Wednesday, February 16, 2011

While I was gone...

While I was gone a 19 year old male from the sister congregation died in a car accident.

This leads me back to the Elert on "Last Things" of recent reading.
To be sure, there is a death which we regard as premature.  The literatures of all nations are replete with lamentations over death in life's springtime.  Indeed, death often enough plays the role of the despoiler.  It shatters what was still incomplete.  It thwarts life's last great undertaking.  Like a mischievous young lad it wantonly decapitates the sunflower and keeps its seed from ripening.  However, we must ask whether this universal lament really understands--or purports to understand--death's meaning for the dead person himself.  Death which prematurely creates a gap in the family circle entails pain for the survivors.  A child's death is most painful for its mother, not for the child itself.  To speak plainly on the physical side, the stench of decomposition is nauseous not for the dead but for the living.  Particularly the Christian, who seeks to view death from the perspective of God, will hesitate to cite God's judgment in support of man's opinion about death's untimeliness.

For the Christian, physical death relates only partly to the question of God's providence, which is posed to him by his entire life.  But this question also places us inescapably into the antithesis of law and gospel.  the Law attests the judgment of god.  It reveals that our entire life is "judged" in a twofold sense:  It is subject to the erdict of God's judgment, and it pursues an irreversible course toward death.  Under the Law, death has teleological significance for all of our earthly life.  The earthly way is a way to death.  whatever it may be that constitutes life itself, it cannot prevent death, and it is simultaneously a disintegration of life because it consumes the time of life which is delimited in advance by death.  Under the Law the earthly way is the way of death and nothing else.  The apostle's statement that the law of God is inscribed also into the hearts of the heathen is confirmed by nothing so much as by the wisdom of the Greeks, which declares that the happiest man is he who was never born.  Since he does not live, he also need not die.  To live means to have to die.

But all of this is not the evangelical faith.  Faith derived from the Gospel is faith against the Law, against appearances, against the God of wrath and of judgment, because it is faith in God's freedom in the God of life, in the God who keeps His promises.  This faith breaks every earthly hold and casts itself unreservedly into the arms of God.  Faith can exempt nothing from this surrender to God, neither the biological nor the ethical content of its earthly existence.  Nor can it differentiate here between temporal and eternal life.  Nor can it exempt from it the necessity to die a physical death.  If I believe that God has created me, that He preserves my earthly life "out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, " as the catechism states, how could I then believe that this fatherly, divine goodness and mercy suddenly ceases to operate when He lets me die?  If physical death signified God's judgment to faith, it would also be His judgment on faith.  If the apostle had conceived of it thus, how then could he have a veritable desire "to depart" (analysai, Phil. 1:23)?  No, physical death has lost its terrors for faith.  Faith receives death from the hands of a merciful God exacly as it receives life.  As has been said, "Death has become my sleep." pp. 14,15.

I have not written here about the pain, and I don't think I ever will.   The gap is not just in the family circle either.  This pain and this helplessness over and against such death calls forth a huge response, either deep anger or faith. 

The pain continues, even if it may abate.  Again and again, faith is needed, faith to the very end.

I sometimes "cite God's judgment in support of man's opinion about death's untimeliness."  But this is completely beyond our knowing.  I will worry about myself, and today, and my own repentance and faith.

"Yet, in my flesh, I will see God."

P.S.  In looking at the Google images on burial of a child, one finds that most of them are of non-caucasians.  This denies the reality of death of children in the developed world, even at peace.   We lose multitudes to accidents, drug overdoses, suicide and abortion.  There are many, many mothers out there.  There is death and there is pain--even in suburbia.  Life is never so neat, that it is not lived at the edge of death.  We just often think that it is not.

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