Most Christians in the Charismatic movement across the United States are aware of the recent passing of Beni Johnson, wife of Pastor Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, California. This journey for Ps Bill and Beni was a difficult one that included the whole community (Truly that is what church is—community). The family, pastoral staff, volunteers, and church members fought a valiant battle of faith with great passion. It was tough, amazing, and full of glory at once. This—in a church known internationally for healing and especially healing from cancer—was perhaps harder for the onlookers than it was for the insiders.
I admired Pastor Bill and Beni Johnson from afar. Wayne and I have visited the church in Redding and attended a marriage conference, healing rooms, and worship services. We have been deeply impacted by their praise and worship and teaching. I became an even bigger fan of Beni during the pandemic and through the 2020 election as she was often on social media with prayers, insights, or encouraging words for the moment. I also identified with her heart for prayer and intercession and as a pastor‘s wife, mother and grandmother. I felt like she could have been a dear friend.
The sadness and weight of her loss became palpable in the Charismatic community across the world. This journey developed into an earthly sadness—but with pause. For every true believer, there is the eternal hope of heaven that is not a myth but indeed a mystery that morphs into reality when we cross the shores into infinity. For the true believer, sadness with pause becomes expectation. The pause is pregnant with promise despite the pain. The pause is filled with the sovereignty of God and utter reverence for who he is and what he chooses to do. The pause after death also explores the depth of the loss and allows mourning to wash over the heart. It is a type of cleansing. There is a deposit in the pause that also offers unspeakable joy from the wells of salvation from which we can draw at any time in life or death. It undoubtedly offers peace in reflection as we go forward, wounded yet healing and sensing the seriousness of the hour for the new season ahead.
When I realized that Pastor Johnson spoke in one of the services only three days after Beni’s death, I was very curious to hear his message. Below is the first few lines that utterly broke me, and I want to share them here and with commentary at the end.
You can listen to the whole message on YouTube.
“The backslider in heart will always judge God on what he didn’t do. Those who run with tenderness will always define God on what he has said and promised and done. I have seen too much of his kindness to believe other than that—he is always, always good.
We don’t get to choose stuff—like I don’t want to experience any pain. We don’t have that option. This is where we do life. God says things like,
“In everything give thanks,” “Pray without ceasing,”and “Rejoice always.”
These verses are completely useless unless you experience loss and disappointment. Nobody needs to be taught to rejoice if everything works the way you want it to work. God‘s nature is defined by his promises and his history. That’s what we build theology around. That is who we are. And so you ask, “What about loss?” And that is the mystery we have the privilege of carrying. The level of revelation that God gives you will be equal to the level of mystery that you are able to live with, and the inability to live with mystery is your resistance to child-likeness. It is child-likeness that gives us access to realms of the kingdom that you can’t get into any other way. There are certain things he has hidden along the way in the journey. For example, there are measures of the presence of God that we cannot experience unless we are in the valley of the shadow of death. It’s only in darkness – – and darkness of soul when you don’t know what’s going on, and you’ve done everything you know to do and have things work out like you didn’t expect. God is not a vending machine. I don’t get to put a quarter in and get back what I want. This is a relational journey. I have experienced his presence and miracles and kindness at a level that I could never earn or deserve. I just don’t have the right to evaluate what God is like because I’ve experienced loss. It doesn’t work that way. I don’t want my “whys” to ever take me away from him. I don’t ever want to be the one who critiques God. He critiques me. None of us would choose pain or loss or any of this stuff. We don’t have options at times…”
Ps Bill wept openly as he spoke, and the congregation wept too. It was very moving.
I felt the impact of the whole message entire, but it was just a few lines that moved me to my knees with weeping—not so much for the loss but for the wretched condition of my own heart.
“The back slider in heart will always judge God on what he didn’t do.״
“I just don’t have the right to evaluate what God is like because I’ve experienced loss. It doesn’t work that way.”
“I don’t want my “whys” to ever take me away from him. I don’t ever want to be the one who critiques God. He critiques me.”
I grew up in the church, and it’s all that I’ve ever known. I embraced it because I believed in Him then and I believe still. Yes, there are abuses. Still I know that it is the only hope for the world. Our churches—the buildings and the people should be a bastion of provision, healing, acceptance, strength, and comfort for the hurting, the soul sick, and those dying without hope. I’ve known great disappointment. I’ve shaken my fist at God and demanded why? Why the pain? Why the loss? Why the disappointment?
Still his kindness and goodness have overtaken the loss. They have canceled the suffering. And I am broken by my rebellion to shake a fist at him when things don’t go my way. I don’t want to be named among the backsliding who accuse God when things don’t work out for me. The truth is I find him utterly faithful. I know him to be thoroughly kind and good – – way beyond what I deserve.
And during this time of sadness with pause as we honor Beni and praise God for his goodness, I do take pause to rejoice for the opportunity to realign under his sovereignty, goodwill, and perfect choices for me. Again, I surrender all because I trust my good Father. I’m undone by Ps Bill’s sweet brokenness and yieldedness in the lowest moments of his life. I can only follow suit.
I say with the Psalmist, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”