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?
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.