Swallowed Up By Life

Abraham Kuyper. His very name causes our faith to stand a little taller. Professor Kuyper.

Cover of "Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Re...

Kuyper the writer, philosopher, and sometime statesman; Kuyper the historian and theologian extraordinaire. Yet as the fires of his greatest trial burned away the accolades, the ashes revealed a heart that cherished one designation above all else– the simple name of husband. In the week following the death of his wife, Abraham Kuyper laid aside his titles and, taking up the pen of grieving husband, wrote the ragged account of his faith.

 In an article published for his weekly publication, De Heraut (The Herald), Kuyper let the force of his faith spill across the pages, confessing, “The inner life of those who want to live solely for their God is very mixed indeed.”

“Given what lies before your eyes at the time of death, you can only say that Death, the fearful enemy of God and man, finally succeeds in swallowing up a life so precious to you… Nothing helped. Nothing was of any use. When that last bit of breath expired it was as if Death mocked you with all your unheard prayers and pointless anxieties. It whispered derisively: “I won; your morning of joy will never come.”

“And there you stood with broken heart by the deathbed. There lay your deceased, lifeless, inanimate, for all the world as if she had been swallowed up by death. Swallowed up—a hard word. Devoured, as if by a beast of prey… And let’s be honest: in that first hard moment when a shock passes through the heart, the child of God sees it that way too. It is a dreadfully gloomy thing to stare into the dark emptiness of the valley of the shadow of death as we watch a dearly loved one enter there. Death is there, hauling away its prey before our eyes; and we are there, compelled to watch it happen, overcome by pain and helplessness.

“But that is reality—the bitter reality of death in the visible world. To deceive yourself by hiding that hard reality behind funeral wreaths and flowers, to imagine that you can comfort the bereaved with generalities about God’s providential love is cowardice. You’ re not serious, you lack courage, if you use a blindfold to hide the harshness of death from yourself and others.

“You prayed, but God did not hear your prayer. Despite your prayer, death won. But is not God almighty? Where is that providential love when He lets death have its way—worse, sends it to you and abandons your suffering one to it?

“No. Say rather that death came on account of sin and by sin. Let your conscience be touched, and acknowledge that God’s fearful wrath was at work in that process of dying. That way at least you can tremble before God’s holiness. But to babble about providential love when God lets bitter death rob you of the dearest thing you had on earth, when you see a precious life wither, disappear, swallowed up before your eyes—that’s lying to yourself. That you cannot do with any sincerity. That is playing with words right up to the grave.

“But now comes God’s Word which, without in any way discounting the harshness of that reality, turns it around for you. Totally.”

Read the article — and his outworking of his hope — here.

(Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, from the volume edited by James D. Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (pp. 408-15).)

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Waiting Is An Art

Every year about this time, though I am not exactly sure why, I am drawn again to the writings of one of my childhood heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Perhaps it is his staunch scholarship that draws me, or maybe his passionate and single-minded pursuit of his God. I rather suspect it is all this, yet combined with still more — Bonhoeffer wrestled hard Dietrich Bonhoeffer - among others - lecturer ...in the hand of God. He grappled with the issues of his time, casting them continually against the unflinching walls of the Gospel. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the one-time pacifist looked questions of evil and suffering full in the face — inspecting, viewing, always in light of the Word; first in this direction, now in another — until God was pleased to supply an answer. And if perchance the silence of God was all the answer he received, Bonhoeffer resigned his soul to rest in the sovereign stillness of the One who was faithful still. Regardless of the reason, Bonhoeffer’s life and writings continually urge my soul onward, even after all these years. And as the first day of Advent closes around me, it is the musing of this man, scrawled in the shadows of a Nazi prison cell, that beckon me to that long-ago night in Bethlehem, when Infant cries announced the incarnate reality of the newly born Answer to every question, the  redemption of grief and suffering, and the triumphant end of every kind of evil.

And in the crisp air of that rediscovered wonder, I kneel to worship again.

“Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting—that is, of hopefully doing without—will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment.

Those who do not know how it feels to struggle anxiously with the deepest questions of life, of their life, and to patiently look forward with anticipation until the truth is revealed, cannot even dream of the splendor of the moment in which clarity is illuminated for them… For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not here in a storm but according to the divine laws of sprouting, growing, and becoming.

Be brave for my sake, dearest Maria, even if this letter is your only token of my love this Christmas-tide. We shall both experience a few dark hours—why should we disguise that from each other? We shall ponder the incomprehensibility of our lot and be assailed by the question of why, over and above the darkness already enshrouding humanity, we should be subjected to the bitter anguish of a separation whose purpose we fail to understand…. And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.”

Letter to fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer from prison, December 13, 1943

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2011-03-21). God Is In the Manger (pp. 4-5). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.