In the four months since Marrett’s death, there have been a few moments of what Jaamil Kosoko calls “post-traumatic enlightenment”. The things that Marrett taught me have coalesced in important ways that are giving new shape to the way I carry him with me moving forward. My understanding of the afterlife is undergoing a complete makeover. How I understand God, and the limitations God’s places on themselves for the sake of relationships with humans, has deepened uncomfortably.
I’ve shared some of these things in sermons, especially in one called “God is who God is” nearly a month ago. Later that Sunday when I preached it, a woman wrote to me to say she’d shown up for worship for the first time in a long time after the death of her son, and that what I said was precisely what she’d be longing to hear. My first thought was that this is the kind of thing that makes Marrett’s death feel less meaningless. Like, maybe something good can come out of the shitpile that is my life right now.
I was surprised that day, and every time I’ve had that feeling since, how painful it is. The goodness of God, or rather the working of goodness through evil and brokenness, has always been hopeful for me, a light at the end of the tunnel kind of feeling. But not now. Now it brings me to tears, and my spirit resists. I am not ready for Marrett’s death to have any redemption attached to it. Because no redemption, no matter how good or how full, will ever be worth the price paid to achieve it.
I wonder if God ever feels this way about Jesus’ death. When we are so quick to explain away the suffering of Jesus in life and death saying it was all worth it because he redeemed the world, do we inflict new pain on the heart of God? Does it hurt God when we suggest that Jesus NEEDED to suffer so that others could be saved? Is God angered by the suggestion that their son’s/their own death was a means to an end, so worthwhile that the death is cancelled out?
What if Jesus’ death wasn’t necessary or part of God’s plan at all? What if evil did all that, then God found the ultimate work-around to save Themselves and us too? What if God is still pissed that we crucified Them, and every substitutionary atonement sermon triggers God’s age old grief?
I’ve been working for a long time on my understanding of how exactly Jesus’ death works salvation, which theologians call atonement theory. I’ve been resistant to the substitution theories precisely for this reason, that they seem to turn Jesus’ death into something good, something to be celebrated even. And while I know God and I are different, it is beyond my imagination that God could ever feel that way about Their child’s/Their own death.
But in the wake of Marrett’s death, I’m learning anew how damaging such glorification of suffering and the quick leap to redemption feels to those who are in their own deep suffering and grief. When kind-hearted, well-intentioned people tell me that I will be changed in ways by his death that will be good for my future and for the church, I just want to say, “Good enough that we’ll all be glad he died?”
Yes, I am learning in my grief. I am growing in ways that I’m sure will benefit others. I will be stronger and wiser because of this, and so will my children. But no matter how strong, how wise, or how well things turn out because of what we are now learning, it will never be worth the price of Marrett’s life. Perhaps the same should be said more often about Jesus’ death too, that no matter how many people have been saved through the cross and resurrection, God still grieves Christ’s death. For no redemption is ever worth the price of a life.