God takes the Good People Early

This week I found myself in conversation (over the internet) with a Christian and we got onto the subject of death. I was then told that some people believe that God takes his people early and leaves the evil to live longer to give them more of a chance to repent.

I was stunned. It was a proper jaw hit the floor WTF! moment.

I didn’t ask if the person concerned believed that or if they knew anyone who did or even where the information came from. Quite frankly it wasn’t a subject I wanted to discuss, so I let the conversation move on.

The comment did get me thinking though. Why would anyone think that? And more importantly, is there actually a theological precedent or biblical passage that supports this idea? I certainly can’t think of any reason why this could be deemed a reasonable theological position to hold. I concede that I’m not exactly the world’s leading bible commentator, however with my years as a Christian and the number of sermons and Christian talks I’ve heard, you’d think that I’d have heard it if this was a reasonable position to hold.

Given this is the first time I can consciously say I’ve met this particular line of thinking, I think I can safely say that it’s something that is in the minority. However, what makes it concerning is that either there are some people who do believe and teach this, or there are some people who choose to believe this, despite not being taught it.

Of course there is the simple fact that looking at the evidence of deaths of history proves this particular line of thought to be utterly wrong.

It is not a comforting theology

The conclusion I have come to is that people who believe this only do so because it must be comforting to them. It taps into the ‘in a better place’ mentality, that being that those Christians who have died are enjoying fellowship in heaven and ultimately that’s where all good Christians want to be and death in this life is a relief, a good thing even, something to be rejoiced in even. This is denialist theology, it’s what happens when people invent things to try and ease the pain of a deeply unfair happening.

On a personal level, the only good thing about my mother’s death in her early 60s is that she is no longer suffering with cancer. If God was a merciful god and took the good people early then he should have taken this servant of His in that first year and not left her to suffer an appalling cancer for three years before finally going unconscious and dying a week later.

There is nothing good about her sons missing her terribly and there is nothing good about her never getting to see her granddaughter grow up. The suggestion that the loving God she worshiped all her life took her that way and at that time because he loved her and she was good is utterly wrong. The more I think about this, the more I get upset and angry about it. Time to go to my happy place….

My Wonderful Godly Grandparents

Among the questions I have often asked myself since abandoning my faith, is how I feel about my mother’s parents. They were both strict Plymouth Brethren and yet also embodied the gentle godliness that one expects from people who profess to be Christians.

I do know that they were strict with my mother on certain things. They had ideas and attitudes even as a youngster I found terribly old fashioned. I remember my mother saying that the university she chose to go to was based on its distance from home as much as the quality of the course she took. Looking at some old photos I found of mum as a teen I can see the mischievousness in her that I saw in her as an adult, there is also a hint of rebelliousness. If my daughter develops the same levels of rebellion and mischievousness, then I am in for a terrible ride during her teens!

My mum fell pregnant some time after meeting my dad, I don’t know how many months passed between first date and pregnancy, but it was a major shock for my grandparents when it happened. My mum was in her 20s by this time, but my grandparents were of the generation where pregnancy means instant marriage and I was born a few months into the marriage. My newly married parents lived with my grandparents for a year and a bit before they upped and moved toZambiafor the next 20 years.

My youngest brother, at the grand old age of 18, managed to repeat the feat of unintentionally getting a girl pregnant. I was with him when grandma explicitly told him that he should not feel that he has to marry the girl. My mum nearly fell of her chair in shock! When I relayed the incident my dad, he was equally astonished. I think they showed grace and humility by showing that they learned from the experience of my parents all those years previously, even though it likely still went against their ideals.

In the time that I knew them, I don’t think I ever saw them raise a voice or get angry. They really were the epitome of mild mannered loving grandparents and it was always a pleasure visiting them. My grandfather was secretary of their Brethren chapel for as long as I can remember and he had one very strange quality that I now look back on as endearing. He prayed as though he was reading the King James Version of The Bible, at the time I thought it was just plain odd. When he prayed he used ‘thee’, ‘thou’, ‘thine’ and other old fashioned words that are not used every day, or any day for that matter, but are found liberally sprinkled throughout the KJV. I have no idea why he did this, I don’t believe he thought it made him more spiritual, quite the opposite, I think he did it because he was spiritual and it was his way of showing deference to the Almighty.

The End

Despite being the fittest and healthiest of my all grandparents, my granddad was the first die. It was sudden. He was doing the dishes after lunch one day and had a heart attack. He was dead before the ambulance arrived. Grandma followed six months later; my wife is convinced that she died of a broken heart, unable to bear being apart from him.

The day of grandma’s funeral I got a phone call that no one should ever get on the day of a funeral. My step mother rang to say that my other grandfather had died that morning. My cry of shock got stuck in my throat and I was unable to speak or even make a noise for what felt like many minutes.

Comparing Funerals

My Dad’s parents were very different from Mum’s. They didn’t live the same Godly life, and apart from family weddings I don’t think I ever saw them go to church. This difference was very noticeable in their respective funerals. The funeral of my Christian grandparents was very much a celebration of their lives with a full church and a very personal eulogy while my not so Christian grandparents made do with a handful of close friends and family and the eulogy given by a priest who barely knew them. It was quite sad in comparison.

Being a Christian at the time, the death of my paternal grandfather was a problem for me, I struggled to deal with the concept of a much loved grandparent not going to heaven. Eventually, with tears in my eyes, I asked my father if I’d see him in heaven. Dad could not be absolutely certain, but suspected so. Conversely, my confidence in seeing my maternal grandparents again was certain and I felt very different about their deaths. There was much more joy, not joy in their death, but joy in where they were going.

That horrid 18 months, in which I lost all four of my grandparents was more than 15 years ago, but I still feel the same emotions thinking back to each one as I did at the time. I miss them all terribly, but its my maternal ones who had the biggest effect on me and that loss is not at all reduced by my lack of faith and nor does it change the way I feel about their faith. I don’t have to share it in order to continue to respect and admire it.

Death of a Much Loved Mother

There is so much I want to write and say about Mum, but little of it is relevant to the scope of this blog, which is the story of my Christianity and deconversion from it. However, Mum was a major influence on my life and the story of her life is a genuinely interesting one which I think could be told on its own. I often entertain the idea of attempting to write her story myself. She certainly deserves it.

Mum’s death from Pancreatic Cancer a little over three years ago had a huge impact on me and I am definitely not over it. Writing this blog entry will likely be the hardest one I do. Mum’s death also came at the time when my Christian faith died. The two are not related, one definitely did not cause the other, at least not for me.

“I can’t believe in a God who would let this happen to Mum”

Those are not my words, rather they are the words of my youngest brother. He said it to me while she was still alive. My brother lived with Mum (and our step-father) for the last three years of Mum’s life and saw the cancer slowly kill her. He cared for her daily, cooked for her and confided with her. During that time I watched my brother change into the man that he now is and it makes me immensely proud to be his brother.

Mum’s death affected him deeply too. We are both witness much of what Mum went through in Zambia, one small snippet is referred to here (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/coming-close-to-being-an-orphan/) and we are witnesses to her unending dignity, love and patience. In fact at her funeral, several people made references to this event where she was kidnapped from the farm we lived on and commented on how she responded to it.

My brother was far more damning about God in Mum’s final years than I was. He was blunt, if there was a God, then that would mean he watched Mum through her life serve Him and suffer greatly physically and mentally and still serve Him, and serve Him well. Then in her early 60s let her suffer and die with what is arguably the worst cancer you could get today. Surely such a woman deserved better from God and God should reward such service.

I could see my brother’s point, but I didn’t agree; despite my faltering faith I wasn’t going to buy into the argument that bad things happening to good people means there is no God. My brothers story is very different from mine and I wasn’t at all surprised by his reasoning. He’d long ago stopped living like a Christian and I figured his faith was long past rescuing. I think this experience for him was just a final nail in the coffin.

I couldn’t tell Mum about my loss of faith. I was still processing it myself and the acceptance of what was to come and the grief that followed complicated that somewhat. Would I tell her now if she was alive and well still? I don’t know. I did ponder on telling her but decided against it, given the circumstances I didn’t want to put the spiritual worries of another son onto her.

It wouldn’t be until some months after Mum’s funeral that I would tell my brother about my loss of faith.