Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pat Robertson and John Piper: God sending tornadoes?


39 lives were lost last weekend when tornadoes devastated areas of five states. Here in Indiana we are told that of those 39 lives, 13 were from southern Indiana. These tornadoes not only took lives but also took homes, business, and other buildings. Death, suffering, and broken the years go by every March 2nd will be a day to remember for many people.

My dear reader, allow me now to tell you about two responses that I have seen from some of my Christian brothers and sisters in regards to this latest tragedy: Response #1, and Response #2.

Response #1: Christians like John Piper and Pat Robertson.
In his website, Evangelical theologian and pastor John Piper said the following regarding this tragedy:

“Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states, and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?
(from Fierce Tornadoes and the Fingers of God)

When I read this opening paragraph I admit I almost lost control. But I kept reading. Here are the next paragraphs: "If God has a quarrel with America, wouldn’t Washington, D.C., or Las Vegas, or Minneapolis, or Hollywood be a more likely place to show his displeasure?

We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command."

"...God gave the command..."

After this Piper engages in biblical exegesis to justify and explain what he said in the the opening paragraphs. He then ends his blog entry with the following:"Therefore, God’s will for America under his mighty hand, is that every Christian, every Jew, every Muslim, every person of every religion or non-religion, turn from sin and come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus rules the wind. The tornadoes were his.

But before Jesus took any life in rural America, he gave his own on the rugged cross. Come to me, he says, to America — to the devastated and to the smugly self-sufficient. Come to me, and I will give you hope and help now, and in the resurrection, more than you have ever lost. You can show your partnership in suffering, and help lift the load, at Samaritan’s Purse."

"...God's will for America..."
"...Jesus rules the wind..."
"...The tornadoes were his..."

The last line of the entry is the only place were he tells people to "show your partnership in suffering, and help lift the load" by donating to the group he recommended. So, the whole article could be summarized this way: God (and Jesus) sent the tornadoes, repent.

The TV evangelist (and an icon of the Christian Right) Pat Robertson has been known for making many controversial statements in the past. So when I heard that he said something about this latest tragedy I said "Oh no..." After all, this is the same Pat Robertson who said that Haiti suffered an earthquake in 2010 because of a pact with the devil. This is also the same Pat Robertson who back in September 13, 2001 had the late Jerry Fallwell in his show the "700 Club"(only TWO days after the tragedy of 9/11) and the infamous "you helped this happen":

JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we're responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.

"...Well, I totally concur..."

However, while Piper speaks of God dragging "his fierce fingers across rural America", Robertson said that God did not send the tornadoes; this in itself was different from what he said about Hurricane Katrina. This is what he said:

“God set up a world in which certain currents interfere and interact with other currents. If enough people were praying, He would intervene. You could pray. Jesus stilled the storm. You could still storms.”

"...If enough people were praying...
"...Jesus stilled the storm..."
"...You could still storms..."

There is a lot I could say about their "response". I could give my own theological counterarguments to their theological arguments. I could write 2 or 3 paragraphs and engage in some sort of exegetical battle regarding the use Piper's use of the Book of Job, or Robertson's use of the Gospel according to Matthew 8:23-26 regarding his comment

Yes, I could respond this way. But instead, to this response by John Piper and Pat Robertson I say:

How dare you?
How could you?
Did it ever occur to you that perhaps you should have kept all this to yourselves?
Did it ever occur to you that a better way to "show your partnership in suffering, and help lift the load" was NOT to say these things?
Did it ever occur to you that saying these things could cause MORE suffering and pain to the victims?
Did it ever occur to you that the victims of this tragedy do not want to listen to "Repent!", and instead want to hear you say "How can we help"?

People lost their lives, people lost their homes, people lost their business, people lost everything! And you both thought it was a good idea to say to the world, to the families of the 39, and the victims of this disaster:
1) That it was God who sent the tornado that killed your child?
2) That you didn't pray (or din't pray enough) so you didn't calm "the storm" and so your child's death is on you?

Quite frankly my dear reader I prefer to move on. Now please allow me to tell you about how other Christians have responded to this tragedy.

Response #2: Other Christians

As a campus ministry intern here at Purdue, I am happy to say that I know Christians that have responded to this not with words of theological doom, but with words AND actions of love. Last Tuesday night at the Wesley Foundation we heard an update from a student that is connected with a group (created by a Wesley student) that has been training for disaster relief operations. They were trying to see if the group was going to be part of the already massive relief effort going on in southern Indiana. My own church (the Episcopal Church) is using its Episcopal Relief & Development to help coordinate relief efforts in the areas affected by this tragedy.  Many Christians (along with non-Christians) are working together as volunteers with multiple organizations to help.

I know many of these Christians personally. And none of them thought that their response should have been one of "God did this, who is left alive should repent" or "They didn't pray enough, it's their fault".
No. Their response has been love. Love with their words and their actions. To these Christians I want to say thank you.

The American Red Cross is also trying to do what they can. More than 500 trained Red Cross disaster workers have sheltered hundreds of people displaced by tornadoes across 11 states; served more than 42,000 meals and snacks; and handed out nearly 14,000 relief items. (for more details click here) Christians are donating money to the Red Cross and/or becoming volunteers.

And let us not forget the paramedics, nurses, doctors, firefighters, the men and women of the police and others who are helping, along with the members of many churches in the area and beyond who are helping.

My dear reader allow me to end this with the following words: to all Americans (Christian and non-Christians) who are RIGHT NOW helping, I want to say thank you.

Thank you.



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