An elder from a Sovereign Grace Church in Sioux Fallas, South Dakota writes a post at Desiring God on how a Christian should grieve. I found this post from Ryan Chase at Emmaus Road Church to be toxic and troubling. To lecture someone in how to grieve in such a legalistic fashion is problematic. Life is not black and white and neither is the grief process. While Ryan has buried one son, I write this post as a child who recently buried two parents.
“Everyone can master a grief but he that has it.”
“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.
Proverbs 14: 13 NLT
As I deal with the deaths of my Mom and Dad I noticed an article at Desiring God that I found to be horrific. I wanted to analyze it and also offer some push back. Grieving is a hard, personal and difficult process. And to ignore articles like would be a tragedy. But let’s first examine a Sovereign Grace church and pastor in South Dakota.
Ryan Chase and Emmaus Road Church Background Information
Emmaus Road Church is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Its affiliated and a part of C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Churches. Rick Gamache is the Sovereign Grace regional leader who looks over Emmaus Road Church. The leadership elders at Emmaus are Greg Dirnberger and Ryan Chase. Ryan Chase attended Thomas Edison State University. He became an elder at Emmaus in 2017 previously taught High School Bible at Sioux Falls Christian. He writes a blog which you can access here. Ryan has written four articles at Desiring God. His newest post is what led to this article being written. Its about the death of one of his sons and how a Christian should grieve. The name of the article is called, “We Can’t Grieve However We Want.”
Summary of Desiring God Article
Ryan’s article starts out sad in how he talks about the hopes he had of being a father and then discovering his son had birth defects in pregnancy. Three years later he had to bury one of his sons, and he also knows that one day he will likely have to bury the second one next to his brother. In the article he starts out by attacking psychology. He then states the following:
Those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus are decidedly not to grieve in whatever way feels right to us, nor are we to grieve like those who have no hope. Rather, we are called to grieve in ways that make much of Jesus, our glorious Savior who died and rose and is coming again.
I’m sure those who say there’s no wrong way to grieve truly want to comfort the hurting, but the reality is that we who suffer innocently are not immune to responding sinfully to our pain. We sin in our grief when we use it as an excuse not to love God or those around us, when we complain against God or neglect the people and responsibilities he has called us to.
Pain does not justify sin; only Christ can justify sinners. And in Christ, there is a greater comfort available to the heartbroken than handing us over as slaves to our own emotions.
He then quotes John Piper who says the following:
“Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”
Then the rest of the article states to grieve, wash your face, trust God and grieve in hope. He draws heavily from the story of Hannah a woman who directed her sorrow toward God. In scripture Hannah prayed so hard that the priest thought she was drunk. You are to trust God at all times. He lists a number of ways we should trust God this is one that hit me hard. “God promises to sovereignly rule over every detail of our lives to maximize our delight in Jesus (Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:19).” He closes out his post by saying that Christians should grieve in hope. People should avoid the “if-onlys” and “what ifs.” He rebukes hopeless grief and calls people to practice hopeful grief. The last paragraph says the following.
We weep and mourn and pour out our souls to the Lord in lamentation for all that is wrong in the world. But we must never let the sound of our own weeping drown out the comfort of God’s word. By faith we know that our affliction is momentary, while our glory is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). We lament for now, but we will rejoice forever.
A Reminder to Ryan When it Comes to Neo-Calvinism and Sovereignty and Your Family
The tragedy of this post is that it reveals how Ryan is a hostage to his theology. Its profoundly sad that he has to act and believe like he does. I view the Neo or New Calvinists to be like Sunni Muslims in how they view the sovereignty of God. Blind obedience where questioning is a sin. God controls every aspect, every motion. This may come across as cruel but the fact of the matter is that in that theology system everything is timed and planned. A person gets cancer, and it happened as the Lord willed it. A person jogging was hit by a drunk driver, well that is how the Lord works as he is sovereign. In the case of Ryan and his son he is backed into a corner of defending his son’s medical condition as it was the Lord’s will. Since the Lord desired this course of action to challenge or question would be a sin. This is part of the reason why Neo-Calvinism can be so cruel. There are some things in life that have no answers, but in that stream of theology you have do defend it.
The Toxic Expectation of How a Person Should Grieve
I write this post as someone dealing with grief. I watched my Mom die in the ICU in Fresno, California on April 1, 2017. Then shortly after I buried one parent I had to comprehend the news that my Dad’s brain tumor returned. I watched my Dad’s decline and his last hour in the hospital room. Two months later I can still recall his gasping for breath. Then after his death on November 21, 2018 I had to have his funeral as well. In discussing all this with a grief counselor I learned that in my 40’s I am where most people are in their 60’s. Its rare to lose both parents back to back at this age.
There are a number of thoughts I have about Ryan Chase’s post. Let me just state that I am relieved that I am not a part of his church. Also I would cringe in having to deal with two deaths back to back and in the process be lectured by him. To lecture someone on the Biblical way of grieving in what they can and cannot do has to be one of the most toxic things I have come across. The only warnings I have heard are of people who take up drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. But to lecture that unless you grieve in a certain way and then call it sin is toxic. Sovereign Grace will always be a cult. The irony in all this is that Ryan will talk in this context of being Biblical when C.J. Mahaney has been dogged by allegations of covering up child sex abuse. I mean what does it mean for Ryan when he proudly embraces an organization that even Al Mohler was forced to question? You can read about that here.
But getting back to grieving its awful to lay such a burden on a person in pain. Many Christians realize that their loved one is in heaven because of their own personal faith in God in different ways and at different times. People deal with things in their own way. Like I said earlier one of sad aspects of this is Ryan is a prisoner of his own theology. He’s not allowed to question. He’s not allowed to look at things in a different way. He is not allowed explore or express his emotions. In researching this post I looked at Ryan’s Facebook page and I also saw the following story posted. Its about God showing grace in providing a coffin as a Christmas gift for an infant of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When you are a hostage in a faith system that has to provide an answer for everything, its going to lead to some warped thinking. Back in California we have a neighbor who is Lutheran who buried two of her three daughters. Thirty years on and the grief and pain still hits her. To deal with the secondary losses and the moments that will never be is still hard. The Christmas that will never be, the grandchildren that never came about, the birthdays that will never be celebrated and more. But I could just imagine Ryan turning around and lecturing this person dealing with grief. In situations like that you can understand why the Neo-Calvinist movement is troubled and sick. How it also makes the problem of pain and suffering worse. At a time when you want to be coddled and ask why in pain, its not the time to give a cold hard answer anchored in fundamentalism. It reveals why much of fundamentalism needs to disappear. Emmaus Road Church in South Dakota is a church to be avoided. I wonder how many alcoholics, and drug addicts were created here because they had to find some way to deal with the pain. Its as bad as the evangelical pastor who views a suicide in a high school as a great evangelism opportunity. That is just sick. That is all I have to say about this Sovereign Grace Church. If there are stories of abuse or more here this blog will be happy to write about them. You can find the contact information up above.