Bad Theology Kills- Mourners
"Please pray for my Grandma, she is sick. She is 95. Pray she gets better." - Kid at camp
It may be difficult for people who weren't steeped in charismatic christianity to understand this...but there is huge stigma around dying and illness in the church.
Yup, you can't even die without being told to have more faith.
Several years ago I took a course on "Art and Recreational Therapy for Grieving Children". In the course there was an section on grief surrounding terminal illness. If someone is given an end-date to their life, the people around them will begin their journey with grief, bouncing around the different "stages" of coming to terms with the inevitable loss.
Because christians believe in miracles.
My professor went on to explain the psychology of christian grief, and how the normal pre-grieving that usually happens is staunched. Its like an extended denial phase. Christians often hold out hope and refuse to grieve until the person is actually gone. The advice to counsellors and palliative care workers was to let it happen, don't bother trying to coax them out of it, and then to begin walking clients through the grieving process after the loss actually happened. They warned us that christians will have an added layer of grief as they wrestle with the original loss of a loved one and also wrestle with their disappointment in God and a shaken faith. This makes grieving more complex for christians.
Christians can suffer more and have a higher likelihood of becoming depressed after a loved one dies. They can go into a spiral of "If God is so powerful how come he didn't save them?" They can question God's motivation and their own praying skills "Maybe I didn't pray hard enough, or the right thing!" Like God is some grammar nerd/spell we must recite perfectly in order to activate. They can question their own faith-strength. "If I had enough faith, maybe they wouldn't have died!"
Now they're not just grieving the loss of their loved one. They are also doubting God and doubting themselves.
Bad Theology Kills.
Since taking that course I've had my eyes opened to how holding out hope for a miracle in the face of terminal illness can often be psychologically damaging for the would-be-mourners.
Before you start grabbing pitch-forks and torches and yelling "heretic" please know that I do believe in miracles. I will even testify to having seen one. However, just because I believe miracles are real doesn't mean that I'm blind to the damaging effects this theology of "If we pray hard enough they'll live" can have on people.
I didn't pray for the 95 year old grandma to get better. Most people will understand that. She had a long life. Death comes to us all eventually.
So at what point do we stop asking for a miracle and change our prayers to "May they cross the great divide peacefully and painlessly."?
Or is it not about age but about purpose in life? Maybe we would pray for a healing miracle for a 75 year old who is still caregiving for their 90 year old parents.
Maybe we would pray for healing for a 80 year old who was contributing huge things to the world of science or art, but we would pray for a peaceful passing of an 80 year old who was a miserable person nobody would miss.
Going down that line of questioning gets REALLY sketchy. What makes one person worthy of a miracle, and not another? If we will believe for a miracle for the 34 year old teacher and mother of 3, but let the 80 year old spinster pass on without a plea for a miracle...what does that say about how we view them, and how we view God?
What do our pleas for a miracle say about what we believe God values?
When do we let go, and when do we pray for a miracle?
How do we pray and hope for a miracle and still go through the normal stages of grief and coming to terms with loss at the same time?
Oh, did you think I was going to answer those questions? Ha!
All I know is that us christians really need to figure out our relationship with death. The untimely deaths, the expected deaths and our own deaths. I've been wrestling with this intensely since I was 16 years old. Death has gone from being a thing of pure evil in my mind, to being more like an unwelcome surprise house guest that comes too often, stays too late, and leaves their garbage around. Sometimes I pray he goes away. Sometimes I just grab the broom in resignation and begin cleaning up after him, knowing God is there with me as I sweep.
I will leave you now to wrestle through those questions and thoughts with your community.