Daniel Jonce Evans, widower of the late Rachel Held Evans, has shared publicly that he is agnostic. But even so, Dan Evans says he hopes for the existence of a God like that portrayed in his late wife’s newly published children’s book, “What Is God Like?”
“I’m agnostic,” wrote Evans in a tweet. “I think God is unlikely. I don’t believe prayer heals. If it did, sick people prayed for would be healed more often than those who aren’t. It’s testable. But if I ever believe again, it will be in the God Rachel understood. I hope for the God of ‘What Is God Like?’”
Dan Evans: A ‘Gaping, Raw Wound’
Rachel Held Evans passed away at age 37 on May 4, 2019, after a sudden, brief battle with her health. On April 14, 2019, she told her Twitter followers that she had been hospitalized due to the flu, a urinary tract infection and an allergic reaction to antibiotics. By April 19, Dan Evans said that his wife had been placed in a medically induced coma because her brain was experiencing constant seizures.
Rachel passed away weeks later, leaving behind her husband and two young children, one less than a year old. In the announcement of his wife’s death on her website, Dan said, “This entire experience is surreal. I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake. I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story.”
As a voice for progressive Christians and someone who questioned the evangelical status quo, Rachel Held Evans was a controversial figure. But she also was a voice for Christians who wrestled with doubt and who struggled to reconcile their faith with the brokenness they saw and experienced. The American church can be quick to offer simple answers to complex realities and is often uncomfortable with doubt and with nuance. Rachel was known for her compassion and for being a safe space for those who questioned their faith.
Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil told Religion News Service (RNS), “There are some people, I think, who would credit her as being the person who made it possible for them to come back to God again, to believe God again, to believe there were Christ followers who were worthy to be trusted.”
“She had little time for pettiness and a big heart for people,” Dan said in an interview with Slate magazine several weeks after Rachel’s death. He described his grief to The Today Show as a “gaping, raw wound” and told TIME magazine:
Occasionally I have small blocks of time between diaper changes, bath times, meal times and story times. In those fleeting minutes, my mind churns away at my family’s loss. Rachel shouldn’t be dead. Some things are wrong and they won’t ever be right. I try to find meaning outside of my loss. What can I do now? What can we do now?
Dan recently celebrated the publication of the children’s book, “What Is God Like?,” co-authored by his late wife and her friend, Matthew Paul Turner. The book, which made the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list in the “Children’s Picture Books” category, refers to God as “three dancers, graceful and precise.” It also uses different pronouns for God, portraying him as mother, father, and a rainbow.
Dan Evans told RNS that he resonates most with the following words in the book’s closing paragraph: “Whenever you aren’t sure what God is like, think about what makes you feel safe, what makes you feel brave, and what makes you feel loved. That’s what God is like.”
He said, “I think that’s what I hope for, but it’s hard to believe sometimes because Rachel is still dead. And so all of these words and all of this hope, personally, I still hope it’s all true, but I don’t know.”
While evangelicals may disagree on the book’s theology and with Evans’ views, hopefully we can all recognize the importance of offering compassion, not criticism or trite answers, to someone enduring indescribable pain from the loss of a loved one. One person responded to Evans on Twitter, “Honestly, I think even the most devout believers are agnostic sometimes, especially when we face great loss. It reminds me of the guy who told Jesus, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” and Jesus was still so kind to him. That’s what I cling to, because I have nothing else.”