Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What Message Comforts You?

After the big tornado in Oklahoma, John Piper tweeted a scripture passage intended to provide words of comfort for people. It was too long for one tweet so he posted two:

  • @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

Word came back to John Piper that many people were not comforted by this passage. Many people felt that the passage was insensitive. So he deleted the tweets. Tony Reinke of Desiring God, John Piper’s organization, discussed the decision here.

What I observe from this is that the kinds of statements that comfort people are tied to what they believe.

John Piper finds comfort in the sovereignty of God. So do I. When disaster happens and the effects of a fallen world are brought to bear on our lives, we are tempted to despair. What comforts me is the knowledge that God is still in control and knows what he is doing. We often forget that we deserve far worse and that even the disaster that affects us is gracious compared to what we deserve. So we can give thanks in every occasion and glorify God.

But many are not so comforted by this message. The reason is that they believe that we don’t deserve any disaster that befalls us. As such, they believe that such disasters are not warranted and are inherently evil. Therefore, they conclude that a loving God couldn’t possibly cause such evil things to happen. They feel the need to limit God’s sovereignty to protect God from having cause evil to befall his creation.

The Bible is clear that we deserve death, however. The Bible is also clear that God is absolutely sovereign. My comfort is in the truth of this. Comfort aside from what God has revealed  is false comfort. Nevertheless, when calamity befalls and distorts the ability to understand these things, there may be tension between what is believed to be true and is really false and what is really true for those who believe God could not have caused calamity.

So what message could be given to someone? The truth is too bitter to bear for them and a lie is not acceptable in any case. No written or spoken message is possible. Nothing Job’s friends could have said would suffice. The message that is best is the unspoken message of an empathetic closeness: simply to mourn with those who mourn. If we fail to send this message, we lose the right to speak truth later when a person is in a better state of mind.

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