Shortly after the horrendous tornado in Oklahoma, Pastor John Piper tweeted the following:
@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
When I first read the tweets, I thought nothing of them. Rachel Held Evans and others saw them in light of Piper’s other responses to disasters in which he has blamed the victim, or stated that humanity in general deserves such suffering for our sinful nature.
In the face of such pushback Piper took the tweets down. In a blogpost on a groupblog run by Piper, Tony Reinke stepped up to explain what they meant:
Job 1:20 not only comes in the direct aftermath of a storm, but also holds out hope and comfort to Christians directly affected by tragedy today, reminding us that trust in God and worship of God are always right, even when we are kneeling in tears in the rubble left by a tornado. Job wept and he worshipped. God’s sovereignty over his suffering provided the basis of his grounds of worshipping God in the suffering [...]
As Pastor John has said in a sermon,
Satan proved to be wrong. Job did not curse God when he lost his wealth and his children. He worshiped and he blessed God. And so the superior worth of God became evident to all.
Honestly, I think Evans jumped too quickly here. But to me, it’s Reinke’s explanation that is troubling.
Here’s the thing. Job’s children were not “lost,” like they rolled under the couch. They were killed, and they were killed by Satan at the behest of the very God that Job was worshiping. And his children were killed because of a bet that God made with Satan. The text of Job makes that clear.
Yet Job worships God. Let me draw, once again, from Thom Stark: “Job does not say ‘blessed be the name of Yahweh’ because what Yahweh does is right, but because there is nothing that can be done to make Yahweh do otherwise than what he will.”
In the Book of Job, God needs to be placated and flattered like the tyrant he is. This is not a consoling message. I’m not sure Piper and Reinke get that.
The comfort that Reinke and Piper are offering is the knowledge that God is in control. True, he didn’t stop the storm. He didn’t save your house and family. But he’s in control, and he’s really powerful. If we draw even more from Job, we have to conclude that God intended for your house to be destroyed and for your family to die. But hey, take heart, there’s someone at the helm. Tell everyone how great and powerful he is.
I’m reminded of the old Calvinist admonition that even if we know that we are not of the elect and thus destined for hell, we should still worship and glorify God. In fact, we should glorify God because he is sending us to Hell. God’s worth is completely detached from any notion of God’s benevolence.