Good intentions and sincere hearts do not make wrong actions and false teaching any less destructive.
This is a lesson everyone must learn. The grief and sorrow the parents and Bethel church community have over the death of sweet Olive is tragic, but the tragedy has only just begun.
My heart hurts for this family. Their 2-year-old daughter just died. They are disoriented and grief-stricken, as they should be. Everyone who has heard about it mourns and grieves with the family. It is awful. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and make all things new!
A Genuine Sympathizer
I write this as a father who just buried a son this month. He dealt with medical issues his whole life, so his death was not as abrupt as Olive’s, but it was equally devastating. There is no softening this blow. It is painful, and there are no shortcuts around the process of sadness, grief, and mourning.
But this is where the problem emerges.
The parents and the Bethel community are not accepting this death. Instead of finding peace and rest in God, they are not engaging with reality. Grieving the loss of Olive cannot even begin because they refuse to acknowledge the fact of it. The little girl’s body still lies in a morgue days after her death.
Because they are praying for God to raise her from the dead.
Because they believe there is a biblical precedent for this.
What exactly are they believing?
They believe the examples of Jesus raising the dead in the Gospels are normative for us today.
Resuscitations in the Gospels
There are several stories of Jesus raising the dead in Scripture. In Luke 7:11-17, Jesus goes to the village of Nain and walks upon a funeral procession. A young boy who died is in route to his burial. Jesus raises the young boy to life. In Luke 8:49-56, Jesus was in Capernaum. A religious leader named Jairus had a 12-year-old daughter who was dying. As Jesus goes to heal her a messenger arrives saying the girl had died. Jesus tells the dad not to fear, the daughter will live. He arrives at the home and raises her to life again. And then in John 11:1-44, Jesus arrives in Bethany after his friend Lazarus had been dead four days. Jesus has the stone rolled away from the tomb and calls Lazarus out of the grave. Lazarus came out.
These stories of Jesus raising the dead are incredible. But are they normative for us today? Should we expect our faith to bring the dead back to life?
But isn’t Jesus the resurrection and life?
Yes, he is. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the ultimate defeat of death. But notice that key word ultimate. The promise we have in Jesus is not resurrection today. Our hopes lie in the resurrection to come. Jesus is coming back to deal death its final blow.
Not God’s timing?
The pastor of Bethel asks, “Why did Jesus raise the dead?”
First, because he was a compassionate Savior who mourns death too. But he didn’t walk around raising everyone. Second, it pointed to his authority over death, an authority that culminated in his own resurrection. Third, it foreshadowed a day when the resurrected King returns and his voice brings the dead from their graves.
The pastor’s question was rhetorical and intended to imply Jesus was fixing a mix up. He makes the false claim, “Not everyone dies in God’s timing.” This, friends, is dangerous teaching. This theology has Olive’s family, friends, and church demonstrating before God in their prayer gatherings in a scene that evokes images of the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel.
The demonstrative cries from Olive’s parents and Christians around the world is sincere, but it will end in disappointment. Can God raise the dead? Yes, and one day he will, forever. But the beliefs of those crying out for Olive’s dead body to come to life rest on sandy ground, not Scripture.
This is an example of faith in one’s faith. They believe enough faith from enough people will bring the right results. But this is not what faith is. Faith is in an object — Jesus. And Jesus, as the object of our faith, is sovereignly ruling over each one of us. Not a hair on our head can be moved apart from the will of God (Luke 12:7).
The Bethel community and many like them have a deficient theology of suffering. They do not know what to make of affliction and sorrow when it comes because prosperity and health are so embedded in their understanding of following Jesus. They are acting out their underlying beliefs right now. And it’s sad.
An Enemy Defeated And Not Yet Defeated
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:25-26,
“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to die is death.”
The resurrected Jesus ascended to heaven where he rules and reigns from the right hand of the Father. He is coming again to judge the world in righteousness. He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
So there is a time of waiting. The universe is not spinning chaotically out of control. Christ is ruling and directing the world to its appointed ends. But notice that death is the last enemy to fall. Until then, it will continue to wreak havoc.
The sting of death is real. We do not make friends with it. We long for this enemy’s defeat. In Christ, the knockout blow to death is certain. Death’s defeat is coming.
Olive’s sweet family and loving church friends feel right to hate death and want to see it overthrown. But they are wrong in denying its reality. Faith in Jesus is not protection from the sting of death or an escape hatch to reverse it.
Compounding the Pain
The pain this family and church feel over the loss of Olive punches you in the stomach and leaves you cleaving for air. The death of a child hurts. It shatters your heart in a million pieces and prompts your mind to replay endless scenes of times with your child. The permanence of it is heavy. Each day is a reminder that their laugh, their smile, their touch, and their smell are gone.
My heart aches for this family. I grieve about how badly they are hurting. It’s terrible.
But the pain Olive’s death has brought this family and church will soon lead to another one. It is the pain and confusion that bad theology ushers in. Their response is only compounding the pain. Disillusionment awaits those who pray now for something God has not promised.