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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On Faith

It happens every once in a while. We get an intimate glimpse of the true faith of someone famous. That they were famous doesn't necessarily mean they were important, or that they matter more than you and I. But we cruise along with these public perceptions of famous people. Billy Graham, Queen Elizabeth, Barbara Bush ... all very public figures, yet their public role doesn't necessarily reveal their private theology.

We learn about it at their death, or during some other important milestone in their lives. The media will examine the circumstances, interview "sources," and pontificate about who they were (are), what they believe(d), how they function(ed). I'm told that not everything on TV or on the Internet is true. But I have to confess that I imagine the lion's share of what we see on TV or what we read in the news or on the Internet is probably a good representation of the facts in any situation.

Elizabeth Edwards died last week. The loyal, noble wife of scoundrel John Edwards. You may remember he's the guy who was running for President, who was having a tawdry affair with one of his staff and fathered her out-of-wedlock child ... while his wife was suffering with breast cancer. Women around the world took up the cross for Elizabeth. And they pronounced her husband a pig --- which of course he was.

What John Edwards did was somehow more despicable, more heinous and more unforgiveable than most other men who cheat on their wives. Perhaps it was because he waved the banner of Christianity and wore his faith on his sleeve, so to speak. Or perhaps it was because he lied in public about it when the story first broke. Possibly it was because of his wife's cancer. After all, husbands are supposed to be loving and supportive of their wives when they're battling for their lives from cancer. Instead, John Edwards ripped his wife's heart out, forcing her to stand by him publicly and embrace not only his mistress but their illicit child as well.

But whatever you think about John Edwards, watching Elizabeth Edwards go through this very public ordeal was revealing. Watching her fight cancer and ultimately succumb to it provided the nation with a sense of sadness. We all wanted her story to have a happy ending. Or at least a reasonably okay ending. We didn't get our wish. In the end, she died estranged from the man she had stood by for all of her adult life.

It is interesting now that Mrs. Edwards is dead, the press is examining her faith. ( Oh it had been examined before. But before it always looked like a work in progress. She'd admitted as much in interviews --- saying that the death of her son, for example, had forced her to reexamine her theology. And of course there are the contrasts of Mrs. Edwards faith and theology with that of her husband. And I notice something about what's said to be both of their belief systems.

It would seem that John Edwards doesn't really have a grasp of who God really is. He described his "very close" relationship with the Lord of being one that results in prayer often, especially when he faces difficult decisions. But the story of his faith was void of any pursuit on his part of the Lord. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God ..." seems to have escaped John Edwards. He just seeks Him when He's in trouble. And of course we can see how well that's worked for him.

Sadly, Mrs. Edwards doesn't seem to have fared much better. She admitted that during her childhood she was subjected to all sorts of false religions. Then she married this supposedly devout Christian man, and tried to embrace her faith. Through it all, it seems that she may never have come to that place of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She spoke, for example, of wanting "an intervening God." But she seemed resigned to the fact that the world operates to God's agenda and not ours.

I think Elizabeth Edwards was respectful of God. To be sure, she was as decent of a woman as they come. Virtue after virtue has been used to describe her. But in the end, she seemed to have passed with a calm resignation that she had to walk through life without really knowing the one true God. I don't know about you, but I can't help but think to myself, "How does this happen?"

How is it that highly educated people like John & Elizabeth Edwards, who are powerful, well read, and more than intelligent can walk through life without getting it right? If we look at John Edwards' theology, it seems he's deceived himself into thinking that he's got it right. He worships the god whom he invented in his mind. And if we look at Elizabeth Edwards' theology, it seems she pondered the God who is in contrast with the gods she'd known --- and came up a bit short in the truth department.

Of course, none of us is in any position to judge the theology of celebrities like John and Elizabeth Edwards. Only God knows where they land in respect to His truth. But as we examine these very public people and we consider their very personal faith, I think it's worth asking ourselves whether organized religion is doing a good enough job.

I mean, are we letting good and decent people die without ever really having a firm grasp of the truth? Are we letting influential and intelligent people go through life without ever having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Or are we letting even those who know Jesus Christ die after suffering extreme pain from their faith ... all alone? Mother Theresa's private journals became public after her death, for example. And they revealed a pain she had suffered which no woman as righteous as she should have to endure alone. Yet she did. She endured it along.

I was recently on a business trip in India, with a colleague from a company I'm doing some work for. He had gone for a walk in Gurgaon, a tony suburb of Delhi. When he returned, he seemed deeply saddened. I asked him what was wrong, and he described walking next to some of the most deplorable slums you can imagine --- in the shadow of exclusive high-rise condominiums. The contrast was troubling to him. And his comment to me was, "As Christians, we can do better than this."

I've been reading stories about Elizabeth Edwards' passing and some of them do center around her faith. But as I read what is known about her faith and what is known about her husband's faith, I can't help but be deeply saddened. As Christians, we can do better than this. Why aren't we?

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