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Posts from the President Vol 7
In the last twelve months the Providence community has lost two long-time professors to the ravages of cancer; Henry Schellenberg on February 20, 2013 and Chuck Nichols on January 14, 2014. Both men came to Providence about thirty years ago. They were much loved by students and colleagues and in the wider Christian community. Providence is a better place because of them.
How do we make sense of death in the Christian community, especially untimely death? First, we grieve. When people die they leave a hole in the community that no one can really fill. There is a certain emptiness as we remember when and where they served. They are not there, something is missing. We feel sad and sorry for ourselves and those around us. People fill in as needed (and ultimately make their own mark), but somehow it is not the same as it was when Henry and Chuck were with us. Who could take Henry’s place directing the choir or joking in the staff lounge? Who could take Chuck’s place in the classroom or bantering in the hallway after seminary chapel? Grief is real, and it is okay to grieve.
Second, we theologize death. We agree with the Bible that an earthly death, the first death as Revelation implies, is not the end for those whom God has saved. Death is not the final and ultimate evil consequence of Adam’s sin. In the Dictionary of Biblical Theology (see the article on “Life”) I have made the case that one of the main themes of the Bible is life. From Genesis to Revelation the story is about life. The tree of life, from which our first parents were banished, has been restored to us through the wisdom of the word (Proverbs 3:18) and through the incarnate Word who claimed to be the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). Earthly death is just the final stage in the journey to the fullness of life, as Christians find out when they reach the “verge of Jordan.” The promise of life after death, inaugurated in the resurrection of Jesus, comforts the Christian community when loved ones like Henry and Chuck leave us.
Finally, we make sense of death in the Christian community by moving on with a renewed sense of calling. When one of our comrades falls we close ranks and continue to move toward our objective. That objective is defined by the Apostle Paul to be “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God . . . attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
So we respond to death in the Christian community emotionally by grieving, intellectually by confessing that death is not the end, and volitionally by continuing the journey. In the end, as Revelation says many times, we shall overcome.
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