Thursday, February 26, 2009
When Bad Things Happens to Good People - Holes in the Evangelical Prosperity Narrative
I’m ashamed to admit that I have never read this book by Harold Kushner. When it was first published, 20 years ago, I was a hard-core Evangelical and we were taught that the book was full of hearsay. We were told, by pastors etc, that the book presented a God who is too weak to overcome difficulties in this world. I really need to read the book for myself to see if this is really his conclusion. I mean, the same pastors would say the same about my position . . . which is the furthest thing from the truth.
But I’m using his title and book photo to introduce this topic. This topic, in many ways, is a continuation of my last post.
While some people write blogs with careful research and thought (I think of Michael Spencer here and some of the more scholarly blogs he quotes from) I type rapidly, between patients, and from the gut. So, I often have typos and thoughts that should have been developed better. But if I don’t do it this way, then I don’t do it at all. It’s a time issue. I work about 50 hours a week, I’m back in graduate school, I’m on there boards of directors . . . the chair of one . . . plus I have several reading and writing projects going. Sorry to digress.
In summary, my post yesterday is about the fact that I have a close friend who is dying from cancer. It is really upsetting me and it is about all I can think about.
My friend Terry had a form of cancer that most people recover from. He started out on a good track and we heard constant reports of his progress and little “miracles.” Then he had a sudden and unrepentant rapid decline. This week the news was even much worse . . . as if his disease was following the worse possible path. This is despite a lot of people praying for him, he being in the hands of great doctors and the family doing every thing right.
Then I noticed the odd turn in events. Our church (we go to the same one) was oddly silent about him this week. I thought it would be the main topic since his terrible news came in just on Friday.
This is where we as Christians, especially Evangelicals (and I’ve written about this before) paint ourselves into a corner. The narrative that we love to read and hear about is where the Christian beats the odds . . . where miraculously they are healed when the doctors said there was no hope. Or, the plane goes down and the Christian, Bobby or Betty, are the only survivors . . . and they survived against great odds. These are the books that fill our mall’s Precious Moments Christian Bookstore.
What happens though, when Bobby or Betty (The faithful Christian-hard church workers-with wonderful Christian parents) are the ONLY ones killed on the plane. And, imagine, that the plane crash was minor.
My first encounter with this problem was when I was 18 years old and a new Christian. I had jumped with both feet from the Bible belt upbringing into hard-core Evangelism. One of my Christian friends, Amanda, was a wonderful gal. Great church worker even (although she was only 16) helping her older sister to lead their youth group. Amanda had just gotten her driver’s license. She asked if she could borrow her dad’s pick up to take one of her first solo drives, down the hill, to the store, to buy milk. She got in the truck, drove very carefully (about 35 MPH from what I was told). However, the edge of the tire dropped off the pavement. This pulled the truck towards the ditch. The steepness of the ditch made the truck turn over. I’m not sure what happened. Either her head came out the open side window or something came it . . . but everyone agrees, it was a “freak of nature” that Amanda was killed.
I was devastated and very, very confused. I knew guys in high school that drove their supped up cares at a 115 MPHs on those twisty Appalachian roads, and with a 1/5 of Jack Daniels half drunk. These guys hated God (by their own words) and did as much evil as they could find to do. They are in their 50s now and have never had a car wreck. Why did Amanda.
As a young evangelical I did the same thing as I see Terry’s Christian friends doing. I went silent. I never visited Amanda’s parents again nor her older sister, who had been a good friend. I simply didn’t know how to process the loss. It is one of the biggest regrets of my life.
When really bad things happen, when fate follows the worse possible road, it leaves us out on some type of theological limb with a saw in our hands. The response usually takes one of three forms. Like me, and our church right now, we go silent. Or, we blame someone. For example, the doctor’s made a mistake. The patient was a smoker. He didn’t take care of himself. Finally we get into the “God’s wonderful plan” narrative. In Terry’s case, I expect people start to talk about God had this “wonderful” plan for Terry to suffer really bad, then go through an agonizing death . . . for a good reason.” Often people start the name the reason, teaching someone something or bringing a relative of the victim to the Lord. But often people settle on (thinking it is a great expression of faith) simply, “Only God knows . . . but he did it, he is in complete control and I trust that he knows what he’s doing.”
I will continue this thought in a Part II.
Posted by MJ at 8:47 AM