I received news of Rachel Held Evans’ death on Saturday morning. Ironically, I was sitting in a session of our CBMW west coast conference when the text came from my wife. We had been praying for Rachel and her family for the last couple weeks. Nevertheless, I was stunned. Immediately after receiving the news and before the next session was to begin, we led the entire CBMW conference in prayer for Rachel’s husband and children.
The news really was a punch in the gut for me. Rachel and I never met each other in person, but we were not strangers. The New York Times obituary includes these lines:
Ms. Evans fearlessly challenged traditional authority structures, which were often conservative and male. She would spar with evangelical men on Twitter, brazenly and publicly challenging their views of everything from human sexuality to politics to Biblical inerrancy.
That was us. We had countless online interactions and debates over the years. I did a search Saturday night on my twitter feed and read through some of the old threads. I had forgotten about so many of them. They were direct and concerned fundamental issues of the faith. We were often at loggerheads.
Somewhere around 2014, I stopped following her, and she stopped following me. It’s been relatively quiet for these last five years or so. Still, I’m grieved that so many of the fundamental issues we differed over are left unresolved. There’s nothing for it now except to pray for those precious little ones, her husband, and the rest of her family. I can hardly imagine what they are going through.
I resonate deeply with Anne Kennedy’s reflections on these things. Among other things, she writes:
It is we who are ephemeral, who go away in a night, who are a breath, a sigh. It is God, and his perfect word, who carry us on past the ashes of each ruined moment. But not the God of our own imagining, untethered from every jot and line of his holy and perfect word. We have to take him as he is, we have to trust that what he says about himself is true, is enough to take us over the threshold of death into everlasting life.
All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
And the flower falls off,
But the word of the Lord endures forever (1 Pet. 1:24-25).
We are the grass that withers and changes, not God. He is the absolute reality with Whom we have to do. And we bloody our feet kicking against the goads of that truth.
Since Saturday, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how ephemeral and fleeting we really are in our fallenness. I’ve been thinking about all of the idle words for which I will have to give account. I’ve been thinking of all the stupid and selfish things I’ve said and done during my forty-six trips around the sun. And I’ve been thinking about the fact that I am not guaranteed any more trips.
Lord, make me to know my end
And what is the extent of my days;
Let me know how transient I am.
Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight;
Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah.
Surely every man walks about as a phantom;
Surely they make an uproar for nothing… (Psalm 39:4-6)
It seems hopeless, but it is not. The Lord’s arm is not too short to save, and there is gospel light to dispel our own darkness.
The only comfort I have is that I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
I hope and pray this is the comfort that God would seal to all of our hearts, and to all those that are grieving today.