I was saddened by the last voyage of Rachel Held Evans. It is never good for such a thing to happen, especially at this time in life. She was not so far from us and my wife and I know several of her fellow parishioners at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland.
It’s best to put your opinions out on someone while they’re still here, and the one extended piece I did on her was this one in 2013 on a series of tornadoes in Oklahoma. It reminded me of a simple fact about myself; that, although my years in the Evangelical-Pentecostal world have on the whole been positive, I’m glad I was neither raised nor came of age in it. I’ll reproduce the body of my response to her (and her opponents):
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).
It’s time to stop being so “deep in our own stuff” and broaden our horizons.
Memory eternal, and prayers for her family.