So today is a sad day. I arrived at school this morning to take a 9 AM exam only to discover that a fellow seminary student (who was in class with me for a 2 PM exam yesterday afternoon) died suddenly last night. How could this happen? He stepped in front of a train.
I don't know all of the details - I don't know what was going on in his mind, in his life. I didn't actually even know him, which seems kind of strange since we've both been in seminary for 4 years, in many of the same classes even. He would have graduated with me this May. He had only a few more finals remaining. My friend Denise knew him much better.
Nevertheless, I am extremely sad. Death is never to be taken lightly. How odd to sit down for an exam on the book of Ecclesiastes ("Vanity of vanities! All is vanity," says Qoheleth!) in light of an event like this. Why does it take something like this to remind us of just how permanent, broken, and wrong death really is. These are hard times. And this is a hard world. And even Christians can stumble and fall.
Of course his death isn't really permanent. That's the hope in it all. That's why that dry dusty doctrine called "Union with Christ" is actually so important. Because it means that once Christ has a hold of me, nothing can separate me from his grip. NOTHING! Not even death (Rom 8:31-39). This man lives again even as I write these words, because Christ our savior lives, and he simply refuses to let go any who are his.
That truth is deeply theological. At the same time, it is also deeply connected - it is absolutely applicable. Your life depends on it, and so does mine. What we need in times like this is not less theology, not more theology, but a theology that is intimately connected with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing less will suffice.
This is why I find it so offensive to hear someone speak about the doctrines of grace in a disconnected, disinterested, academic sort of way. Don't you dare suggest that practical application is for somebody else to figure out - I want to know how it is real, how it is relevant, how it is indispensible for the life that needs to be lived right now. We live in Qoheleth's world, in the book of Ecclesiastes, where creation is fallen and this monster named Death still roams freely. We need a word that can save us in this kind of world. What we really need is the Word - a living Word from God who can hold on to us even when we can't hold on to ourselves.
I am convinced that this sad troubled young man is safe and secure today - our Black Friday is his Easter Sunday. Nevertheless, a hole still remains in the here and now. Even though I didn't know him at all, he was still part of this nerdy little community we call Westminster. And so his absence hurts. I find myself thinking that there are undoubtedly others just like him all around.
Welcome to the real world, folks. Welcome to the world of doubt and unbelief. Welcome to the world that Jesus loves and weeps over, that he gives his life for, and then calls us to do the same. Welcome to this very scary place - a place none of us chose to come to, but where all of us grow to love, to hurt, to live, to die, to sojourn. This is why we are here at seminary, to learn to minister in a world like this. Of course seminary can't really prepare us for that task. Only the gospel can. And we need to own it ourselves before we can ever give it to others.
It's still a sad day, but I am strangely full of hope.