When news broke that Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, had taken his own life, it wasn’t long before the outpouring of support gave way to a more repugnant sentiment.
People taking to social media to mock Warren’s faith . . .
To declare his family’s heartbreaking loss to be some sort of payback for his theology or his politics . . .
To speculate on his son’s eternal destiny.
Paraphrasing John Armstong’s timely response to these attacks, the words pathetic and cruel come to mind.
I don’t claim to be a huge Rick Warren fan. I don’t go in for his style of church. Theologically and politically, he and I are probably worlds apart. And I could never quite get into the whole “purpose-driven” thing — even though I was employed by his publisher during the heyday of his mega-bestselling book (and therefore indirectly benefited from it). And yes, I did read it.
So it would be pretty easy for me to congratulate myself for not jumping on the bandwagon of judgment being directed at Warren by a few trolls on the internet.
Except . . .
Despite our differences, I like Rick Warren. He comes across as a nice enough guy. I kinda sorta met him once, and he seemed every bit as warm and approachable in person as he does on TV.
And you have to admit: even if you don’t share all of his politics or theology, Rick Warren is a way better ambassador for evangelicalism than some of the other current and former contenders. His PEACE Plan is something to be admired — even if you disagree with some of the particulars (or just don’t share Warren’s penchant for acronyms).
In other words, it’s easy for me to sympathize with someone like Rick Warren.
So what if it was someone I didn’t just disagree with — what if it was someone I actively disliked?
What if it was John Piper, who doesn’t merely express what I think is some rather sadistic theology, but seems to delight in doing so?
What if it was Mark Driscoll, whose misogynistic rants have wounded more than a few of my friends?
What if it was James Dobson, whose unholy mix of Christianity and right-wing politics has arguably done more than anything else to drive people away from faith?
If any of these three suffered a comparable loss, would I grieve for them? Would I feel sorry? Or would I feel smug?
I have to be honest. The answer scares me a little.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul encouraged believers to “mourn with those who mourn.”
I’d like to tell myself that Paul is asking Christians to mourn with other Christians, and that Piper/Driscoll/Dobson [add your nemesis of choice here] hardly qualify as good models of what a Christian ought to be . . . therefore we are exempt from mourning when they stumble or suffer loss.
It’s OK to be smug when people like THAT suffer.
Except that it’s not.
You see, Paul wasn’t just talking about how we treat other Christians, those who think exactly like we do, or those we find it easy to like. Just one sentence earlier, Paul also said, “Bless those who persecute you,” which would seem to rule out a narrow interpretation of who he means by “those.”
Rejoice with those…
Mourn with those…
“Those.” As in everyone.
We bless, we rejoice, and we mourn with any and all, because we believe that no one is beyond redemption. We believe that no one is beyond God’s love. A relatively new friend of mine, Trystan Owain Hughes, has a timely (and challenging) piece about this very thing.
It’s not easy to mourn with those we dislike. But perhaps the true test of our willingness to follow Jesus is not our ability to grieve at the suffering of our friends, but at that of our enemies.
So today, I will grieve with Rick Warren. But I’ll be honest and admit that it’s easy for me to do so. It’s easy to grieve with those whom I like. So I will also pray for the strength to grieve with my enemies when they stumble or suffer loss.