The news concerning the death of Rachel Held Evans this past weekend has been hard to swallow. She leaves behind a loving husband, 2 young children, and a family innumerable who have been blessed, encouraged, and loved through her speaking and writing ministry. She will be greatly missed.
I first met Rachel back in 2010 when were were both actively blogging about faith and the church. She graciously shared some of my writings on her blog (which was far more popular than mine ) and we met at a few conferences. When I was moving from seminary back to Tennessee in 2011 we kicked the idea around of starting a church that would minister to the outcasts and misfits – those who had lost faith in the church but hoped God hadn’t lost faith in them. Sadly, that never transpired.
Over the years we drifted apart but I continued to read her work. While we didn’t always land in the same place, I always admired her gift with words and her ability to articulate the questions of faith that all of us have or have had and she did so humbly and honestly. Never did I doubt that she was and is deeply in love with Jesus and her neighbors. Today, I don’t doubt that that love is only magnified and more truly known.
I’ve been moved by the many tributes written these past few days. But I’ve also been appalled by comments and posts from many of her detractors. I won’t reference them here as I don’t want to give them life, but they reveal the dark underbelly of the Church at which Rachel devoted much of her time aiming her prophetic voice, and the remainder of her time creating places of grace and healing for it’s refugees. She wanted them, and us, to know that the church imperfectly reflects the goodness of our Father and that we can trust Jesus to make all things new.
I fell prey to something these last two days, be it my hero complex or simply boredom, to defend Rachel to some of her detractors. In the midst of this I realized that this is not something Rachel would have done herself, nor expect any of us to do. Rather, she would likely pray for them, and instruct me to do the same (or teach me how to turn their hate mail into origami).
But it did get me thinking about trust. When the judgments of those self-avowed defenders of pure religion are stacked up against the grace-filled, humble words of Rachel and her many friends, a blinding, stark contrast is on full display. The former is only able to give lip service to trust, whereas the latter embodies it in word and deed. They do this, I think, because they trust not the frame of their religion but the One who frames them in perfect light to the Father.
This came to me as I was singing this weekend the song, “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.” The first stanza goes like this:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name
As in life, Rachel’s death is also inviting me to trust Jesus. To trust less in my understanding of Jesus, or my doctrinal purity, or who I agree or disagree with on certain matters but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
Yes, no doubt there are important things worth contending over, but may my hope and yours be first and foremost in Jesus – the one who loves us and died for us in the midst of our ignorance and sin. This trust in the work of this Person, I believe, is what is most important, and making this our business is what I believe will best honor the legacies of both Rachel and our Lord.
Rest in Peace and Power, RHE.