In recent days I’ve had the misfortune of reading various posts from well-meaning evangelicals asserting their theological stance on the “right or wrongness” of the beloved Robin Williams suicide and his resultant place in eternity. It seems that in a world where everyone has a voice regardless of their credentials–as fate would have it, the well-intentioned and self-proclaimed theologians and evangelists feel it is their duty as defenders of the truth to let the world know the obvious and not so obvious.
The obvious to the Christian inside of the cocoon of Christianity is that, as we must believe, those without Christ–according to Christ himself and the whole of Christian scripture, do not give reassurance as to our eternal destination. That I’m afraid we have to believe, albeit humbly (Christians take note), if we are to be true to the very “few” essentials we must believe in order to be in line with Historic Orthodox Christianity. That mind you is only obvious to those of us within the circle of Christianity, which is a point not to be taken too lightly. In other words, it is “not” a point that the world outside of Christian circles is supposed to understand, nor will they ever until the veil of darkness has been lifted from their eyes (2 Cor. 4:4). This of course is not in our wheelhouse of magic tricks to pull off with sleight of word-smithing hand. Though Christian preaching (the right kind) can be of some help in lifting the veil, the scripture is very clear throughout that it is God himself who does the veil lifting (John 6:44). And though we would possibly be prone to think as mere byproducts of the dogmatism we hear expounded from many pulpits week to week that our stance with the world and the spiritually weak inside the walls of buildings we call the church should be to uphold the truth at all costs, I fear we are missing the point of truth’s place and intention in the entirety of the New Testament canon. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
But now let’s briefly talk about the “not so obvious”. The not so obvious part of the message of those well-intentioned defenders of the truth dragons is that mental-illness, unless it has happened to you or has gripped your family in all too familiar and haunting ways, is a reality of which lies in the mysterious realm. Brilliant spiritual masters of the Christian faith have long known and rested in this mysteriousness of not knowing all there is to know about God (Deut. 29:29;Isa. 55:9). However, the unfortunate part is that most inside of one particular branch of historic orthodox Christianity (evangelicals) seem to never be content with this one aspect called mystery that is equally an attribute of the God that we love and worship. As a result of holding this mystery in tension with other truths, the scriptures that they think are a manual of word for word instruction on every aspect of their lives and those they would “keep in line” rather than a guiding light for understanding the ways, movements and rhythms of the Spirit of God rightly applied to their own individual lives indeed miss the forest for the trees.
The second thing to note is that no one really knows where Robin Williams stance was on faith issues or whether he was a believer or not. No one for instance truly knows if he was a man of faith simply because of what he did or did not say in the public eye. Though we are to be “fruit-inspectors” that does not mean we blabber about with all we have inspected about someone we don’t even know or those we do know for that matter. In fact, it stands to reason that we will be very busy just inspecting the “lack” of fruit in our own spiritual mirror thus not giving us near enough time to inspect others! Furthermore, this man who once compared Catholicism to Episcopalianism as Christianity with “half the guilt” (very funny quite frankly) perhaps had something to say to us in that statement we continually miss.
First of all, that statement says to me that he knew something of what he was speaking of experientially and thus negatively perhaps. As a result, secondly and more importantly, the fact that the good news of Jesus Christ, the thought (grace) that changed the world (Bono), would be increasingly known by all inquiring minds who might want to know outside of the cocoon of Christianity as news of “guilt” (law) and judgment rather than a place of love, inclusion and grace is the point that I want to focus on. The further point is to define briefly what it means to be a real “defender of the Christian truth” as opposed to one’s who increasingly repel people from the truth of the gospel that really is and always should be amazingly “good news”! However, before I do so, I want to say that what makes these “defenders” of the truth rightfully so nervous when guys like me say these sorts of things is that somehow when we do that we are on a slippery slope to compromise and antinomianism. Antinomianism being a fancy theological word coming out of the earliest times of Christianity and today which is a belief which leads people to take the good, graceful news of Jesus as their own but reject any kind of demands on how they live their lives in the culture, in their families and in the body of Christ of which they are apart. They are those on every corner today who believe Jesus is your “homeboy”, your friend, or your magic genie who would never have anything to say about your lifestyle choices but just simply wants us to all get along, have a group hug and all make it to heaven safely and secure. So let me dispel that fear first and foremost and unequivocally say that is not at all what I am saying. So now on to our final task at hand—what does it truly mean to be a defender of the truth rather than those who increasingly repel people from the truth?
Let me say at the outset that the answer to this question is what we increasingly miss and for the life of me I can’t understand how we do. For instance, to be sure we are to “defend the truth” in the sense that “inside” the body of Christ we are to not let error (the distortion of the few essentials of the historic orthodox Christian faith) slide in and distort the truth and deceive the flock. We are given this injunction throughout the New Testament. It also goes without saying that we are to be defenders in that sense–albeit humbly, though firmly and lovingly; with a view to steering those who err back to the truth of the gospel. This begs the question, “What then “is” the truth of the gospel”? Well quite frankly, to put it very simply for our time here today, the gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, died and rose again for the purpose of redeeming mankind from the slavery of sin and from being help captive for so long by Satan (which is also the majority of the world’s way of thinking) to do his will, and for the purpose of reordering creation to be recreated in the image of Christ—God’s intention all along. Having said that, I believe that in order for one to be a Christian he or she must believe those things I’ve just mentioned yet summed up rather perfectly in the Apostle’s Creed long ago which says:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.
Now to be sure the word of God tells us a lot more to chew on, live by, meditate upon and strive towards. However, it is these “essentials” summed up in the Apostles Creed that should unite and not divide the body of Christ—a point that has been explained repeatedly and nauseously long before my reintroduction here. It is also these things that we should “defend” within the body of Christ but “not” outside of the spiritual or physical doors of the organism or organization that is the church. Please hear me out as being the synthesis and main point of what I want to leave you with today. Let me now announce it from the rooftops: It is “not” the duty of Christians to announce, preach, blast, defend, judge or correct people outside of the Christian faith of our “truth” claims in what we rightly believe. Why is that we are always learning and never able to arrive at knowledge of the real crux of Christian truth (II Tim. 3:7)?
The truth is, if one merely reads with a discerning eye the body of the gospels, the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament, one increasingly becomes aware that there is really only one thing that should judge people outside of Christianity as to the truth of Christianity, and that is “how” we live our lives! In fact the word of God tells us (II Cor. 2:14-17) that our lives are a living apologetic that are either a fragrance that leads people to the life in Christ or a judgment that leads them to death away from Christ. Notice however it is our lives that judge them when they see how we live compared to how they live, but not our words that judge them. In fact the apostle Paul wrote clearly in I Cor. 5:9-13 that is not our job to judge people outside of the body of Christ but to clean up our own bloody mess, and in fact it is God alone that judges outsiders! Rather he says, our job is actually to hang around with every sort of “Tom, Dick, Harry and Mary” that lives contrarily to our gospel. We purposefully do this in order that perhaps they can see something of our lives and graceful words, thoughts, actions and reasoned discourse that tells them there is something about us that accentuates the fact to them that they are indeed missing something of profound meaning and purpose in their own lives. The New Testament is crystal clear that it is our lack of holiness, our lack of authenticity and faithfulness and proper engagement with the culture that is what a unbelieving world finds increasingly unbelievable (Brennan Manning)! Also in almost every instance, outside of the core orthodox essentials of what it means to be a believer in terms of right belief, almost every other mention of the “truth” is related to how we live period! Now we all know that you might say. So then, why in the world Mark do you think you are now the enlightened one to lead us into this? Well the truth is, what I wonder almost all of the time is why is it that if we know this, we get it undeniably and disastrously wrong again and again?
In summary today and to conclude my brief thoughts here, I want to say that judgment starts and ends with the house of God and not for those outside it’s doors! People outside of Christ are supposed to act as if they are outside of Christ. Though many of them (perhaps Robin Williams and others) exemplify more Christian virtues in their charitable giving, humility and selflessness even while struggling through tremendous pain and suffering than most Christians I know do, the fact that also many of them do not should be a no-brainer and of course no surprise to us. The truth is however that after 2000 years of Christianity, to have not learned from it’s both good and evil history is to be destined to continually repeat it—and that we have, and that we are at the stroke of my keypad! The blood and souls of many far too numerous to count outside of Christ is on our hands! Sadly however, rather than admit this and seek to live the truth for all to see, we constantly want to protect it, and to be quite blunt, no one but a very slim few in the world and even amongst our miserable selves is listening anymore contrary to what we might think! It is time for the people of God quite frankly to “be” the church rather than merely “go” to it. This is long overdue and nothing but this will cause an unbelieving world that no longer believes in anything to believe in what we have to say again, just as the early Church realized in the roman world 2000 years ago. The truth is we don’t need too many defenders of the truth anymore because we have that in truckloads! None of them will be out of a job soon I assure you. What we need however in this urgent hour is exemplifiers of that truth in shoe leather, and in time it will be that and only that which will compel people to either to be judged by our lives and thus reject the truth of Christianity, or to run with open arms to the grace, mercy and love they see displayed in us and by us. Until then we are a sounding gong and a noisy symbol (I Cor. 13), or a drip of water that everyone can hear but can’t seem to turn off. As one who at least desires to exemplify the truth of Christianity however feebly, I want to say thank you Robin Williams for making me laugh at times when I wanted to mostly cry, and my prayer is that you found Christ and are resting in His arms with no more tears, sorrow or pain. May you rest in Peace!
Mark, your insight continues to astound me. I like the logical path you take within the framework of Christian tenets we must first accept if we are to understand your reasoning.
My very personal interpretation of recent expressions regarding self-inflicted death is less religious than yours, in the sense that I believe people who react that way are not speaking the truth or even as spokespeople for a Christian community. I always suspect self-interest and the projection of deep, internal issues onto the tragedies of others: their use of Scripture seems more a convenient excuse on which to justify their own bias. Have they themselves ever undergone the situations that prompt desperate people to grasp for that unfortunate option? If not, they would do best to keep their opinions to themselves. They just reflect their own lack of compassion, thereby also making it obvious they are devoid of Christian piety. Why can’t they just say a prayer for the victims of their own despair and understand none of us is worthy of judgment?
Assuming they are just as cognizant of Jesus’ words as you, why can’t they react in a similar fashion? I don’t believe they forget His words. It would seem that they suffer from an overriding emptness of feeling or awareness of the pain of others (otherwise known as narcissism) and thus feel compelled to squirt their salty venom on the wounds of survivors and mourners in general.
Even prostitutes and adulterers were deemed unworthy of judgment by Jesus:”Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’* And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” ’
Why can’t these people be more Christ-like and less pharisaic? Where is their mercy? Suicides need neither our forgiveness nor our condemnation. They have to face God and account for their actions. They certainly will not sin again.