Written by Sam Logan
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 00:00
In the aftermath of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, a friend who had himself experienced great grief pointed me to Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book, LAMENT FOR A SON (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1987).
Professor Wolterstorff lost his son Eric, who was killed in a mountain climbing accident when he (Eric) was 25 years old.
I have now read and re-read that book and have found that it expresses both a spiritual comfort and a missional longing.
I would like to share a couple of sections of the book under those two headings.
A Spiritual Comfort:
For a long time, I knew that God is not the impassive, unresponsive, unchanging being portrayed by the classical theologians. I knew of the pathos of God. I knew of God’s response of delight and of his response of displeasure. But strangely, his suffering I never saw before.
God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart. Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God.
It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor.
And great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness, the God who suffers with us did not strike some might blow of power, but sent his beloved son to suffer like us, through his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil.
Instead of explaining our suffering, God shares it.
Isaiah asks this question – “Who is like this God?” (40: 18). And the answer, “There is none other!” No other god even claims actually to have himself entered into the suffering of his creatures.
And this is really the impetus for Christmas.
Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem? Why was there an Incarnation? Professor Wolterstorff said it, “To redeem us from suffering and evil.” To redeem us by taking that very evil and suffering upon Himself. What amazing grace!
That’s why we invite all of creation to join us – “O, Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”
And this wonderful (and comforting) Christmas truth defines the missional longing of those who really DO adore Christ the Lord, a longing which motivates all of our Kingdom activity.
A Missional Longing:
More from LAMENT FOR A SON:
Standing on a hill in Galilee, Jesus said to his disciples:
Bless are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are those who mourn, cheers to those who weep, hail to those whose eyes are filled with tears, hats off to those who suffer, bottoms up to the grieving. How strange, how incredibly strange.
“Blessed are those who mourn.” What can it mean? One can understand why Jesus hails those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, why he hails the merciful, why he hails the pure in heart, why he hails the peacemakers, why he hails those who endure under persecution. These are qualities of character which belong to the life of the kingdom. But why does he hail the mourners of the world? Why cheer tears? It must be that mourning is also a quality of character that belongs to the life of his realm.
Who then are the mourners? The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace, there is no one blind . . . and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing. They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one hungry . . . and who ache whenever they see someone starving. They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one falsely accused . . . and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly. They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one who fails to see God . . . and who ache whenever they see someone unbelieving. They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one who suffers oppression . . . and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm of peace, there is neither death nor tears . . . and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries.
Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them. And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come. They will be comforted.
And this, too, is expressed in a Christmas carol.
“Joy to the world; the Lord is come! . . . No more let sins and sorrows grow, or thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow – far as the curse is found.”
Whether it is the sudden death of a 25-year-old on a far-away mountain or the unspeakable murder of first graders and their teachers, death is horrible. Death is not the way things should be. I certainly have no explanation for either of these. I can only rest in the assurance that something really did happen in Bethlehem that gives us a glimpse of just how much God cares.
And because He cares, because there is Christmas . . . and Good Friday . . . and Easter . . ., His blessing will flow as far as the curse is found and those who mourn will be comforted.
So, can there be Christmas in Connecticut this year? In one sense, the answer is “Of course.” Christmas IS, no matter how we respond to it. But, if I were a parent whose child was killed last week, would I be celebrating Christmas this year? I’m not sure. Sometimes the tears are so fresh and heavy that it is hard to see anything else. And no Christmas ever will be the same for those Connecticut parents.
But I do know this – from the distance and relative safety of my home in Pennsylvania, I will be singing extra loudly both “O, Come let us adore Him,” and “No more let sin and sorrows grow, or thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessing flow – far as the curse is found.”
Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and he is President Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. In addition to his work at Biblical, he serves as International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship ( http://www.wrfnet.org). He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan