“My story is about moving from certainty, through doubt, to faith. It’s not about the answers I found but about the questions I asked, questions I suspect you might be asking too. It’s not a pretty story, or even a finished story. It’s a survival story.”
– Rachel Held Evans
The Loss of RHE
I look at my keyboard. I see it’s happening again.
The letters are going away.
It’s a pattern I’ve noticed. On my old computer keyboards, I typed away the letters A, S, and N. The letters rubbed off the keys from overuse.
And now, the A, S, and N are starting to blur on my current keyboard, too.
(Factoid: The three most used keys are supposedly the space bar, the letter E, and the backspace.)
Last Saturday morning, we all lost RHE.
Maybe you saw the trending hashtag #BecauseofRHE and read story after story about her.
RIP, Rachel Held Evans
Rachel Held Evans—a Christian author, blogger, speaker, mother, wife—died at 37 years old on May 4, 2019. (The doctors initially suspected complications from an allergic reaction to antibiotics for an infection. But symptoms also suggest encephalitis.)
The world mourns. I mourn.
Even though I never met Rachel in person, I knew her through her words. I read her books. Her blog. Her tweets. I listened to her on podcasts and interviews.
Her letters were used over and over.
We readers hate to lose another stellar spiritual writer, another inspiring faith friend.
I felt this same way after the death of Tim Hansel, December 13, 2009; Dallas Willard, May 8, 2013; Jerry Bridges, March 6, 2016; Eugene Peterson, October 22, 2018.
And now Rachel Held Evans, May 4, 2019. We’ll hear no more evolutionary new words from her. We won’t see what she would have done next.
We won’t have her clearing a path in front for us to follow.
Ask the Questions
Rachel led the way through her questions. She grew up in a conservative Christian tradition that sometimes skirted the hard questions or buried them in platitudes.
When Rachel began searching for answers on her own, she discovered a bigger God than she’d been taught to believe. God still didn’t provide all the answers she wanted. But he taught her to make peace with the questions.
Rachel was studious, insightful, and deeply in love with Jesus. Instead of losing her faith through the doubts, she grew her faith through them. Instead of loving God less, she loved him more.
And through her, we did, too.
“But the truth is, I’ve found people to be much more receptive to the gospel when they know becoming a Christian doesn’t require becoming a know-it-all. Most of the people I’ve encountered are looking not for a religion to answer all their questions but for a community of faith in which they can feel safe asking them.“
But because of her questions, Rachel was often hit from inside church walls. Her views weren’t welcomed among all. She took the shots.
“With Scripture, we’ve not been invited to an academic fraternity; we’ve been invited to a wrestling match. We’ve been invited to a dynamic, centuries-long conversation with God and God’s people that has been unfolding since creation, one story at a time. If we’re lucky, it will leave us with a limp.”
Like many of us, Rachel walked with a limp.
Eventually every writer will use up the words they’ve been given to say in this life, either by disinterest, or disease, or death.
But the troubling thing about losing our artists is we lose another lens to see God. When writers scribble down their picture of God, we see a new side of God, too. I learned to broaden my perspective of God through word pictures from Rachel. And Tim, Dallas, Jerry, Eugene, and many, many others.
Where do we go from here, with more letters scrubbed off our keyboard? What will we do without RHE?
1. We keep reading her written words.
I’ll keep returning to Rachel’s books (see the list below), just like I do other authors (all the way back to Moses) who no longer write fresh words. With Rachel’s words, we continue to nurture our love for Jesus through church, through the Bible, through Holy Spirit.
And we nurture our love for God’s grace.
“Perhaps we’re afraid that if we get out of the way, this grace thing might get out of hand. Well, guess what? It already has.
“Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared ‘Father, forgive them for they know now what they do.’
“Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.“
Rachel was a champion for grace.
2. We turn the old words into new experiences.
Christian authors don’t publish books simply for their own growth; they want us to live them out in our own ways. They inspire us to create fresh and original experiences with God ourselves.
“So perhaps a better question than, ‘Do I believe in miracles?’ is, ‘Am I acting like I do?’ Am I including the people who are typically excluded? Am I feeding the hungry and caring for the sick? Am I holding the hands of the homeless and offering help to addicts?”
Rachel encouraged us all to live the gospel, not just preach (or worse, argue) about it.
3. We seek God’s voice among new voices.
Fortunately, we live in an age where new voices are speaking up all around us. Through the guidance of Holy Spirit, we continue listening, weighing, learning from those still on the journey here, integrating them with voices from the past. Keep adding new authors to your reading list.
“Indeed it’s easier to remember things together than alone.”
A Resilient Faith
Ironically, since Rachel was known for her questions, she leaves us with a new question: Why did Rachel die young?
We ask God for an explanation; we don’t get adequate answers.
But even in this, as Rachel once said, the Christian faith won’t fall apart.
“Faith is more resilient than that. Like a living organism, it has a remarkable ability to adapt to change. At our best, Christians embrace this quality, leaving enough space for God to surprise us every now and then.”
Even if you’ve never read a book or article by Rachel Held Evans, you’ve likely still been influenced by her through someone else who did read her works. That’s the way community works. None of us are Christians on our own.
“Like it or not, following Jesus is a group activity, something we’re supposed to do together.
“We might not always do it within the walls of church or even in an organized religion, but if we are to go about making disciples, confessing our sins, breaking bread, paying attention, and preaching the Word, we’re going to need one another. We’re going to need each other’s help.”
Rachel, you were one of our helps.
We’ll mourn your loss, our RHE. But we’ll continue to hear your voice.
“It’s about all the strange ways God brings dead things back to life again. It’s about giving up and starting over again.”
* * *
Do you have a favorite book by Rachel? What author do you wish you heard more from? Do you have a favorite new author?
- Faith Unraveled
How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions
(previous published as Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions)
Kindle version on sale $2.99
- A Year of Biblical Womanhood
How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master
- Searching for Sunday
Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Kindle version on sale $0.99
Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
- 5 Links, Books, and Things I Love – May 2019
- 4 Ways to Enjoy Your Peace Again