Kevin Bauder (Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary) has a touching personal remembrance of Rod Decker here. Kevin is definitely correct that the world is poorer without Rod but we do cling to the promise of Kevin’s last line–a very appropriate turn of phrase.
For those interested in the Song of Songs Harvard Divinity School hosted a panel discussion (April 15, 2013) and featured a conversation between four scholars on The Song of Songs:Translation, Reception, Reconfiguration. The panel included Cheryl Exum of the University of Sheffield, Michael Fishbane of University of Chicago Divinity School, Paul Griffiths of Duke University, and Stephanie Paulsell of HDS. Exum was the most profitable and held to the biblical text. Fishbane shared from a Jewish perspective; Griffiths from a Roman Catholic one from the Latin Vulgate and Paulsell from a Protestant point of view. All (except Exum) suggested multiple readings (including allegory) as legitimate reading strategies for this book. For those interested in the Song the video is worth the viewing time. The video runs an hour and forty-two minutes. Each was allotted approximately 20 minutes. A Q&A with the audience followed.
The office next to mine now sits empty. My dear friend and colleague, Rod Decker, has been called to his savior this past Sunday morning. His gain is my loss.
Rod was the consummate NT scholar, brilliant thinker and committed churchmen. He was a model seminary professor who invested in his students through his scholarship, classroom teaching and in the individual lives of his students. His greatest joy was teaching and his greatest disappointment was when cancer took him out of the classroom. Rod’s teaching was not confined to the seminary classroom. For years he taught adult SS at his church.
Rod’s teaching impact will live on through his students and publications; however, we have lost the man whose humble character and dogged devotion to the Word drove his life and teaching ministry. He will be sorely missed.
Our friendship was formed in joint ministry and the crucible of suffering. His was an aggressive form of cancer; mine Trigeminal Neuralgia. He always believed that I had the more difficult path since my disease would not take my life, but his would! And he knew (barring a miracle) he would be delivered from his suffering much sooner than me. This sentiment expressed Rod’s heart: he always cared about others more than himself, always deflected praise and always gave God glory. Now he is enjoying the presence of the One who he so diligently taught others to know and love.
I have been toying with the concept for some time now but have been reluctant to give it voice. That is until I found an author who expressed in writing what I have been thinking. The concept is how we as Christians process grief over the loss of a loved one. I have been theologically and emotionally uncomfortable as of late with the Christian memorial service. Leslie Allen, in his book, A Liturgy of Grief: A Pastoral Commentary on Lamentations (Baker, 2011), seems to agree: “Now a funeral service may be reduced to an ostensibly more healthy form of a celebration of life” (5). The funeral service where grief was expected and approved has been replaced by the “Christian” memorial service. It is in this setting that grief is set aside to joyously remember the LIFE of the recently departed—many times within the same week! To show grief seems to be out of step with this “more healthy” ceremony since one is to “remember the good things” and not dwell on the terrible fact that a loved one is dead and now you are alone. I would suggest there is no health gained by “skipping” grief. The Lament Psalms give biblical proof of the need to give voice to our pain.
I was at a “memorial” service a year or so ago. The person who led the service actually addressed the audience with this opening remark, “It is time to move on.” Not a week before a young couple had just lost a baby!—I doubt they were ready to move on. They probably wondered why time moved at all.
We have become averse to grief—even as Christians. I wonder if we have Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians out of balance (1 Thess 4:13). Are we interpreting “…that you may not grieve, as do the rest…” as an imperative not to grieve at all? Or do we believe that grieving is a sign of spiritual immaturity, a demonstration of a lack of faith in God? Neither is true, since Jesus grieved over the death of his friend even though he knew he was going to raise him from the dead in a few moments! Allen rightly observes, “Contemporary Western culture provides little space for grief (Ibid.).
And if one is overcome with grief and it spills out (whether there is space for it or not), the sufferer is immediately soothed with such miserable clichés as, “It will be all right” or “You’ll get over it.” Neither statement is true. Loss it not something that is “all right” or something to get over. Loss is something one learns to live with. It is adapting to absence—in every aspect of life. But in learning to live with loss there must be opportunity to rail against the absence (and that, not alone). Unfortunately, it does not seem that the contemporary Christian “memorial service” is such a venue for grieving.
Last fall Rod Decker (his blog here) and I shared a chapel at the seminary (see blog post for Nov 25 for the transcript) where we explained our personal journeys when life does not work out quite the way one had expected :). During the Q&A session, one question Rod fielded went something like, “How do you prepare for being diagnosed and living with terminal cancer?” Rod observed that one does not prepare for such an outcome. But in the living out of that diagnosis what one truly believe becomes readily apparent.
I just finished reading, You Gotta Keep Dancin: In the Midst of Life’s Hurt You Can Choose Joy, by Tim Hansel. Tim lives with chronic pain after a tragic climbing accident. In his book he writes: “All of our theology must eventually become biography” (41).
Tim word smiths Rod’s sentiment. Our theology, what we truly believe about God and ourselves, becomes readily apparent to others when life crashes down, when life disappoints. It is at these times especially that our theology is clearly read in the woof and warp of our lives. A “good” theology writes episodes which trusts God even in the deepest pain. A “poor” theology reveals chapters of railing against God, against what he allows in life. While most will never have biographies written about us, it is true nonetheless: what we believe about God in the midst of pain is the construction material that forms our individual lives—thus our biographies. The only question that remains is will one’s biography expose “good” or “poor” theology.
My colleague, Alan Ingalls, has a very good post on Hebrew idioms at this blog. It is well worth the read and his sage advice is worth following–if one wants to handle the OT well in the pulpit.