On the Death of Rick Warren’s Son

We are all shocked by the suicide of Rick Warren’s son in this week’s news. It is a horrendous tragedy for the family that seems a direct assault on the title of the father’s book: The Purpose Driven Life.

For me, it is the latest in a series of (less well-known) tragedies befalling men and women of the purpose driven life that leads me to the inescapable conclusion that we have, in the West, underestimated the power and reality of the great monster—the Leviathan, the twisting serpent, the hornéd-one, the Lord of the Flies, the ‘Accuser’—that traditional Christian faith has always reckoned is hell-bent on our destruction. Our enemy is not just a force, but not really a ‘person’ either; since his effects are always depersonalising.

However we categorise Genesis 1–3 (history, metaphor, myth) the Jewish and Christian Scriptures make a simple but quite shocking claim (at least to modern minds): the existence and privileged position of human beings provokes forces inimical to life in all its intricate and mysterious beauty. It is not just at the beginning, at the time of some primeval fall that the forces of death have sought to bring down human life. This is a defining feature of every stage of the story:

  • Joseph’s struggle with his jealous, murderous brothers.
  • Israel’s interminable struggle with forces—within and without—determined to see her destruction (whether through dilution of her God-given calling or her physical destruction).
  • Jesus’ experience from the moment of first anointing (when Satan tempted him after his Baptismal experience of divine approval and anointing).
  • Paul’s experience, Peter’s experience …

Why do we vainly imagine that we are spared this demonic jealousy of his beloved sons and daughters? (If you have never seen the pattern in the Old Testament, I highly recommend the classic essay in biblical theology by the Jewish and Harvard based scholar Jon Levenson: Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son).

Scripture’s logic tells us that the more we enter into the fully human life, the more we will provoke the forces of death. Why do we imagine that as we become fruitful, multiplying and extending God’s creative order (spiritually and, even, materially) we will not endure the jealous opposition of the anti-human evil one? Why do we imagine that all the hard won achievements of the modern world  (of peace, prosperity, longevity)—built in part on the sacrifices of our Christian forbears and their ideals—were not bound, at some point in our collective histories, once again to be assailed by the primeval forces that first assailed Adam and Eve in the garden of plenty?

There is a very real danger that a realistic reckoning with our enemy can trigger a world-escaping paranoia. But the difference between the true saint and the paranoid religious fool is that, for the saint, a sober acknowledgement of the ranks railed against us is always, and finally, outweighed by pronoia; the condition of one who believes that ‘out there’ there is a gracious, life-giving, higher power committed to our success; heaven-bent on our fulfilment, vindication, exaltation and prospering. We know that some things cannot get fixed this side of heaven. But we are pronoid that there is a divine conspiracy that all things ultimately work for our good because there is one who loves us and who is greater than he that is in the world; even one greater than the tragedy of a suicide.

And so we can pray with immense confidence for all his loved ones and for those impacted by this tragedy.

Categories: The 153

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