On Saturday, like many, I felt incredibly sad to hear that Rachel Held Evans had died.
I mostly knew her through Twitter. We didn’t really interact there, but whenever I was wrestling with some injustice, I would see her comments on whatever had happened (a shooting, an anti-refugee statement, racism) and always felt deeply thankful for her voice in the mix of all the other voices. She was always quick to respond with the love of Jesus. She reflected love in action.
One thing she was known for was making space for people who wrestle with their faith. It’s important. It’s foolish to turn a blind eye to the need for making room for those who are in a chrysalis of doubt.
Tim Keller says, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.”
Studies show that “of America's major faiths, mainline Protestants have the worst retention rate among millennials, with just 37% staying in the fold.”
The truth is that Christians need a clear, sacred space to wrestle with doubt and belief without feeling outcast from the communal space of believers. If questioning faith is off-limits, we risk losing the beautiful creation that is formed by a community of believers who have gone deep, seen the mystery, and chosen to continue on the path of Jesus.
Writers like Rachel put words and validity to questions that many people have, and yesterday and today I have seen hundreds of people telling their stories of wrestling with doubt, saying that Rachel’s writings helped them to the other side- through the cloud to something beautiful and new on the other side.
Faith is not a static thing that you hold or put in a box to keep precious and untouched. In fact, if you change the word faith to trust, you see that it always needs to be tethered to something out there. The massive, incredible presence that my trust is tethered to is God. But this line can be stretched or flown through thin air, it can go through flames, it can drag me through deep waters.
In my life I wrestle, and in my belief I have moved through many stages, coming through painful processes into something deeper and more real each time. I have buried illusions I had about the perfection of community, what unity actually looks like, what is actually promised in Scripture. (Hint: You can follow Jesus and still have your friends die, your loved ones or yourself racially profiled, have a mental illness or neurological difference, get sick, or struggle with money.)
My journey is of mental illness and anxiety disorder. I have learned what it means to have faith when I don’t have a mind I can trust to be safe for me when I need it. How to have faith when what I see is not always actually there.
Strong voices who offer sacred space for those in the margins, for those who struggle, voices who ask hard questions and wrestle with the answers are an essential part of the community of Christians. I also feel passionate about a diverse body of believers. I was charismatic growing up, I moved into a more contemplative faith. Now I’m some mix of the two who no longer knows how to worship in a room without windows because I’m so used to sitting where I can see the sky. I live life with people who come from different Christian backgrounds. And I know many more. Each one teaches me something different. Who would we be without the large body of believers? Without all the different flavors of who God is? He is reflected in a lovely way through all of us, even those who are struggling with doubt. Rachel asked hard questions and she wrestled on the behalf of those who needed someone to speak up for them. This is no small thing. It’s quite a legacy in a time when we are unbelievably polarized.
Rest in Peace, dear RHE.