The Limits of Pain-free Doctrine

"Some of us have absorbed a form of theology with all the answers.  We can offer standard answers to every problem that comes along, especially if the problem is afflicting some other person.  Our certainty and dogmatism give us such assurance, our systematic theology is so well articulated, that we leave precious little scope for mystery, awe, unknowns.  Then, when we ourselves face devastating catastrophe, and we find that the certainties we have propounded with such confidence offer us little relief, our despair is the bleaker: we begin to question the most basic elements of our faith.  Had we recognized that in addition to great certainties there are great gaps in our comprehension, perhaps we would have been less torn up to find that the mere certainties proved inadequate in our own hour of need.

It becomes important, then, to decide just where the mysteries and the certainties are. Christianity that is nothing but certainties quickly becomes haughty and arrogant, rigid and unbending. Worse, it leaves the Christian open to the most excruciating doubt when the vicissitudes of life finally knock out the supporting pillars. The God of such Christianity is just not big enough to be trusted when you are up to your neck in the muck of pain and defeat. Conversely, Christianity that is nothing but mystery leaves nothing to proclaim, and makes faith indistinguishable from blind credulity...." - D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?

It is through pain, and even confusion, that our beliefs are tried.

This brings to mind one of my recent posts, which I am thankful to have contemplated when I did, just before my recent loss. Death, and subsequent grief, are not the straightforward things I'd imagined. I was nowhere near as prepared as I might have liked to think for the death of my mother, even in spite of her long decline. My "mere certainties proved inadequate in [my] own hour of need". I have ample reason to believe that my mother is with the Lord, but somehow, even in spite of that, I found myself on a spiritual level staring in the face the reality of death for everyone who dies, not just my own mother. Every where and every day some deeply beloved person is dying, and someone is aching and weeping at their side. If my doctrine is true, not all of these people end up spending their eternity in heaven. For some reason witnessing the passing of my own mother brought all this home to me, breaking my heart at the thought of hell, and left me re-asking all the questions I once had pat answers for. I've had to come to grips with a God who sends real people, deeply loved people, to hell. If I cannot, I cannot claim to believe or trust the God of the Bible. And, yet, I do believe in that God. As I've agonized, and struggled with that doctrine too horrible for words, I've found that I keep returning to the truth of Scripture. No matter which way I turn I find the only satisfactory comfort in this life happens to be found between the covers of the very same Book which teaches of the worst horrors. I find my dread there, and my hope as well. I find shelter in the arms of the very One I fear. What it comes down to, I suppose, is not that my doctrine was false, but that I was far too glib. The memory of my loose discussions of death and hell make me cringe. Jesus wept when confronted with the death of his dear friend. Even though He was about to raise him, the tragedy of death, even the death of a believing one, broke His heart. It was with a broken heart that Christ raised Lazarus. Hard truth spoken apart from broken-hearted pain is a cold and heartless thing. May the Lord forgive me the times I've done it, and grant that I never again spout cold doctrine from an un-broken heart.


David Porter said…

I appreciate your tender, and transparent heart.

I too have wrestled with these things. Who can understand the mind of God?

I enjoyed your post, and am pleased to see that God was with you as he made you lie down in green pastures, while gazing upon the valley of the shadow of death.
jeri said…
I so appreciate Don Carson. I've been wanting to read that book, too; it shall go on my wish list.

"It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad" (Ecc. 7).

The death of someone we love changes us forever. No more glibness... well, there probably will be sometimes, but then your heart will go back to the house of mourning, and the lessons learned there do indeed, eventually, make your heart glad with real gladness (not the glib kind). What a strange but true truth!

My heart is with you in the house of mourning. Love you.
The Old Geezer said…
good blog
God bless you
have a great 2010
Dear, dear Laurie - thanks for a blog from your aching heart. You made me wonder: "are we ever prepared for the death of a loved one?" From my own grief-journey I would say: Yes and no.
No: the valley of death is just so much more than the imagination can "see".
No: Each suffering is unique and unpredictable.
Yes: if my life is built on the rock of hearing and obeying the Word - I weather the storm with my sovereign God of all compassion, better. Maybe you have more reasons to add.

We have seen Les Miserables show this week and the one phrase that stuck in my mind is: "there is a grief that cannot be spoken..". How true that is.

I have learned from you to speak certainties from a broken heart and to have space for mystery.

Thank you my grieving friend!
Betsy Markman said…
Oh wow, there are great depths here. Thank you for opening up this tender, hurting part of your soul. You are so absolutely right. We become much more authentic in our faith when we go through the valley with Him.
Karin said…
Thank you for sharing with us your thoughts and feelings as you go through this valley of grief and sorrow. Very deep thoughts that are good for me to think upon.

Working in a nursing home, where death comes to call several times a week, I've really not dealt that deeply with the fact that my own mom is in there and is 90. She's a child of God though and I know that I would see her again. I have such a passion to share Christ with those who tell me that spiritual things have never mattered to them. It simply breaks my heart!
WhiteStone said…
This death thing! How incomprehensible it is to me. How is it that death comes to us all? All? I can scarce wrap my head around death and its awfulness. And its very awfulness emphasizes the awfulness of sin. Like you, I can only go to Scripture for consolation...therein is my only hope.

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