Jumping the Gun with Rachel Held Evans

Her rage against “abusive theology” is palpable:

I can abide differences when it comes to theology related to gender, the atonement, biblical interpretation, science, evolution, predestination and free will. Let’s debate those issues vigorously, but with grace and truth and love. But I cannot abide this theology that turns God into an abuser. I cannot abide this theology that makes God out to be a monster whose destruction is done in the name of “love.”

Stand Firm has come back at this in their own way.  But I think there’s an easier way to deal with this.

Piper’s citation of Job 1:19 is entirely proper.  People in Oklahoma, like their counterparts at the beginning of Job, were just going about the going about when disaster struck.  And Evans is partly correct to say that “…the story of Job stands as an ancient indictment on those who would respond to tragedy by blaming the victim”.  My guess is that Piper is aware of that, which is why he used the verse he did and not another.  But that didn’t stop Evans from “jumping the gun” and using one tweet as a platform off of which to dive into a pool of rage.

The truth is that both Evans and her Evangelical opponents are working from one shared assumption: that we have a performance-based God whose purpose is to either a) fulfil our every wish or b) punish us for every fault.  Both implicitly assume that people are the measure, and neither really represents reality.  They represent responses to Evangelical Christianity’s current “selling point”, i.e., that if you get on God’s side you’ll have a life of bliss.  One emphasises the downside of not being on his side (and I’ll admit that too many Evangelicals are big on that) and the other attempts to apply post-modern “I deserve the best” mentality to a universe where such an assumption has no basis.

Such dialectics are, for me, a reminder of how blessed I was that my chief intellectual formation as a Christian was as a Roman Catholic and not a Protestant, let alone an Evangelical.  It has saved me a great deal of grief and probably apostacy.  So let me lay out what I think is the reality we have.

For all of its wonder, this world and universe is fallen and not God’s ideal for us.  That ideal will be found in eternity with him.  Before that happens we’ll have problems.  Sometimes these problems are big, sometimes these problems are small.  Sometimes these problems are the result of being in the path of unintended disaster, some are really of our own making.  (The global warming fanatics, for their part, can point to Oklahoma as a high-carbon consuming place because of its low-density settlement, large vehicles and ubiquitous air-conditioning, so there, you can make a liberal case against Evans).  But in either case the key is to secure our eternity so that we can deal with the problems that come our way in this life.

But ultimately that redemption, like everything else we get from God, is undeserved.  We don’t have the intrinsic worth to expect otherwise; God’s act of redemption was an act of undeserved love.  Coming from a congenial region, Evans may think this is harsh.  But as I’ve said before (and there are exceptions to this) growing up in a place like South Florida convinced me that, if there is a “default” in eternity, it isn’t heaven.

To think otherwise is, IMHO, to take on an entitlement mentality about God, which for many of us extends to the people and institutions around us.  Personally I can’t stomach that; entitlement mentalities not only go against my grain as a Christian, but they also really rub me the wrong way from my secular upbringing (and, yes, Rachel Held Evans, some of us really do have a secular background).  I would say that my walk with God has softened my attitude towards the world around me, which would otherwise be misanthropic and condescending (and I struggle with both).

The hard truth of the matter is that the blessings we have are undeserved and the adversities we get are deserved.  Neither Evans’ dread fear of “abusive theology” nor the obsessive scorekeeping of others will change that.  Our job is to respond to what happens and make things better.

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man who had been blind from his birth.  “Rabbi”, asked his disciples, “who was it that sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither the man nor the parents”, replied Jesus; “but he was born blind that the work of God should be made plain in him.  We must do the work of him who sent me, while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work”. (John 9:1-4)

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