Is a funeral the time or place for a thundering sermon on the need for repentance? Is it the time or place to confront the alleged unbelievers who will be present with the reality of their mortality and God’s demand that they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior or risk eternal punishment in hell? One member of a recently deceased parishioner’s family thought so as we sat around the table planning the funeral. A look of astonished disappointment crossed his face when I said that I would be preaching a message of God’s abounding and steadfast redeeming love, and that, in the midst of our tears, we would be celebrating resurrection life.
I found a similar theology at work a few nights ago at a community wide prayer meeting in the small rural town where I serve a congregation several times a month. There were fifty or so gathered from most of the nearby churches. Many prayers offered up pleaded with God to flood the valley with his Spirit to drive out the devil, who had so obviously taken over the lives of almost all the young people and many others as well. More prayers asked for strength as believers “stood in the gap” fighting against the onslaught of depravity in all its evil forms. There seemed to be little recognition that Christians might be the bearers of the light of Christ who, as members of the Body of Christ, might continue Christ’s work of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.
I think I understand where this kind of theology comes from, and there is no question that it can be constructed from biblical sources. But it also seems to me to be a theology of fear rather than hope, a theology that cannot hear the angel’s message “fear not,” and is therefore armed to the teeth to do battle with the devil, constantly expecting the devil to win if anyone lets down their guard for even a second. One product of that kind of theology is the extension of fear driven, battle oriented thinking into other realms of life: family, politics, the work place, relationships of every kind. It can suck the joy of living right out of one’s soul, and sometimes it can generate physical danger for others.