Pastor John, you were moving to Tennessee the week of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado. In the last podcast, we talked about the pastoral side of why you address natural disasters. In this episode I want to address those who agree with your theology that God ordains all that comes to pass, even category 5 tornadoes, for the millions of good and glorious ripple effects that will ultimately result because of the tragedy, but they disagree with your timing when you write blogs or Twitter updates in the midst of the destruction. What would you say to those individuals?
Four Disagreements Regarding Tweet Timing
That is a good question. Let me give just a bigger picture, and then I will be very specific to answer that question as to how I feel about those couple of tweets and that timing.
There are at least four reasons, as I have thought about this, why people might oppose saying something about the sovereignty and goodness of God in the midst of calamity.
1. There is unbelief about God’s sovereignty.
First, they just don’t agree with it. You are not addressing that person, but I am going to mention that person anyway. They don’t agree with it. They don’t think God is sovereign in the sense that he is ruling the wind and governing nature so that who is killed and who is not killed is decided ultimately by God. They just don’t believe that.
I heard a sermon recently that said that explicitly. This world is cursed, the pastor said, which, of course, is true. God has replaced the created world with a cursed world, and all those bad things are owing to the curse.
“God is involved in nature, as the Bible says everywhere repeatedly.”
My answer to that is this: Yes they are, and God is the one who subjected the world to futility. Not only that, he didn’t just do it like a clockmaker who says, “I am going to make this clock go bad now,” and then steps back and watches the clock go bad. He is involved in nature, as the Bible says everywhere repeatedly.
God is governing the natural processes, like Jesus stopping the storm so that the disciples say, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). He does that in Oklahoma as well as Israel. So that is first. They might just disagree entirely with my view of God’s sovereignty.
2. People disagree about the way a message is delivered.
Second, they might think the way you say it is helpful or unhelpful. You might choose language like “God killed your children.” That is really harsh. Or you might say, “God took your children.” That is a little softer. Or you might say, “Your children are gone, and God is still sovereign.” You hear the different flavors and nuances in each of those. How you say things really matters.
I tweeted two tweets. First, I quoted Job 1:18–19: “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead.” What I meant and hoped by that was the raw biblical statement that it happened to Job who was blameless and upright and feared God and turned away from evil and was not a bad man. It happened to Job. It happened to us. “O God, how long?” You know, just the raw factuality was expressed.
Second, five minutes later, I tweeted, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20). My heart in this was that this is what parents are doing in Moore, Oklahoma. They are not discussing. They are not preaching. They are not reading books. They are tearing their hair out. They are pulling on their clothes. They are falling on the ground and weeping their eyes out. And by grace, many of them are worshiping as they weep. That was the gist. That was the point of trying to just say what I believed was happening for many.
And I know, Tony, beyond the shadow of doubt, that weeping and worshiping go together. I have experienced it. I have watched people experience it. Job experienced it. So that is number two. A person might simply say, “You didn’t say it helpfully.”
3. The time isn’t right.
Third, the timing might be off. That is the one you mentioned. And surely that is a crucial consideration. I mean, that is why Ecclesiastes 3 is written, right? “For everything there is a season . . . a time to be born, and a time to die . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2, 4). If you get it wrong, you can really be hurtful.
4. It’s not the right place.
Last, a person might disagree or disapprove of what you say because the medium is just not the right place. Twitter is just not a good medium that can bear the weight of such serious issues. I think some people would say that.
Wrong Place, Time, Way
Here is my answer to your question. Looking back, especially on those last three (the way you say it, the time you say it, and the medium you use to say it), I wish that those three had been perceived by me differently than I perceived them in the moment. The way I said it was fairly raw. I get help from that, but not everybody does. The timing was immediate; it was 11 o'clock that night. And the medium of Twitter was risky, because you can’t hear any tone of voice, you can’t get a broader explanation. It finds people in situations that are all over the map.
So while I love the truth that I spoke, and I believe it with all my heart, and it gets me help in the midst of my calamity and gives many people help, I think that was a misjudgment on my part. I am sorry that I did it. I pulled them down, but I pulled them down way too late, and so they caused all the ruckus that they did. I just hope the Lord will take all that and turn it for good.
By the way, here is another lesson I learned. I knew it, but this taught me it. I don’t think Twitter is ever designed to do tweets back to back. That is just a bad idea. I blew it when I said, “Okay, I will get the people to understand tweet number one by reading tweet number two.” The medium is not designed for that.
The reason I tweet is because I think God himself is a tweeter in the book of Proverbs, and that he means for those proverbs to be self-standing. If you can’t make yourself relatively clearly understood or appropriately provocative in one tweet, you had better just not tweet. You had better use a blog or something else. I think I made a big mistake in trying to put two back to back and hoping they would be coherent. Of course, people can separate them out and then that doesn’t work anymore.