The Sad Death of Rob Ford--praying for God's mercy
Good Friday 25 March 2016
Several days ago, it was to be a day of reading and writing. I have been working on translating and then writing commentaries of Romans 1, 1 Timothy 1, and 1 Corinthians 6…and also writing commentaries of several passages in Leviticus. Why? It is because I am tiring of divisive rhetoric and hurtful words. And it is because I do not believe these passages should be interpreted the way we have traditionally interpreted them—especially as regards modern day same-sex relationships. We often use Scripture passages as formulaic and sometimes very hurtful proof-texts when I think they are living, breathing documents. I want to write sincerely about what I am learning and discuss these issues. And perhaps in the process we can come to appreciate and respect how profoundly complex an appropriate and meaningful application of Scripture to these profound issues truly is… [more about that at the end of this essay].
I have also been reading about a group that has a commune here where I now live, in Lawrence, Kansas. They have been known by several names…however their most recent “incarnation” and identification is “The 12 Tribes—The Commonwealth of Israel.” Their theology and beliefs and restrictive “rules of the community” are so misguided and erroneous it burdens my soul to see eager devotees so mistreated.
However it had been a slow and somewhat difficult start to the day so I thought I would try and relax and check some emails first. I always check the news stories and I saw and read a story that I am sharing below. It tore open my heart and changed my whole day.
I wanted to reflect on 2 levels: I will call them Social and Spiritual.
The story is about Rob Ford who served a very controversial 4 years as Mayor of Toronto. The article I read initially [from Yahoo] was poorly written choosing to focus on the “sensational” rather than substance and reflection. I am sharing a different article from Business Insider below.
I have followed Mr. Ford’s “self-destruction” for several years now. On the internet and in the news Mr. Ford’s “personality,” combined with his lies, denials, suppression of reality, and scandal, made “good copy.” To most he was a buffoon. He was a “walking reality show.” There is hardly any moment in his life that would not become shrouded in controversy and anarchy.
However the darker reality was that he was an addict [cocaine being his drug of preference], an alcoholic, was dangerously obese [due to unhealthy choices and not physiological causes that were not of his doing], and IMHO he suffered from mental illness that went largely undiagnosed. We watched this man self-destruct right in front of our eyes and found levity in it.
In spite of all of this, while running for a new term as mayor , he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of cancer. And despite treatment this cancer finally took his life. The current mayor offered his condolence calling Ford: “a man who spoke his mind and who ran for office because of the deeply felt convictions that he had." However may I suggest that he was more than this. One does not become mayor of a populous city without intelligence, character, connections, the ability to lead and motivate people, and a deep sense of service and calling. However this is the dark side of addiction. It destroys each of the nobler qualities within us and turns us into caricatures—and servants of a dark master. Addiction is always dark, it is always ugly, and it is always destructive. Janis, Elvis, Jimi, Keith, Jim, Brian,
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charley Sheen, and Johnny Manziel are just a few high-profile examples. And mental illness has also taken Karen, Cass, Robin, Kurt and so many others. And I think recently it took a dear friend of mine. We see mental illness in our communities and in our churches and in our schools and among our friends. We see it in depression, cutting, abuse, loneliness, suicide, the number of deaths in our area involving alcohol and drugs, and in so many other ways. These people who are stricken are not buffoons. They are ill. And we must be given “eyes to see,” “ears to hear,” and “new hearts to perceive” the hurt and devastation among us.
If you are still with me I wanted to add some thoughts about spirituality and eternal destiny. They are as important to me as the thoughts above.
In the “universe” in which I live—what is known as “conservative evangelicalism”—we claim to be “people of the Book.” If you want to know about gays, or the latest Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, we look up verses that give you the reasons the Supreme Court was erroneous and that same-sex relationships are sinful and abominations before God…and why we “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Or if you want to know about who will be saved, or if we can [or cannot] lose our salvation, or when Jesus will return, or who the Holy Spirit is, or what spiritual gifts are, or the “roles” of husbands and wives in marriage, or who to vote for, or any number of other topics, we “insert question” and find Scriptures to support our responses. Or, if the questions are too difficult then we have teachers like James Dobsen, or John Hagee, or Matt Walsh, or Ravi Zacharias, or Charles and Andy Stanley, or Franklin Graham, or dozens of other male and female teachers who will guide us through the complex issues.
Regarding Rob Ford, while the media, late night comedians, and many others saw Ford as a “buffoon” and a “reality show” caricature, conservative evangelicals are just as clear in their labels. Rob Ford was an unrepentant sinner, an addict, and an alcoholic. And the Scriptures are clear…the unrepentant, the immoral, and “drunkards” shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. We can quote “chapter and verse.” And yet this afternoon I prayed for Rob Ford [as I also prayed for a friend of mine whose death is shrouded in mystery]. I prayed that God in His mercy and grace, and through Christ’s shed blood [a sacrifice for all people], would forgive Rob Ford, and by His grace bring him into His glorious Presence. I asked that Mr. Ford might find in death a peace that he never found in life. Certainly our faith and our understanding of Scripture is not so “formulaic” and “black-and-white” as to give us no other option than to cast a sorrowful glance toward this individual before consigning him to eternal torment. Or even worse, to righteously offer, “well, he made his choices…God sought him but he rejected God’s grace and now he realizes the consequences of his choices” as the defense of our convictions.
Please understand…Rob Ford is accountable for his behaviour…as are we all. However is there no room in our “formulaic faith” and our proof-texts for the consideration of illness? Rob Ford was mentally ill. He was also an addict [some would say a definite sign of mental illness]. Addiction and mental illness are not “reasonable” enemies of our soul nor is our relationship with these dark masters “reasonable”—It is agonizing, hellish, ugly, and steeped in bondage.
“Well, people have to make better decisions,” we offer. If only it was that “reasonable.” Is there no room for God’s overriding grace and mercy in the face of mental illness?
“Well, you have to give me Scripture,” we say…ever bound to our formulas.
Very well…I will offer the passages below.
However as I consider the life of this man who I followed from afar [and as I consider the life of my friend whose death may not have been “natural”] I am filled with profound sadness, reflection, care, and empathy. And I cannot blithely pass them by nor submit their existence and eternal destiny to a series of proof texts. And I think the same regarding the issues of human sexuality, the eternal destiny of the lost [those who never hear the name of Jesus], gender roles in the church [as well as in marriage], the doctrines of eternal reward and eternal punishment, and so many other critical and important social and Scriptural issues of our day that beg to be heard in all of their complexity and profundity.
I have taken too much of your time. I am sorry. However I have thought about so many of these issues recently and I guess Rob Ford’s sad death [and that of my friend] have caused me to reflect anew. I do not know what time I have left. However I want it to be spent reflecting on the Scriptures I love and have taught much of my adult life. And I would like to help others find peace and be a source of hope and redemption. My only hope is that after I have done so I will not be the cause of hurt or offense but rather promote reflective and heartfelt discussion.
Oh, I do not want to forget— I promised 2 paragraphs ago some verses about Rob Ford’s redemption and eternal destiny…they are below:
Romans 5…especially verses 18—21
18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.
20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. 21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God’s Mercy Is for Everyone
25 I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. 26 And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,
“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
27 And this is my covenant with them,
that I will take away their sins.”
28 Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 29 For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. 30 Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. 31 Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will share in God’s mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.
33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge!
How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
34 For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to give him advice?
35 And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back?
36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
1 Timothy 2:1—6
2 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5 For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.
This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.
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