On the Death of Rachel Held Evans

For the last two and a half years, I’ve been living in a reality that doesn’t feel quite…real. I remember when it started. I had gone to bed the night of November 8, 2016, before the presidential election results were in, too exhausted to wait out the final returns. It was a close race, but surely…surely!…things would turn out alright. So when I rolled over in bed the next morning and asked who won, the answer left me feeling like I had landed in the twilight zone.

That feeling intensified the next year when I packed a suitcase and left my marital home, officially separating from my husband. On at least one occasion, I cried so hard that I collapsed in the floor. For the first couple of weeks, I had to have my GPS on in the car everywhere I went; otherwise, I would zone out and drive in a straight line until I didn’t recognize my surroundings anymore.

The medical tests started the following year. Needles in my arms and legs to check for neuropathy. Two MRIs. And finally, a diagnosis I wasn’t expecting: degeneration of the spine (osteoarthritis) with a tiny cyst pressing on my sciatic nerve…with possible fibromyalgia aggravating the pain. I’ve gone from juggling two jobs and a full course load (in my 20s) to strategizing how to do laundry and shopping (in my 30s). The change has been quite surreal.

The recent death of Rachel Held Evans has only added to the surrealness. She was only a year older than I am…perfectly healthy up until two weeks ago. For many former evangelicals (like myself), she was a voice crying hope in the wilderness…her words a balm for those of us who had been terribly wounded by our faith communities but couldn’t quite let go of Jesus. I never got the chance to meet her in real life, but we interacted a couple of times on Twitter, and I admired her deeply. She was the real deal, as much a saint as any of us could hope to be.

To lose her…and still have among us Donald Trump and all of the compassion-less evangelical leaders who clog the airways with their hate and fear…makes me recall the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

You are always righteous, Lord,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease? (12:1)

Why take Rachel, Lord? Why now, when her words seem most needed?

Sunday was Rachel’s favorite day (according to her books), so I’ve spent the whole day contemplating what she might say in response to this question. And I think it would go something like this:

You ask God, why me? Well…why not me? I’m not more valuable than any of you. No, really. We are all God’s children, loved equally. We all have loved ones, present and future, depending on us. And none of us, as human beings, are spared the pain of living. Didn’t you read what I wrote for Lent? “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From dust we are made, and to dust we shall return.” It just seems I’m returning there a bit sooner than planned.

Truth be told, I got off rather easy. The toil, the doubt, the wrestling, the darkness…all of that is done, finished. I have a peace I have never known in life, forever connected to the Source of infinite love. If anyone should be weeping for anyone, it should be me for you…knowing that you have a race to run when you’re already so very, very tired. But the only reason I do not weep is that I know firsthand the joy that awaits you at the finish line.

You ask, who will speak for us now? It’s you, my friends. You have the gift. The torch is yours to carry. No one person was meant to carry it. That’s why I encouraged so many of you to keep writing and speaking out. We don’t need one voice crying in the wilderness. We need ten thousand. A million. As many as will draw breath. That’s the only way anything will change.

Stay strong, friends. The night is long, but daybreak is coming. It’s coming! Prepare to be resurrected. 

~ Rachel

Dear God, make it so.


6 responses to “On the Death of Rachel Held Evans

  1. This sounds about right.
    Somebody said earlier today the Rachel’s greatest gift is that she helped us misfits find each other…

  2. Excellent piece April—one of your best.

    Rachel’s passing felt like a boot kick in the stomach to me. However, I do not believe God took Rachel. Death is one of God’s enemies—headed for the Lake of Fire—whatever that is. God deals in life—not death. Rachel’s death was an act of evil overseen by the Lord of Darkness, Satan, entropy, an imperfect world, or whatever else one might choose to call the negative force that exists all around us in this plane of existence.

    The people at my old and highly conservative Southern Baptist Convention megachurch used to banter about some member of the church being under direct “Satanic Attack.” That was something of an eyeball roller for me because this whole plane of existence is under entropic attack in all kinds of ways. Nowadays, I am no longer so sure that the SBC folks were incorrect. Why is that?

    I have not sampled everyone like Rachel, but it appears to me that Rachel, you, and I somehow obtained the very worst years of our lives right after we began doing on-line critical evaluations of Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. I suppose one could argue that God is a card-carrying Christian fundamentalist, and the fundie God of constant anger and vengeance is punishing us for daring to be critical of his most beloved Fundieland. However, to me at least, I am more inclined to think that the Force of Evil in this plane of existence is really upset with “we three” and others like us, such as Adrienne over at the “Female Bible Warrioress” blog.

    I never thought it possible that I would be targeted because I am not a person of any real fame or great repute, but it appears to me that this Force of Evil (however you define it) feels incredibly frightened and endangered by the nails we are hammering into the coffin of Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. A few years ago, I would have said the same thing you might have said:

    “What? Little ole weak and powerless me”? Why would the darkness of this plane of existence be upset with me”?

    After Rachel’s death, the Niagara Falls of troubles that befell you, and the incredibly difficult problems I am facing in my life right now, I no longer feel sure that I am weak and powerless because “something” in this plane of existence is clearly “rattled” by what we are doing on our blogs. Indeed, it feels incredibly threatened.

    Then again–maybe I am just nuts for having such thoughts.

  3. Thank you April for speaking the words of what I am feeling. I said in church yesterday “I mourn the wisdom she did not get the chance to share.” May we all keep speaking the truth into the darkness.