Friday, August 21, 2009

The Tornado, the Baptists, and Old People

Lots of girls gathered in the hallway outside of our ground-floor dorm room, having descended from higher floors. A few of us made the potentially unwise decision to sit on the back of our couch, staring out the window at the ominous sky and blowing trees. I looked at my suitemate, “That looks serious.”

It was. Serious in more ways than one. A friend drove us downtown to see the damage, but we only made it one block.

On a day when no severe weather was predicted or expected – we had been enjoying the unseasonably warm March day – tragedy like we had never seen happened. Just one block from campus, the town was gone. The town: Arkadelphia.

The tornado happened on a Saturday… a day when the elderly residents of the local nursing home are pretty much doing what they always do.

According to the nursing home’s printed activity schedule, at 2:45pm on Saturday, March 1, the residents were to take the afternoon meds and enjoy reruns of The Andy Griffith Show. The episode was the one where Howard proposes to his girlfriend Millie in the bakery.

We stared at the flattened downtown area, eyewitnesses of the damage.

The curious tornado tracked two miles northeast of Hope, and set a course straight toward downtown Arkadelphia.

The time: 2:45pm

The most distant building in downtown Arkadelphia was the nursing home. The tornado severely damaged Second Baptist Church , and the requisite trailer park, before blasting windows and flattening business and homes throughout downtown, and eventually collapsing the nursing home roof. As the tornado moved on to Malvern, we set to clearing debris from the roads, aiding nursing home residents out of the building, and retrieving blankets and other necessary items to keep them safe and warm.

Let me venture an interpretation of this Providence with some biblical warrant.

1. The unrepentant practice of placing old people in nursing homes instead of taking care of them ourselves (like other sins) will exclude a person from the kingdom of God.

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8).

Then again, maybe it was the sin of the old women who had failed in their lifetime to marry and populate the earth, or the widows with uncontrolled sensual desires… (1 Timothy 5:9-12)

2. The church has always embraced those who forsake their selfish desire to stick their parents in an old-folks home but who still struggle with the smell of moth balls and the presence of dentures soaking on countertops, rejoicing with them that all our fallen, sinful, disordered lives (all of us, no exceptions) are forgiven if we turn to Christ in faith.

3. Therefore, the presence of nursing homes that usurp the role of the church and condone the very sins that keep people out of the kingdom of God, are evil. They dishonor God, contradict Scripture, and implicitly promote damnation where salvation is freely offered.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts... (Malachi 3:5-7)

4. Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:41)

5. When telling a story about a particularly annoying old person in a certain city who was demanding justice, Jesus answered in general terms – an answer that would cover old people in Arkadelphia, Taiwan, or Baghdad. God’s message is have faith… really, really persistent and annoying faith, and I will give you justice.

He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:2-8)

6. Conclusion: The tornado in Arkadelphia was a gentle but firm warning to people who stick their parents and relatives in nursing homes, and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Baptist heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into selfishness. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.



Mark Van Steenwyk said...

May all nursing homes be so judged.

Mark Van Steenwyk said...

Can I republish this on JM?

Amy said...

This is so interesting to me because I was just having a conversation recently that tried to do the same thing with the sins of an individual - connecting a tragedy with sin in her life.

For all we know, Piper is correct. But that doesn't make it ok for him to say it. The thing that bothers me most is how it PRESUMES TO KNOW THE MIND OF GOD with regard to a specific event, and presumes to connect it with a particular sin.

Preachers should preach the Word faithfully, and let the Holy Spirit convict people of their own sins.

I like a lot of what Piper has to say. It is always hard to hear things you don't agree with coming from the mouth of a fellow believer with whom you frequently do agree.