. Additionally Piper undoubtedly understood what he tweeted, but then realized that others, less erudite in the analysis of the Book of Job would not understand it and deleted it.
    It does no good to imply ill motives where none exists, nor to assert that a theologian does not understand his theology. If atheists demand respect, as they ought, then it must also be given, and stupidity or ignorance ought not be inferred where it most likely does not exist.