Enough Bad Theology: Death

I make few things about my life, interests, and beliefs secret.  I love to learn.  I love to teach, in as much as I love to tell the truth to those around me.  I try to be humble--to know what I know and what I don't know.  I left college knowing just how little I knew.

Epistemologically, many will disagree with me; but I'm not naive about what I believe or why I believe it.  I'm not afraid of disagreement; but I am discouraged when others disagree using poor logic, poor reasoning and an arrogant attitude.

My Facebook newsfeed never fails to shock me with how many people know the answer to all of life's great questions--without a shadow of a doubt.  Never mind those silly people who for millennia have pondered these sorts of questions.  What did they know?  People who literally dedicate their lives to study and, in the end, have learned a lot but feel there is much that remains uncertain.  Too bad they weren't on Facebook.  They could have had those questions cleared up in a matter of minutes.

I try not to "preach" what I believe in as much as that word has bad connotations.  However, there are some things that I think about for years and years.  Things that, if I could talk through with every single person I know, I would, because it is that important to understand if one is to live fully.

And here it is:  God doesn't want bad things to happen.  And God doesn't make bad things happen.

Now, this is filled with words that have to be defined but since this is in no way an academic exercise, I'm just going to throw a few things out there and get on with it.  By God, I mean the God who Christians believe revealed himself in the Old Testament and New Testament.  By "bad" I mean horrible, evil things, but in particular, I mean death. Death is the opposite of what the Bible says God is about.  If you care to know the God of the Bible, you'll have to go along with hearing what the Bible happens to say about him.  If you don't then there is really no need to keep reading.  I'm not mad at you, but you won't like how I "argue" the rest of this.

And that's ok, because I'm mainly typing to my evangelical friends here.  The ones that can look me in the eye and tell me that God wanted their baby to die or that God gave their brother cancer.  I hold that this thinking is built on bad exegesis and a bad understanding of who God is.  He makes beauty from ashes, but he calls them "ashes"--not things that look horrible to us dumb, unenlightened humans but are in some secret way a really great thing.

This is important not because Christians should split hairs with each other or because I need to be right about this; this is important because erroneous teaching along these lines is one of the major reasons Christianity sounds so horrible to non-Christians.  And, there is much about Christianity that will not be welcomed by a non-Christian; but if you are representing Christ, you're going to want to do that as truthfully as you can.  Poor representation is also called blasphemy, and worshipping your own poorly made representation is called idolatry--neither of which is the goal for the Christians I know who are seeking to fight the good fight.

One of my favorite discussions about this comes from Ben Witherington's "When A Daughter Dies," and I hope it's not illegal for me to retype some of it here, in quotes with credit to him, of course.  If it is, please let me know in the comments.

[I'm quoting this from my kindle which does not show page numbers]

From Chapter 1:  Was This God's Will?

"I was determined from day one after Christy's death to be open to whatever positive thing there might be to glean from this seeming tragedy.  I clung to the promise of Romans 8:28 that 'in all things God works for the good of those who love him.'
The first point that was immediately confirmed in my heart was theological: God did not do this to my child.  God is not the author of evil.  God does not terminate sweet lives with a pulmonary embolism.  Pulmonary embolisms are a result of the bent nature of this world. As Ann [his wife] kept repeating, 'God is not the problem; he is the solution.'
One primary reason I am not a Calvinist is that I do not believe in God's detailed control of all events. [. . .] Third, because Job's words, 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away (1:21), do not express good theology! According to Job 1, it was not God but the Devil who took away Job's children, health, and wealth.  God allowed it to happen, but when Job says these words, as the rest of the story shows, he was not yet enlightened about the true source of his calamity and what God's will actually was for his life.  God's will for him was for good and not for harm. . .
As I stood before the casket and stared at our 'Christy girl'. . .I was so thankful that the God of the resurrection had a better plan for her. . .The phrase, 'It's all God's will' is likewise cold comfort. . .I believe in a God whose Yes! to life is louder than death's No! Death is not God's will.  On the contrary, God is in the trenches with us, fighting the very same evils we fight in this world--disease, suffering, sorrow, sin and death itself.  He cries with us!"

Given, there are many philosophers and theologians who disagree.  But, please, approach these matters with due humility and realism about yourself and your study.  Google the author.  He's studied the Bible a little bit.  That certainly does not make him infallible or right about everything, but it does make him worth considering.  More than anything, agree with this, disagree with this but think about what actions you ascribe to God--especially if those actions are the very thing Christians believe he came into the world to defeat--evil and death.

Disclaimer:  If I were writing a paper, this would be a VERY bad one.  I'm speaking conversationally and putting some thoughts "out there." This is in no way a comprehensive treatment of this issue.  It pinpoints one of my least favorite angles taken on this topic.

Homework:  how do songs we sing strengthen this misinterpretation of the verses in Job?

1 comment:

  1. I wish we could sit and vent about this together, because we would both feel better knowing someone else gets it. This terrible theology has been a HUGE source of a years-long struggle with fear for me. God began leading me through this very thing while we were stateside this summer. And it made me want to punch a few KLove artists in the nose.

    I think you're great. :)


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