Nicholas Wolterstorff, a prominent Christian philosopher, and his wife Claire lost their son (Eric) due to a mountain climbing accident. This devastated them.
The journal that Wolterstorff kept while he sat (sits) on the “mourner’s bench” has been turned into the book “Lament for a Son” (truly is a phenomenal read). (Lament is something that us Western positivistic Christians don’t understand. It simply is not a category with which we interact.)
Six years ago, today, I lost a good friend: Hadessa Aspen Presti Flora. (For more on this loss check out this post.) Her death was shocking, sobering, painful, hard. It shattered my world; I miss her dearly.
Instead of prefacing the quote, I’ll just let Wolterstoff speak for himself.
Someone said to Claire, “I hope you’re learning to live at peace with Eric’s death.” Peace, shalom, salaam. Shalom is the fulnes of life in all dimensions. Shalom is dwelling in justice and delight with God, with neighbor, with oneself, in nature. Death is shalom’s mortal enemy. Death is demonic. We cannot live at peace with death.
When the writer of Revelation spoke of the coming day of shalom, he did not say that on that day we would live at pace with death. He said on that day “There will be no more death or mourning or crying of pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
I shall try to keep the wound from healing, in recognition of our living still in the old order of things. I shall try to keep it from healing, in solidarity with those who sit beside me on humanity’s mourning bench. (Lament for a Son, 63)
Death and evil are no less than that, evil and vile. We cannot explain it away with postulations of free will. We cannot merely mourn for a time and get over death. We cannot ignore death. Nor can we embrace it.
We can/should/ought to be disgusted with death. Death does not have a place in shalom. It does not belong here on the earth. It does not deserve to claim a 17 year old girl or convince a teenage boy that it is more attractive than life. It does not deserve to exist.
So praise God that He invites us to sit in the tension of celebration and grief. We are called to celebrate because we have been brought into the life of Christ, allowing for the good wine, hearty laughs, great music, much dancing. We are also called to mourn deeply. (As Christians, we do not/cannot stand at arms length from death.) We have been given a foretaste of shalom, namely, Jesus Christ. The discontinuity ought to make us pull our hair out with dissatisfaction. Indeed, Christians should celebrate the best and mourn in their whole being.
Let us learn to sit on the mourner’s bench. I know that I am.