"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Proverbs of Ashes

I recently re-read Richard John Neuhaus' little book "As I Lay Dying," a book written in reflection over a period of time where, struggling with cancer, Neuhaus thought he was going to die. We all think a lot about life, and the "good life." Few think, however, about death or a "good death." Such a thing seems contradictory. Death is bad. This world seems very indifferent to death:

Psalm 103:15-16 - As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

Neuhaus states:

"Our little story is one of unrequited love for a world that moves on."

The Poet Stephen Crane put it so well:

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."
I find a strange comfort that Scripture does not ignore these feelings. Job's horrible comforters who merely offered religious sounding cliches left him saying:

"Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay." (Job 13:12)

Faith doesn't shut us up in asking why. It doesn't even shut us up from confronting God:

"Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my case to His face." (Job 13:15)

Neuhaus has made me re-explore these sentiments. I appreciate his take because he too worked as a chaplain, among those journeying through the shadow of death. Sometimes people shout, sometimes they parrot proverbs of ashes, and sometimes they hope in God, even as they argue their case to his face. I don't think it is the role of the counselor to shut the Jobs of the world up with proverbs of ashes, but to be there to listen to it. If we are, as believers, a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) then our conduct should be like the great high priest, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses." (Heb 4:15) Rather, we "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep," (Rom 12:15) just as Christ wept (John 11:35). He was present and He sympathized. Our observations about the crookedness and perversity of the world are valid, they are the reason we need Someone to hope in, and sit next to, while we are slayed.

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