Pastor Bob ChellColumnist
It is paradoxical that we are most alive in our encounters with death. Our entire campus grieved, and continues to grieve the death of student Aaron Hohwieler just ten days ago and professor Wayne Ellingson three days later. For those closest to Aaron and Wayne, grief is a consuming fire. It is a time of mourning, a time of remembering, sifting and sorting, grieving and gratitude. Even those who did not know them are filled with the deep sadness pervading our campus.
Death reveals what is most important in our lives, enabling us to see the true value of those things that fill our lives. In the face of death we find much of what we busy ourselves with lacking in meaning and purpose.
Philosopher Martin Heidegger speaks of moments when we see deeply into the essence of life as “enabling us to understand our being unto death.’ For a time we are able to discern with clarity and confidence those things of true value: family, friendship, faith. Those things which inform us, which enable us to know who we are and who we are called to become. It is this knowing which, over time, pulls us through grief and back into the fullness of life.
We do not emerge unchanged or unscathed. Like Jacob, we wrestle with God in the darkness of night to find meaning and purpose where none is to be found. God did not will these deaths. God’s will is always for life rich and full. Jesus ministry is clear testimony to this. When St. Paul writes, in his letter to the church at Rome, “…all things work for good” he does not say all things are good. Rather, he is saying, out of the worst that can happen God can bring good: a deeper appreciation of friends and family, a clearer sense of who we are, our faith, values and vocation. This does not negate the pain, grief or loss. It is still a bitter and uneven trade.
Heidegger maintains this insight into the essence of life cannot be grasped but only revealed. This runs contrary to what the academic community is about: learning, testing, proving, knowing. Heidegger points us to the boundary, the place where knowing gives way to trusting. Knowledge is not transcendent. To truly know ourselves we must be defined by something beyond ourselves.
Faith grasps what knowledge cannot. Faith is not knowledge but trust. Death asks each of us, “Where is your trust?” Faith calls us to trust in God’s promises to guide and sustain us through the darkness of the night. In the blackness of grief it is barely enough, only a candle in the darkness. Yet, it is enough. That is God’s promise.
Pastor Bob Chell’s door is always open at the University Lutheran Center South of Brown Hall. His email is [email protected]