Twitter is complicated.
It is good for posting links to interesting articles, brief announcements of what’s happening in someone’s life, or sharing a thought on some topic or other. It’s tough to do these things in just 140 characters, but it can be done and some people do it well.
Others do it not so well, and when the person who mistweets has influence over a huge number of people who subscribe to the person’s tweets, it can be more than troublesome; it can be dangerous.
The Ebola of Unbelief?
Mr. Piper has over 667,000 people following his Twitter account. They want to hear what he has to say and glean wisdom from his thoughts. The problem with this tweet is that any wisdom it may have had gets lost in the ham-fisted way he capitalizes on the physical suffering of others in order to make his spiritual point.
I’m willing to assume Mr. Piper had in mind statements like these from Jesus:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28.)
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Mark 8:36-37.)
So yes, the soul is important. But if Mr. Piper is relying on passages like this for his tweet, he is mistaken. Those passages have nothing to do with human suffering. Rather, they are about self-preservation (Matthew 10) and greed (Mark 8), and to apply them or similar passages to the Ebola crisis is a sloppy way to read and teach on Scripture.
His tweet also minimizes the crisis in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone where the international response is failing to keep up with the spread of the disease, according to a recent BBC report. Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization is quoted as saying:
“The disease is entrenched in the capitals, 70% of the people affected are definitely dying from this disease, and it is accelerating in almost all of the settings.”
The gravity of the crisis is captured in the statement from Joanna Liu, president of Medecins Sans Frontieres, who told the BBC reporter, “We’re not winning the battle.” The BBC report puts the total dead at close to 3900 people, including over 200 health care workers who were there to treat the sick.
People are dying and Mr. Piper decides it’s time to give a Sunday School lesson on the back of their misery.
Jesus and Suffering
Jesus never made light of human misery. He relieved the suffering that comes from sickness (Matthew 4:23-24) and ached in the face of death (John 11:32-36), and in no instance do we ever read of him telling someone, “I realize your body is sick, but you should focus on your soul instead.” Never once did Jesus belittle anyone’s suffering, never told them their suffering was of lesser importance than some spiritual point he wanted to make.
In fact, it appears from all Biblical accounts that Jesus gave equal dignity to a person’s present suffering and their life in eternity.
In other words, Jesus never promoted the gospel at the expense of someone’s misery. That’s because the good news of the gospel doesn’t profit from human suffering. It instead announces blessed relief.
Jesus said so.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21.)
That’s what Jesus said the gospel is about.
So let’s hear no more statements like “the Ebola of unbelief.” People are dying in Africa by the thousands and governments are unable to care for the sick and protect their populations from infection. When Mr. Piper co-opted their suffering for his own purposes he did nothing to advance the gospel. In fact, it brings ridicule on the cause of Christ.
And that’s because when Jesus cared for the sick he cared for both their body and soul. He did not elevate one over the other.
Those who are called by his name should do the same.