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In Theory: Do we bring tragedy on ourselves?

June 07, 2013

The recent tornado in Oklahoma that killed 24 people and destroyed or damaged 12,000 homes has stirred up a row on social networking site Twitter.

The day after the disaster, popular evangelical speaker and author John Piper tweeted two references to Job, including, "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). This kicked off a storm of tweets and retweets as people interpreted the verses as either the right thing to say or a veiled way to blame people for bringing the wrath of God on themselves. Evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans slammed what she called Piper's "abusive theology of 'deserved' tragedy" and said, "The only thing we need to tell [tornado victims] is, 'I don't know why this happened but God is good and God loves us.'" A staffer at Piper's Desiring God ministry said Piper was "highlighting God's sovereignty and that he is still worthy of worship in the midst of suffering and tragedy."

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Q: In events such as the Oklahoma tornado, the Sandy Hook school shootings and other tragedies, is it right to claim that those affected brought it on themselves?

It is ludicrous to claim that tornado victims and murdered children have brought it on themselves. People in the heartland don't need to get right with the supernatural, they need to build good storm shelters and safe rooms and then use them.

I have decided to believe that the Sandy Hook victims got included here because of some weird bug in this paper's copy-editing or printing software, otherwise this question would have made me run screaming from my computer.

So yes, rational atheist though I am, I indulge in fantasy sometimes myself. My fretting keeps my daughters safe from harm — I call it preventive worrying. If I take an umbrella it won't rain. Leftovers that I eat because they are about to go bad contain no calories.

The difference between people like Piper and me is that I know when I am engaged in magical thinking.

Roberta Medford
Atheist
Montrose

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