Monday, September 1, 2008

Eulogy for a Non-Christian Friend

Denver wrote: "Gregory, at the funeral that you mentioned, did you express your universalist perspective when you gave the eulogy? If not, how did it affect your words? If so, what did you say? And, if you did, was that a surprise to your friend's family?"

Here is an edited version of what I said (with the personal stories and comments removed). I have changed my friend's name to 'Alan'.

This was a very personal eulogy and was not written for public consumption, but I offer up parts of it here if it might be helpful to some people. I feel somewhat uncomfortable about doing so but it shows one way in which universalism can inform such situations. I think that it enabled me to offer real hope without compromising the gospel.

How can you sum up the life of a person? Of someone so unique and so special? The texture of a human life is too subtle – too complicated. Words fail us. Even to try and capture what Alan meant to my family is an impossible task. So many memories, ... so many thoughts. We can feel paralysed. But speak we must. So I offer just a few reflections from my family in honour of Alan ...

[the main body of the eulogy was here]

Finally, I would like to offer two brief reflections speaking as a Christian. The first is that I have no idea why God would allow Alan to suffer as much as he did. For all the world, it looks cruel and pointless and I offer no excuses for God. The Bible is full of complaints and accusations against God and I simply wanted to say that blaming God is a biblical thing to do. One day we will understand God’s reasons for allowing this but for now, if we feel angry with God, that’s OK.

The second springs from the fact that for Christians this week is Holy Week. This week Christians celebrate a God who did not stand aloof from our suffering and pain but who became a human being – the man Jesus. And on the cross this human person – this God –entered into our experiences of suffering and death … and then he was resurrected.

In the story of Jesus Christians see the human story, our stories, writ small – death then resurrection. Darkness then light. Grief then joy. The resurrection means that that death is not the end of a story but a chapter in it. And all Christian hope in the face of death is based on Jesus’ resurrection. The God of the cross and resurrection is the one who will not let death have the last word; who will not allow it to separate people from him.

So I believe that this is not the end of Alan’s story. Alan was not a Christian himself – not yet anyway – but Jesus said that God is a shepherd who keeps on looking for his sheep ‘until he finds it’. And I believe that he will find Alan and that Alan’s future is one of resurrection and eternal life in a relationship with God.

I believe that Alan will be whole again and that God will bring to perfection all those distinctive character traits that are so distinctively him.

So Alan. There is a hole in the world without you. An Alan-shaped hole that can never be filled by anything else, because nothing else could be like you. There is an empty space now that feels like it should not be there. One day, friend, one day it will be filled again. Don’t think you’ve seen the last of us. And the next time we meet it will be in far better circumstances – ‘a new dawn, a new day’ (Nina Simone). But for now – ‘cheers’, ‘thanks’, and ‘goodbye’ . . . until next time.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully done. Thank you for sharing that.

Denver said...

I agree that it is "beautifully done." I'm presently reading "Universal Salvation? The Current Debate" and I'm on the section that covers people throughout history who have been universalists. At times it's discouraging because a fair amount of historical universalists are also a bit theological "screwy" on other issues. It's so refreshing to reading things like your eulogy and have a chance to see a biblical universalist perspective expressed with sincerity of heart and soundness of doctrine.

Denver said...

Hi Gregory:
I love how you are able to deal compassionately and yet doctrinally appropriate to a situation of loss and pain. In an earlier post (I don't remember where), in a comment about suffering/pain you mentioned in passing that you did not believe Adam and Eve (pre-expulsion) were perfect (at least I think that's what you said). Could you explain that?