My Elliot is not a means to an end.
A few months after Elliot died, a friend took me to lunch and asked me a provocative question.
“Do you think it will ever be worth it?”
I wasn’t offended. I knew what she meant. I would’ve wondered something similar prior to Elliot’s death based on the way I viewed God then. The question came from a place of assuming that there has to be something God is doing behind the scenes when a tragic event happens. Since “God is in control,” there must be more than meets the eye when a child dies, when a loved one gets cancer, when a maniac murders innocent people. And, along this line of understanding how God works, that means God must have a better purpose in His will for planning/allowing said horrors. I think what my friend was asking me was something like, “Will there ever be enough good to come out of Elliot’s death that his death will have been worth it to you?”
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I know my answer could be summed up in one word:
The moment Elliot died I began a pretty serious wrestling match with God, or what I thought was God. My raging screams of “WHY?” permeated my ceiling, my car roof, and I’m sure echoed into the streets of heaven itself. “Why?” seemed an appropriate question to a God in Control. If He is in control of every minute detail of human existence, then on one end of the spectrum of control, He allowed Elliot’s death (maybe the book of Job indicates Satan has to ask God’s permission to terrorize lives?). On the other end of the spectrum, God specifically ordained/planned Elliot’s death (maybe infant death was a good way to get King David’s attention, and it was God’s way of getting mine?). If He is in control, then what else could I ask him except, “Why?” Whether He ordained it or simply allowed it, He was culpable since it all must’ve been part of his “plan.”
But somewhere along the way, after certain books and conversations and passages of Scripture challenged the assumptions I was beginning with, I realized my wrestling match was not so much with God as with my theology. The theological starting place from which I began is, I think, where many Christians begin. My intention is not to cause controversy or debate, but rather to share my journey and perhaps elicit conversations. When a friend gave me the book Is God to Blame? by Gregory Boyd, I read it voraciously, underlining and highlighting more than I have since college. A great weight lifted off my chest when I read that book. In it, Boyd contrasts what he calls the “blueprint worldview” with what he calls the “warfare worldview.”
The blueprint worldview can most clearly be defined in Calvinism, focusing on God’s sovereignty and predetermined will. This worldview basically holds that God has his hand on every event that befalls every person. Many mainstream Christians (I would venture a guess, though I may be wrong) probably begin with the simple starting point that God is in control. Of EVERYTHING. That was where I started. That’s what was so comforting all throughout my life when things didn’t go according to my plan, or when hopes and dreams were shattered. Well, I’d think, God is in control. If XY or Z didn’t go the way I wanted it to, it’s because God has a different plan, and His plan will prevail. It was the thought of God’s control that allowed me to rest night after night of bed rest in the hospital, Elliot growing in my belly, though his precious life teetered on the precipice of death at any moment. God’s got this, I thought. God has plans for Elliot, and nothing can thwart God’s plan. God is in control. Even as I placed my hands on five-day-old Elliot as his life slipped away, praying through tears of frantic mother grief you cannot comprehend unless you have cried them, I clung stubbornly to God’s control as the reason my boy couldn’t die.
But he did die. Today, many mothers across the globe will watch life slip from their own precious children. The horror of it, friends; the absolute trauma and shock and helplessness of it–I’ve chronicled those things elsewhere. And if I still adhered to the blueprint worldview which asserts all events occur with God’s permission and according to His plan, I’d have to swallow the pill of believing God did that. God’s master plan for my life included my precious son suffocating to death in my arms.
But I don’t think that anymore. I don’t think God’s master plan for any of us is to experience the anguish of child loss or suffer with cancer or be trapped in addiction. It’s never God’s will for children to be abused by their parents and have to be placed in the foster care system. It is not God’s plan for drug trafficking to ruin life after life in my second home of Juarez, Mexico. It’s not God’s perfect will for children to be sexually exploited or for modern-day slavery to persist. What Boyd dubs the warfare worldview seems to be exactly what Jesus tried to tell us: God is NOT in control of EVERYTHING!
By Jesus, it is Satan, actually, who is called “the ruler of this world.” By the author of Hebrews, Satan is said to hold “the power of death.” A literal belief in Satan is not very popular these days, but, for me, when I think of the atrocities I listed above, no other explanation comes close. However, beyond the particular influence of Satan, we also live in what us Jesus-people call a “fallen world.” It’s not heaven, where God’s will IS always done. This is a place where other wills are often done–my will, your will, corrupted nature’s will, unseen spiritual forces’ wills. Why else would Jesus have taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? Because He knew better than anyone that God’s will is often NOT done here!
On Greg Boyd’s website, he defines this worldview more eloquently than I could:
The warfare worldview is based on the conviction that our world is engaged in a cosmic war between a myriad of agents, both human and angelic, that have aligned themselves with either God or Satan. We believe this worldview best reflects the response to evil depicted throughout the Bible. For example, Jesus unequivocally opposed evils such as disease, demonization, and even natural disaster (i.e. Jesus rebuked the storm) as originating in the wills of Satan, fallen angels, and sinful people, rather than of God.
This view is not ontologically dualistic, because while the Bible clearly articulates war between good and evil, it also clearly articulates God’s sovereignty. The battle that is currently raging is not everlasting, and when it ends, we are assured of God’s victory. In fact, the victory has already been won in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (Col. 2:13–14), but the demise of evil has not yet been fully realized. Christians are called to wage spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10–17) against evil through prayer, evangelism, and social action.
You can read Boyd’s entire article here: https://reknew.org/2008/01/intro-to-warfare-worldview/
I freely confess that the idea of the warfare worldview is more palatable to me than the blueprint. This likely influences my desire to embrace it, though I have my own questions and skepticism towards this worldview. Ultimately, though, the warfare worldview looks a lot more to me like Jesus–the Savior who cared about children, both to embrace them when it was socially weird to do so, and to rescue and bring them back to life. This Jesus relieved suffering wherever he could; he didn’t cause it. Toward the end of Is God To Blame?, Boyd lays out a quote that reset my journey with God: “The ultimate criteria for deciding what is and is not from God is Jesus Christ. If the one who died on the cross wouldn’t have done it, you have every reason to assume an event is not from God or part of his will.”
I agree. And I thank God for this revelation. Without it, I don’t know where my wrestling match with God would have led me. Perhaps I would have walked away from my faith. Instead, I hold on to it that much more tightly
That doesn’t mean God is NOT in control. I very much believe He is more lovingly sovereign over creation than the will of any other being can compete with. But He chose to create a universe based on love, which means a universe based on individual free will. God’s plan will be fully realized when creation is redeemed by the power of King Jesus, and an eternity void of evil and death will be our home. But in the meantime, a lot of things are going to go wrong.
Theology is a lot of educated guesswork, really. I don’t think I have all the answers; I don’t think you have all the answers. I don’t think Martin Luther or Charles Spurgeon or C.S. Lewis had all the answers. I do think our striving to know God and understand truth are valuable endeavors and precious to our Father. We all just do the best we can with where we’re at and what we can know. My favorite poem by my favorite poet contains a stanza which, to me, articulates the uncertainty that humanity has wrestled with for millenia:
We guess; we clothe Thee, unseen King,
With attributes we deem are meet;
Each in his own imagining
Sets up a shadow in Thy seat;
Yet know not how our gifts to bring,
Where seek Thee with unsandalled feet.
From “Nondum” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
My family and I are at the end of the monumental task of selling and moving out of our home of ten years. I wouldn’t have undertaken this without a good reason, and our good reason (beside the fact that it is a GREAT time to sell!) is so we will have adequate space to accommodate an adopted child/children. After we’re situated in our next home, our plan is to begin the process of adopting from Colombia. Further down the road, we’d like to foster again. As we venture towards adoption, I wonder if I might hear comments like I did when we began fostering. Comments like these were hard for me to hear, well-intentioned as they were, because they seemed to stem from the blueprint worldview. I remember feeling like people indicated that our fostering was God’s plan all along, using Elliot’s death to bring us to that point. I respect my brothers and sisters who may believe that, even while I disagree. God’s plan for Elliot was life. It is the enemy who comes to steal, kill, and destroy, not my Jesus. However, God would not let death have the final say over our family, so He did lead us to foster C and used our profound love for Elliot to spur us on. He did not allow Elliot to die so that we would foster C. And He did not let Elliot die so that we would pursue adoption. I believe God leads us to such things out of love that rebukes the evil of my child’s death.
Elliot is not a means to an end. He was not an acceptable loss to God in order to accomplish something holier. He is my son. It breaks God’s heart that a mother and her son are separated by death. And because God loves me, loves Elliot, loves each one of us so fiercely, he is constantly the warrior who fights to bring light out of the dark things of this world.
My wrestling continues as I struggle through things like the purpose of prayer and how to hear God. There’s a lot of confusion still jumbled in my mind, but there is also a certain measure of peace. I no longer cling to God’s control as the solid ground on which to stand in the face of life’s tragedies. I don’t know to what extent God controls our world and our lives; I don’t know if I’ll ever know. But, in the end, I’ve found something more certain and tangible to cling to than His control.
I cling to His love.