If the Evangelical Christian teaching on the sovereignty of God and God’s personal, direct intervention in our lives is taken seriously, it often results in Christians acting foolishly and irresponsibly. It often leads to fatalism. The thinking goes something like this: God is in control. Nothing happens that is not part of God’s purpose and plan for our lives. Christians live fearlessly, knowing that God is controlling and directing their lives. All they need to do is surrender their will to his, dying to self (cue the song I Surrender All). God promises Christians he will never leave them or forsake them. He promises to be a friend that sticks closer than a brother. He promises, promises, promises . . .
Back in the real world, Christians fail, get sick, have accidents, lose their jobs, get divorced, file bankruptcy, and die just like the rest of us. Despite the promises of God, their lives are no different from the lives of godless atheists. They “think” their lives are different, but any cursory examination proves otherwise.
A scene in an episode of the Showtime hit The Big C illustrates how Christians often deceive themselves. The Big C is a comedy/drama about a woman — Cathy (Laura Linney) — who has terminal cancer. Her son Adam (Gabriel Basso) has turned to Christianity as his mom continues to struggle with the reality that she is dying. The Christianity the show portrays is a mix of Lutheranism, Emergent church, and Evangelicalism. Adam starts attending a Bible study where he meets a girl. She is “saving” herself until she is married, so she only will have anal sex with Adam. In her world, anal sex and oral sex are not really “sex.”
One evening, Adam is out with his girlfriend and they come to the curb of a busy, traffic-filled street:
Girlfriend: (starts praying) God help me to help Adam. Let him know your love and protection like I do. Let him give over his life to your loving hands.
Girlfriend: Okay, RUN! (and grabbing Adam’s hand they begin to run across the street dodging cars)
Adam: Oh shit!
Adam: (Upon safely reaching the other side of the street) I can’t believe we did that, we could have died.
Girlfriend: But, we didn’t because God protected us. Just like he protects all of his children.
This is EXACTLY the way many Evangelical Christians think.
Never mind that if this same scenario was played out again, it is likely they would have been killed. Perhaps they escaped death a second time. All that would mean is that they were lucky the first two times. They might run out of luck the next time they try to cross the road. And if Adam and his girlfriend were hit by a car and killed? Christians have an out for that too. It was their “time” to die. God called their number, end of story! To God be the glory.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
Here’s a story that perfectly illustrates being at the wrong place, at the wrong time:
A Washington couple who died when a large concrete slab fell from a highway overpass onto their pickup truck were youth ministers in their 20s and parents to a 6-month-old baby.
Josh and Vanessa Ellis and their baby, Hudson, died when a concrete barrier fell onto the cab of their truck as they drove underneath an overpass in Bonney Lake, Washington, James Ludlow, their pastor at EastPoint Foursquare Church, said.
“It’s a tragic event,” Ludlow said Tuesday. “In the blink of an eye, inhale and exhale, and they’re in the presence of God.”
Construction crews were installing a sidewalk on the state Route 410 overpass in Bonney Lake, when a chunk of concrete weighing thousands of pounds fell to the roadway below around 10:30 a.m.
“We were just heading down the street … and I could hear three snaps and down it went on top of the truck,” witness Dawn Nelson, who was riding in a car behind the pickup, told KING-TV of Seattle. “There was nothing anyone could do. It was just surreal.”
It was not immediately known what caused the “very heavy” concrete structure to fall. Bonney Lake police, the state Department of Transportation and representatives from contractor WHH Nisqually are investigating.
City spokesman Woody Edvalson said the material that fell was part of the original span, which was built in 1992 and has a sufficiency rating of 95.3 out of 100.
Bonney Lake is about 30 miles southeast of Seattle.
Flowers, a cross and a teddy bear have been placed near the overpass. Both the span and road underneath reopened. Debris from the concrete slab is still on the ground, however.
Ludlow described the Ellis family as “great people” who were loved by kids in the church’s congregation….
What a tragedy, a poignant reminder of how quickly one’s life can be snuffed out.
I am always hesitant to use tragedies like this to make a point, but there is an aspect of this story that I think is important to discuss.
Shane Lance, the worship leader at Eastpointe, had this to say about the accident:
“It’s just crazy as a friend. I just can’t wrap my head around it, and that does have to do with how random and how freakish the accident was.”
“It feels unbelievable because a split second on either side the cement slab would have fallen right in front of them and they would have been fine or behind them and they would have been fine. What I do know is that there’s no answer to the logic of it and there’s no answer to the question why.”
“We do know God is good; He’s just so good. He’s going to pull goodness out of this situation somehow, even though right now that just feels illogical. And there’s also comfort knowing that they’re with Jesus and they’re comforted and they’re covered by His grace and power now.”
The One News Now report goes to say “The worship pastor adds they know God is sovereign even when it doesn’t make sense.”
According to Lance and Eastpointe Foursquare Church, the Ellis family was smashed to death because the Christian God decreed it to be so. God is the giver and taker of life and he determined it was time for Ellis’s to die. Not content to quietly kill them in their sleep, he dropped a concrete barrier weighing thousands of pounds on top of them as they drove near an overpass. What should we say about a God who behaves in such a horrific manner?
Lance, seeking for answers as to WHY God killed his friends, believes that the sovereign God he loves and worships only does good and he will surely use this tragedy for a greater purpose. What Godly purpose requires the sacrifice of a young father, mother, and their child? How is this any different from the Aztec Indians sacrificing humans to their God?
Lance’s comments betray the mental and emotional battle that rages in his mind. He wants to believe God is sovereign, God is love, God only does good, yet his dear friends are dead. In the aforementioned article, Lance stated that the accident “just feels illogical.” When viewed in a religious context, he is right. How can someone say God is love and God only does good, knowing that the death of the Ellis’s is anything but loving and good? I am sure that cognitive dissonance afflicts many of those trying to make sense of this tragedy.
As a humanist, I don’t think the accident was illogical. The Ellis family was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Such things happen every day in every country of the world. 13 years ago, a Southern Baptist pastor, his wife, and three young children, were driving along an Indiana road when a tree toppled over smashing their car. The father, mother, and two children were killed. Baptist Press reported:
A small-town Southern Baptist pastor, his wife, and two small children were killed Jan. 1 when a dead tree fell on top of their car, crushing the passenger compartment.
Stanley Paul Jones, 46, pastor of Buck Creek Baptist Church in Cumberland, was killed along with his wife, Beth Ann Hobbs Jones, 39, and two of their children, Lauren, 6, and Tyler, 10.
Another daughter, Emily, 4, survived and was listed in fair condition at an Indianapolis-area hospital.
There appeared to have been no wind or other circumstances that caused the tree to fall just as Jones’ car was passing underneath on the two-lane road.
How do you explain the deaths that came a few hours into the new year?
Jones was westbound on Hancock County Road 100 South, approaching the intersection with County Road 200 West, about seven miles east of the church he served. There are woods in the area. A dead tree, said to have been 5 feet in diameter, fell just as Jones’ vehicle was passing underneath, according to Hancock County deputies.
“Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re exempt from tragedy,” said William Smith of Cumberland Christian Church, who knew Jones and helped his church. “There’s no explanation for it, but we believe that an all-knowing God is in control of everything.”…
There’s that sovereign God again, the God who is all-knowing and controls everything. Again, like the Ellis family, the Jones family was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. But, in both cases, there are humans who are culpable for what happened. While the concrete barrier falling was an accident, someone was operating the machinery that resulted in the fall. Same goes for the Jones family. The dead tree that killed them was on someone’s property. They likely knew it was dead and could topple over, yet they did nothing about it. The state of Indiana is also culpable. It is their responsibility to make sure that trees along the right-of-way are sound. If they are not, they should be removed lest they topple over and hit a passerby.
Rare is the circumstance where no culpability can be found. I have had several near brushes with death, and in every instance a human was to blame. We recognize that we live in a danger-filled world, where living to old age is as much about luck as it is genetics. For the Ellis and Jones families, their luck ran out and three children and four adults died.
Imagine these families tooling down the road without a care in the world. Maybe they were like Polly and I years ago. We’d spend hours in the car singing hymns and praise and worship songs. Sometimes, we sang along with a cassette tape or a CD. Just praising Jesus, worshiping the wonderful, loving God of the universe. And then, BAM, the sovereign God of Christianity drops a cement barrier or a tree on top of the car. What kind of God behaves like this? Perhaps Christians need to tell God to please leave them alone; that they are fine without his love, care, and protection.
The Ellis family, according to Shane Lance, is in the presence of Jesus. Theoretically, isn’t this what many Christians live for? Whether by rapture or death, the Christian is free from the world controlled by the prince and power of the air, Satan. Life is little more than preparation for heaven. The Bible says, prepare to meet the Lord thy God. Since the present life is transitory and fleeting, the Christian focuses on laying up treasures in heaven. Testimonies are given, expressing the desire to absent from the body and present with the Lord. If heaven and being in the presence of Jesus is the end game, shouldn’t Christians rejoice upon hearing the stories mentioned in this post? Why all the sadness, grief, and despair? Perhaps, even the Christian has their doubts about what lies beyond the grave. They know what the Bible says, what their pastor says, and what their “heart” tells them, but reality tells them something far different.
I am not certain whether the atheistic/humanistic way of looking at tragedies and death is better, but it is brutally honest. I fully understand the appeal of religion in times of tragedy. People want to desperately believe that their life matters, both now and beyond the grave. While there is no rational proof for such claims, faith allows the believer to set reason aside and cling to hope. The atheist and the humanist must embrace life as it is. Sometimes, life can be harsh and ugly, as in the case of the Ellis family. No thoughtful atheist would ever wish such a tragedy on anyone, but we know that things like this do happen and they may some day happen to us.