Max on Death in Max on Life

Derek Ouellette —  June 17, 2011 — 4 Comments

Max Lucado is one of those pastor-authors uniquely gifted with the ability to communicate powerful down-to-earth messages through the medium of story.

But he’s not a theologian.

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I sat in the office of a Lutheran minister once and asked him if there was something our Christian bookstore could do to help his ministry and the ministry of his Church. The minister surprisingly pointed to a box he had situated in the corner of the office and asked, “do you recognize those?”

I leaned in for a closer look at what appeared to be a box filled predominately with Max Lucado books. “Ya, we sell these!” I exclaimed.

“I removed those from our library and told my people that they were not allowed to read this Pelagian garbage any more. This material promotes heresy by feeding on the minds of simpletons. Let me show you what I let my people read.”

He walked me into a large conference room and over to a wall-length bookcase with about half a dozen books scattered throughout. Old, tattered books in need of serious dusting.

“Now I’ve finally straightened things out,” he said “here are the books I allow my sheep to read.”

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I was seventeen before I read a book from cover to cover (yes, 17!). A woman from church placed a copy of Lucado’s book A Gentle Thunder in my hands. About half way through that book I found myself on my knees in repentance. It was formative for me in that not only did it have a turn-around effect on my spiritual walk, but it also instilled within me a love of reading. My personal library today is, well, embarrassingly large.

My point is that Lucado may not be a theologian, but he is a pastor, and it is as pastor that he writes. Yet like all of us his theology bubbles to the surface in his writings.

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In Max on Life Lucado offers answers to 172 of the toughest questions any pastor has ever been asked. I mean really tough questions. Here is a sampling:

Question #31: I work in a cancer hospital. I see patients, especially children, who pray every day for miracles. They struggle so much. What can I tell them?

Question #89: One church says Baptism is necessary for salvation. Another church says just the opposite. How can I know for sure?

Question #156: What does God think of suicide victims? What does that mean for their salvation? For our memories? For our peace of mind?

Question #167: What of the people who never heard of God? How can God judge them for what they do not know?

For the purpose of this post I want to look particularly at Max’s answer to the stunningly difficult real-life question #148:

The seven-year-old son of our neighbors died last week. They are devastated. So are we. What can we tell them?

MAX ON DEATH

If you have not faced this question in your life yet, then I hope you never have to. But my suspicion is that one day you will. Mine came when my father passed away over two years ago. He was only 49 years old and my little sister, then only 14, while being as devastated as the rest of us verbalized the question we all internally struggled with. God why did you allow this to happen?

In real life criticizing the premise behind that question is unhelpful. We’re not talking about abstract theology here, but real people in real painful situations in need of tangible answers.

Max’s answer:

God is a good God. We must begin here. Though we don’t understand his actions, we can trust his heart.

God does only what is good. But how can death be good? Some mourners don’t ask this question. When the quantity of years has outstripped the quality of years, we don’t ask how death can be good.

But the father of the dead teenager does. The widow of the young soldier does. The parents of a seven-year-old do. How could death be good?

Part of the answer may be found in Isaiah 57:1–2: “Good people are taken away, but no one understands. Those who do right are being taken away from evil and are given peace. Those who live as God wants find rest in death” (NCV).

Death is God’s way of taking people away from evil. From what kind of evil? An extended disease? An addiction? A dark season of rebellion? We don’t know. But we know that no person lives one day more or less than God intends. “All the days planned for me were written in your book before I was one day old” (Ps. 139:16 NCV).

But her days here were so few . . .

His life was so brief . . .

To us it seems that way. We speak of a short life, but compared to eternity, who has a long one? A person’s days on earth may appear as a drop in the ocean. Yours and mine may seem like a thimbleful. But compared to the Pacific of eternity, even the years of Methuselah filled no more than a glass. James was not speaking just to the young when he said, “Your life is like a mist. You can see it for a short time, but then it goes away”
(James 4:14 NCV).

In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely. And though you and I might wish for a longer life, God knows better.

And—this is important—though you and I may wish a longer life for our loved ones, they don’t. Ironically, the first to accept God’s decision of death is the one who dies.

While we are shaking heads in disbelief, they are lifting hands in worship. While we are mourning at a grave, they are marveling at heaven. While we are questioning God, they are praising God.

Max’s theological premises’ are: 1) God is good, and 2) God only does what is good. This varies a few degrees from how a Reformed pastor may begin: 1) God is sovereign and 2) God only does what glorifies Himself. Put yourself in the situation of the person who is asking the original question if you can. Would Max’s answer meet your needs or would you be more satisfied with an answer that appealed primarily to God’s self-glorifying sovereignty?

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000259010675 Kyle Pitts

    Either answer would suit me. When I was 15 my little brother died (he was 13) and when I was 18 my best friend died. Then and now I fully understood that He is in control and everything is either allowed or willed by Him. Another thing that helped me understand these two events is I accepted that there are no immortals- that everyone is going to die. I do think that Max Lucado’s answer is a little simple and that he should have put God’s sovereignty into perspective.

  • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James Palmer

    Doesn’t Genesis portray death as a curse brought onto us by our sin, something that falls short of God’s ultimate desires for us? Isn’t the final thing that God destroys in Revelation death?

    It seems strange to make a blanket statement that death is “good”. There are positive things that can come out of it (as Isaiah 5:71-72 points out), but I find it troubling the idea that it is good. That comes across to me as the escapist view of salvation, as opposed to God reconciling and renewing all of God’s creation.

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James Palmer

      (Just a note that I’m not making any comment about how helpful what he says is to someone in emotional need. I really agree wholeheartedly on this point of yours, Derek.)

  • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James Palmer

    “Would Max’s answer meet your needs or would you be more satisfied with an answer that appealed primarily to God’s self-glorifying sovereignty?”

    I certainly prefer Max’s answer. I believe God’s love is unconditional, but it appears from a more Reformed approach, that God’s love is conditional on that love bringing himself glory – i.e., he only loves certain people, and only loves in certain ways, such that he is glorified the most. That kind of conditional love with a self-glorifying purpose undermines the Bible’s take both on what love is and on what God is (and especially the idea that God *is* love.)

    At least, that’s how I see it. :-)