Ezekiel Sees the Risen Jesus!

And above the firmament over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form. And upward from what had the appear­ance of his loins I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezek 1:26-28)

A figure of a human being who is the glory of the LORD. Who else can this figure be but the LORD himself—the same LORD who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exod 3), the same who permitted Moses to see the backside of his glory (Exod 33). Yet here he appears in human form, brilliantly shining in the divine splendor. It seems a bit odd, given the emphatic biblical insistence upon the radical difference between Creator and creatures; yet anthropic theophany, while unusual, is not unknown. In the Book of Daniel, for example, God images himself as the Ancient of Days:

His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. (7:9-10)

Daniel’s vision raises interesting questions, particularly with reference to the Ancient of Days, to which we will return below. The question before us now is: who is the figure in Ezekiel’s vision? Robert W. Jenson gives a straightforward (some might say too straight­forward) answer: he is Jesus of Nazareth! Yes, you heard me right. Ezekiel, declares Jenson, was visited by a man who would not be born for another 600 years. How this can be is the explanatory task of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

Jenson’s begins his theological exegesis with a discussion of “glory” (kabod):

Ezekiel’s concept of “the glory of the Lord” (כבוד־יהוה, kabod yhwh) is specific to him and central to his discourse. In biblical Hebrew, kabod is initially “weight,” in both literal and metaphorical uses. Taken metaphorically of persons, it has much the same meaning as “weight” does in some English uses, as in “he carries a lot of weight in the group,” or indeed as English “glory” itself does in “he deserved all the glory.” A person’s kabod is the intrinsic demand for honor that his or her personal presence makes. The presence of the Lord is then infinite kabod. (Ezekiel, p. 42)

When the holy Transcendence reveals himself to human beings, what form might he take? Weight melds with light: “In Ezekiel and the tradition in which he stands, advents of the Lord occur as light theophanies, displays of godhead in brilliant color, in fire and lightning” (p. 42). The divine presence is expressed in brilliant luminance. We may think of the impact upon us when suddenly confronted with a blinding light. We feel its blazing weight and are forced to close our eyes or turn away. Recall the LORD‘s response to Moses’ request to see his glory: “But you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” (Exod 33:20). Pure divinity is too bright, too shattering, too overwhelming for human beings to safely perceive. For our sake it must be mediated. Jenson elaborates:

For the glory of the Lord to be present in the temple or at Chebar is, therefore, for the Lord to be there himself. But it simultane­ously holds that his presence must be somehow mediated; it remains that no one can directly encounter naked deity and live (Exod. 33:20). It follows from these two propositions together that God can be present only by a mediator of his presence and that this mediator must neverthe­­less be the same God that he is. We have already seen that God both is himself present in the temple and is there as the glory of God. (p. 42)

The ineffable God reveals himself in his glory. The genitive is crucial: the divine glory does not exist as an accidental property; it is the glory of the LORD, distinct from him and yet somehow identical to him. The same grammatical construction holds with other divine realities: “the angel of the LORD, the name of the LORD, the Word of the LORD. They are related to God and yet inseparable from his being. Jenson explains: “The glory of the Lord—and the angel and so on—are the Lord as himself a persona within a narrative of which he is simultaneously the author” (p. 306). Jewish exegesis would later come to identify this glory with the Shekinah, the divine presence. Christian exegesis, however, requires a further move: namely, the identification of the mediating other as God’s only begotten Son:

The doctrine of the Trinity brings these phenomena to conceptual state­ment: for God to be present, in the temple or elsewhere, is for him to be present as an other than he—remember always the genitive in “glory of the Lord”—yet as an other that is the same God that he is. In the terminology of developed trinitarian theology, for God to be present anywhere—even to himself—is for him to be a second “person” of himself. In the temple or by Chebar or in St. Thomas Church on a Sunday, or even at the place he is for himself, God is there for us—and for himself—as a second identity of the same one God. So far the general teaching of the church fathers. Thus the appearance over the throne can be none other than this “God the Son,” the second person of God. (p. 42)

Ezekiel sees Jesus? Yes, exactly. Of course, the prophet is incapable of recognizing the human figure as Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus has not yet been born—but if we think that this poses a problem for the risen Christ, then we understand neither divine eternity (which of course we don’t) nor Pascha (only a little). But the Church Fathers, as well as iconogra­phers and ancient hymnodists, knew differently. As St Gregory the Great writes in his commentary on Ezekiel:

We should observe how the order is maintained: above the living beings is the firmament, above the firmament is the throne, and above the throne a man is delineated. For above holy men still living in … the body are the angels, and above the angels are superior angelic powers closer to God, and above the powers is … the man Christ Jesus.” (p. 43; also see “The Real Presence of the Son Before Christ”)

Two dogmatic claims underlie Gregory’s identification of the theophanic man with the Nazarene (p. 43):

  • “The second person of the Trinity is the perfect and complex word and image of God and is just so identical in deity with the Father.”
  • “God the Son and Jesus of Nazareth are but one ‘hypostasis.’”

Unpacking the two propositions is beyond the scope of this article. The key is to think them together, remembering that the Church’s Trinitarian dialectics are always about the man Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, raised from death on the third day and exalted to the right hand of the Father, not some abstract metaphysical entity. Jesus Christ is both Word and Image of the Father. In him the Father has spoken such a perfect Word that “any difference in being between speaker and speech—ineluc­table with creatures—disappears”; in him, the Father has so perfectly mirrored himself “that there is nothing to his [i.e., the Son’s] being but the Father he reflects” (p. 43). We are thus driven to the theological conclusion and exegetical rule: “Therefore the person who speaks or shows himself in any theophany of the Old Testament must be this God the Son, God the word, God the second person of God” (p. 42).

Yet we still wonder: How can the figure in Ezekiel’s vision be Jesus of Nazareth? Here Jenson takes a surprising Byzantine turn. He invokes the transfiguration of Christ and asks whether the glory the disciples beheld was created or uncreated:

There is another biblical scene of a human figure shining with divine glory; and on this occasion the figure is straightforwardly identified as a man, and indeed as Jesus (Mark 9:2–8 and parallels). On the mountain of transfigura­tion the disciples are in decisive ways in the position of Ezekiel: under extreme circumstances they see the figure of a man shining with God’s glory. The difference is that the disciples know this man from before, so that identification as this man and so as truly a man is not problematic.

To be sure, Western theology has tended to domesticate the scene by denying that the glory with which the transfigured Jesus shone was God’s own glory, the divine kabod. It was, Western theologians have argued, a “created” light, that is, a radiance of the human body in its proper human perfection, a beauty that is enabled only by God’s grace but that never­theless fulfills a possibility of our created nature. Eastern theology, however, has steadfastly maintained that the “Tabor light” was “uncreated,” that this human’s brilliance on the mountain was the very glory of Christ’s divinity, perma­nently beyond created possibilities, yet really “communicated” to the creature Jesus. In my judgment, the Easterners are in the biblical right of it. (p. 44)

Just as the divine figure of Ezekiel’s vision radiates the divine glory, so does Jesus on Mount Tabor. Jesus reveals to his disciples who he truly is and will be in his glorification—the incarnate Son of God. We might call it a resurrection appearance ahead of time, or as Jenson puts it: “the figure of Jesus on the mountain anticipates his own future as the risen and glorified one” (p. 44). In this respect the Transfiguration differs from the Ezekelian theophany. But let’s conjecture with Jenson a bit further. Might we not think of the theophany as an eschatological preview and “visionary anticipation of the waking anticipation on Tabor” (p. 45)?

I promised a brief comment on the theophany given to Daniel. Who is the Ancient of Days? Several of the earliest patristic witnesses identify the Ancient of Days as God the Father. Hippolytus, for example, states that for Daniel the figure is “nothing more than the Lord, God and Master of All, the Father of Christ himself” (quoted by Gretchen McKay, “Daniel’s Vision of the Ancient of Days,” p. 141). This reading makes good typological sense, given the appearance of the “son of man” in Dan 7:7: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” The identification of the son of man with Christ is made explicit in Rev 14:14: “Then I looked, and lo, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.” Thus interpreted, the Ancient of Days became the basis for representations of God the Father in 2nd millennium New Testament Trinity icons. In the post-Nicene Church, on the other hand, writers began to identify the Ancient of Days as Christ himself. St John of Damascus comments: “Daniel saw a type and image of what was to be in the future, that is, the invisible Son and Word of God was to become truly man so He could be united with our nature” (On Divine Images 3.26). This identification became normative in the hymnograph­ical traditon (see Bogdan Bucur, “The Son of Man and the Ancient of Days”). St Romanos the Melodist’s 2nd Kontakion for the Feast of Theophany is particularly illuminating:

Let us all raise our eyes to God in heaven, as we cry like Jeremiah: The One who appeared on earth, this is our God, who also willingly lived among men (cf. Bar 3:38), and underwent no change, who showed himself in different shapes to the prophets, whom Ezekiel contemplated like the form of a man on the fiery chariot, and Daniel as a son of man and ancient of days, proclaim­ing the ancient and the young to be one Lord: The One who appeared and enlightened all things.

“According to Romanos, then,” Bucur writes, “Daniel 7 proclaims one Lord—specifically, the one-who-would-be-incarnate, Jesus Christ—simultaneously young and old, son of man and ancient of days: ἀνθρώπου ὑιὸν καὶ παλαιὸν ἡμερῶν, τὸν ἀρχαῖον καὶ νέον ἕνα Κύριον” (p. 12). The Christological identification generated the Ancient of Days icons, such as the above-left icon from St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai (7th c.).

In the spirit of Jenson, I raise a point of clarification. From Ezekiel’s standpoint and perspective in historical time, the Word had not yet become flesh—hence it is meaningful to refer to him as “one-who-would-be-incarnate”—but from the perspective of atemporal Divinity, the Word is eternally enfleshed as Jesus of Nazareth. The Incarnation, we might say, is an atemporal fact. Christian faith has no interest in a logos asarkos, and this is true whether divine eternity is construed apophatically or eschatologically. The risen and glorified Jesus of Nazareth is the revelatory subject of the Old Testament theophanies. Every theophany is Christophany.

(cont)

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“But now the Holy Spirit was manifested to all in His own Person through the tongues of fire”

When the fiftieth day after the Resurrection had come, the day we now commemorate, all the disciples were gathered with one accord in the upper room, each having also gathered together his thoughts (for they were devoting themselves intently to prayer and hymns to God). “And suddenly”, says Luke the Evangelist, “there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:1-11). This is the sound which the Prophetess Hannah foretold when she received the promise concerning Samuel: “The Lord went up to heaven and thundered; and he shall give strength and exalt the horn of his anointed” (cf. 1 Sam. 2:10 Lxx). Elias’ vision also forewarned of this sound: “Behold the voice of a light breeze, and in it was the Lord” (cf. 1 Kgs.19:12 Lxx). This “voice of a light breeze” is the sound of breath. You might also find a reference to it in Christ’s Gospel. According to John the Theologian and Evangelist, “In the last day, that great day of the feast”, that is to say Pentecost, “Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive” (John 7:37-39). Again, after His Resurrection He breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). 2/8

That cry of Christ prefigured this sound, and His breathing upon the disciples foretold the breath, which is now poured down abundantly from above and resounds with a great voice heard far and wide, summoning everything under heaven, pouring grace over all who approach with faith and filling them with it. It is forceful in that it is all-conquering, storms the ramparts of evil, and destroys all the enemy’s cities and strongholds. It brings low the proud and lifts up the humble in heart, binds what should not have been loosed, breaks the bonds of sins and undoes what is held fast. It filled the house where they were sitting, making it a spiritual font, and accomplishing the promise which the Saviour made them when He ascended, saying, “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). Even the name which He gave them proved to be true, for through this noise from heaven the Apostles actually became sons of Thunder (cf. Mark 3:17). “And there appeared unto them”, it says, “cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:3-4).

Those miracles accomplished by the Lord in the flesh, which bore witness that He was God’s only-begotten Son in His own Person, united with us in the last days, came to an end. On the other hand, those wonders began which proclaimed the Holy Spirit as a divine Person in His own right, that we might come to know and contemplate the great and venerable mystery of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit had been active before: it was He Who spoke through the prophets and proclaimed things to come. Later He worked through the disciples to drive out demons and heal diseases. But now He was manifested to all in His own Person through the tongues of fire, and by sitting enthroned as Lord upon each of Christ’s disciples, He made them instruments of His power.

Why did He appear in the form of tongues? It was to demonstrate that He shared the same nature as the Word of God, for there is no relationship closer than that between word and tongue. It was also because of teaching, since teaching Christ’s Gospel needs a tongue full of grace. But why fiery tongues? Not just because the Spirit is consubstantial with the Father and the Son – and our God is fire (cf. Heb. 12:29), a fire consuming wickedness – but also because of the twofold energy of the Apostles’ preaching, which can bring both benefit and punishment. As it is the property of fire to illuminate and burn, so Christ’s teaching enlightens those who obey but finally hands over the disobedient to eternal fire and punishment. The text says, “tongues like fire” not “tongues of fire”, that no one might imagine it was ordinary physical fire, but that we might understand the manifestation of the Spirit using fire as an example. Why did the tongues appear to be divided among them? Because the Spirit is given by measure by the Father to all except Christ (John 3:34), Who Himself came from above. He, even in the flesh, possessed the fullness of divine power and energy, whereas the grace of the Holy Spirit was only partially, not fully, contained within anyone else. Each one obtained different gifts, lest anyone should suppose the grace given to the saints by the Holy Spirit was theirs by nature.

St Gregory Palamas

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“Something is over. In the deepest levels of my existence something is finished, done. My life is divided into before and after”

The world looks different now. The pinks have become purple, the yellows brown. Mountains now wear crosses on their slopes. … Something is over. In the deepest levels of my existence something is finished, done. My life is divided into before and after. A friend of ours whose husband died young said it meant for her that her youth was over. My youth was already over. But I know what she meant. Something is over.

Especially in places where he and I were together this sense of something being over washes over me. It happens not so much at home, but other places. A moment in our lives together of special warmth and intimacy and vividness, a moment when I specially prized him, a moment of hope and expectancy and openness to the future: I remember the moment. But instead of lines of memory leading up to his life in the present, they all enter a place of cold inky blackness and never come out. The book slams shut. The story stops, it doesn’t finish. The future closes, the hopes get crushed. And now instead of those shiny moments being things we can share together in delighted memory, I, the survivor, have to bear them alone.

So it is with all memories of him. They all lead into that blackness. It’s all over, over, over. All I can do is remember him. I can’t experience him. The person to whom these memories are attached is no longer here with me, standing up. He’s only in my memory now, not in my life. Nothing new can happen between us. Everything is sealed tight, shut in the past. I’m still here. I have to go on. I have to start over. But this new start is so different from the first. Then I wasn’t carrying this load, this thing that’s over.

Sometimes I think that happiness is over for me. I look at photos of the past and immediately comes the thought: that’s when we were still happy. But I can still laugh, so I guess that isn’t quite it. Perhaps what’s over is happiness as the fundamental tone of my existence. Now sorrow is that.

Sorrow is no longer the islands but the sea.

Nicholas Wolterstorff

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“Death has picked him out, not love. Death has made him special”

Was he special? Did I love him more—more than his sister and brothers? When they see my tears, do they think I loved him more?

I visualize the appallingly cruel choice with which Hitler’s henchmen faced Jewish parents: select one of your children for salvation or let all perish. What would I have done? If a parent loved one of her children more, she would pick that one–or would she avoid picking that one, out of blended love and guilt?

I think I would have been immobilized. I love them equally though differently. None is special; or rather, each is special. Each has an inscape in which I delight. I celebrate them all and love them each.

Death has picked him out, not love. Death has made him special. He is special in my grieving. When I give thanks, I mention all five; when I lament, I mention only him. Wounded love is special love, special in its wound. Now I think of him every day; before, I did not. Of the five, only he has a grave.

Nicholas Wolterstorff

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“What is it that makes the death of a child so indescribably painful?”

What is it that makes the death of a child so indescribably painful? I buried my father and that was hard. But nothing at all like this. One expects to bury one’s parents; one doesn’t expect–not in our day and age–to bury one’s children. The burial of one’s child is a wrenching alteration of expectations.

But it’s more than that. I feel the more but cannot speak it. A child comes into the world weak and vulnerable. From the first minutes of its life, we protect it. It comes into the world without means of sustenance. Immediately we the parents give it of our own. It begins to display feelings and thoughts and choices of its own. We celebrate those and out of our own way of being-in-the-world try to shape and direct and guide them. We give of ourselves to the formation of this other, from helplessness to independence, trying our best to match our mode of giving to the maturing of the child–our giving maturing with the child’s maturing. We take it on ourselves to stay with this helpless infant all the way so that it has a future, a future in which we can delight in its delight and sorrow in its sorrow. Our plans and hopes and fears are plans and hopes and fears for it. Along the way we experience the delights and disappointments of watching that future take shape, from babblings to oratory, from flounderings to climbings, from dependence to equality.

And now he’s gone. That future which I embraced to myself has been destroyed. He slipped out of my arms. For twenty-five years I guarded and sustained and encouraged him with these hands of mine, helping him to grow and become a man of his own. Then he slipped out and was smashed.

Nicholas Wolterstorff

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Funeral Homily for Aaron Edward Kimel

Delivered by his father
22 June 2012

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Introduction

Not once have I ever entertained the possibility that I would ever find myself in this moment, preaching at the funeral of one of my children.

I stand here today not to offer a eulogy for my son Aaron. There will be other opportunities for such eulogies, as we each seek to find healing for our loss and to understand the tragic decision of Aaron to end his life.

My purpose, rather, is to offer an argument. Aaron was brilliant. He loved a good argument, and he usually won. Aaron and I did not often speak about God. At some point in high school he moved into a scientific materialism from which he would not be moved. He was not a militant atheist, as he acknowledged that it was possible, however unlikely, that God might exist; but he simply could not, would not, embrace a Christian worldview. Yet for the sake of family, he always said grace with us at dinnertime.

I am not a philosopher. There is no argument I can offer that Aaron could not demolish in five seconds flat. I stand before you as a priest of the Church for over thirty years. But most importantly I stand before you as a bereaved father, who has been utterly devastated by the death of his beloved son.

Aaron’s death has been a traumatic—and clarifying—event for me. I see reality more sharply, more clearly than I have ever seen it before. I stand before you, therefore, either as a madman … or a prophet of God Almighty. I cannot judge. You must be my judge. God will most certainly be my judge.

Nihilism

Aaron did not believe in God. He did not believe in transcendent reality. He did not believe in a life beyond the grave. Life has no ultimate meaning or significance. After death there is only nothing.

In Aaron’s room I found my old copy of the short stories of Ernest Hemingway. I do not know when he borrowed it. Perhaps he read the story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” In this story we read the prayer of nihilism:

Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.

It is a relentlessly bleak, hopeless view. Despair is its only conclusion.

Aaron was a man who lived in profound interior pain. He had come to the conclusion that nothing in this world, neither medicine nor psychiatry nor career nor even the love of his family could deliver him from the despair and futility that had possessed and paralyzed him. And so he made what seemed, to him, to be the logical choice.

A logical choice … if, and only if, Aaron’s worldview is true. If Aaron is right, then he has indeed found relief from his suffering, relief in nothingness, relief in nada, nada, nada. We who have been left behind must now suffer the repercussions of Aaron’s decision; but he at least he is at peace … if Aaron is right …

The Christian Alternative

But there is an alternative. Consider the possibility that there really is a divine Creator, a transcendent deity of infinite love who has brought the world into being from out of nothing. Consider the possibility that this Creator has made human beings in his image in such a way that we can only find our supreme happiness in communion with him. Consider the possibility that this God has actually entered into his creation, taking upon himself the limitations of humanity, including even suffering and death, precisely to restore us to himself and incorporate us into his divine life. Consider the possibility that for us this God died a cruel and horrific death on Calvary and rose to indestructible life on Easter morning, destroying the power of death once and for all and opening history to the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, a future where “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

God is Love, for he is eternally the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The world springs from love and will be consummated in love. In the words of St Isaac the Syrian:

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love does he guide it during its temporal existence; in love is he going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of him who has performed all these things.

It may all sound too good to be true. It may all sound like a an old wives’ tale. But it meets Aaron’s objections head on. Life is not nothingness. Life is not absurd. God is good and wills only our good. God is love and his love will triumph. There is thus genuine hope for liberation, healing, transformation, rebirth, both in this world and in the coming kingdom.

This is the Christian faith in which Aaron was raised yet which he eventually found to be unpersuasive. The empiricist worldview which dominates our culture increasingly renders the Christian worldview implausible, and the whole world consequently suffers from the despair of nihilism.

I cannot, will not acquiesce to Aaron’s agnosticism and its resignation to despair. I know something of the darkness that bound Aaron’s heart; but this tragedy has quickened my faith, and I pray that it will do so for you also.

One of my favorite books is C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is The Silver Chair. The children, along with the marsh-wiggle Puddleglum are captured by the Green Lady and taken into her underworld domain. She casts a spell upon them and attempts to persuade them that this dreary underworld is the real world, that everything that they remember about Narnia and the true world is but a dream. But Puddleglum stands fasts; he refuses to disbelieve:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

The Christian vision of reality is so much more real, more beautiful, more enchanting, and profoundly more true than any vision of reality offered by modern culture and the scientific worldview.

And so here is my first response to my son:

“Aaron, I do not know if you had retained your faith in Christ whether your pain would have been more bearable, but it might have given you grounds for hope, for a supernatural hope that the world cannot give.”

Aaron’s Hope

But what hope does my son now have? He is dead. He died an unbeliever. He died a suicide. This is the hard, terrible truth. Aaron would not want us to minimize the harshness of any of this. He knew Christine and I would find this very, very hard. In the old days, some preachers would have declared him damned. He certainly would not have been granted a church burial. Today we know more about depression and mental illness. We know how depression constrains and limits our existential freedom. Aaron did not kill himself with blasphemies on his lips. His suicide was not the culmination of a wicked life. It was an escape from a world that could not heal the sickness of his mind and bring relief from intolerable suffering. Aaron jumped to his death because he had lost all hope, because despair had possessed his being. This I believe to be true. And so I know that God will be merciful.

But even so, I wish to say something more. Not only will the eternal Father be merciful to my Aaron; but he will most assuredly heal his heart, deliver him from the bonds of darkness, and raise him into glorified life with Jesus Christ the eternal Son, with the Blessed Virgin Mary and with all the saints. Aaron will know the joy and bliss of the kingdom of God.

Despite his suicidal disbelief, Aaron will not be permitted to have the last word. The risen Christ reserves that word to himself, and it is a word of the absolute triumph of love and grace. By the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, Aaron will open his heart to the mercy and love of God. He will allow the Father to flood him with his holy light and liberate him from all despair. He will allow the Savior to bind his wounds and forgive his sins. He will allow the Spirit to fill his heart with joy and grace. Painful purification may be necessary—it is not easy thing to relinquish our self-will; it is not an easy thing to repent of one’s sins—but the grace of God will triumph in the heart of my son. This I declare in the name of Jesus. Amen. Amen.

Brought face to face with his Savior, can we entertain, even for one moment, the possibility that Aaron would hold out eternally against that unconditional love and mercy that is God the Holy Trinity? How could he? Did he not love his mother? Did he not love his siblings Alvin, Bredon, and Taryn? Did he not love his best friends Bryan, Jill, and Laura? Did he not love me, his broken father?

Brothers and sisters, there is no time limit on the unbounded love of God. It does not expire at the moment of death. God has created us for himself. In love Christ searches and searches for that one lost sheep and does not rest until he has found it and restored it to the fold.

Aaron’s ultimate salvation is revealed in the love I hold in my heart for my beloved son. In the words of the Scottish preacher George MacDonald: “Shall a man be more merciful than God? Shall, of all his glories, his mercy alone not be infinite? Shall a brother love a brother more than The Father loves a son?—more than The Brother Christ loves his brother?”

God forbid! God’s love infinitely surpasses our love for Aaron. God will find a way to awaken faith and repentance in his heart. Divine love will conquer both obstinacy and despair. “God’s mercifulness,” as St Isaac writes, “is far more extensive than we can conceive.”

I will not be saved without my Aaron. There can be no heaven for me without my son. My love for him is too great. He is too much a part of my life, my identity. We will be saved together in Christ. God will make it so.

And so, my brothers and sisters, I bid you to give thanks for the life that was, and is, Aaron Edward Kimel.

I bid you to pray for my son. Pray that God will forgive his sins, heal his brokenness, and renew his heart and soul in the life and glory of the Holy Spirit.

And I bid you to hope for Aaron’s eternal salvation with confident and indomitable hope. He will be restored to us in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and we will be restored to him. Our love will not be broken; our love is not broken. The infinite, unfathomable grace of God will triumph. God is good. God is merciful. God is love.

Let me close with the famous words of the 13th century English mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich:

All shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well.

Amen.

.

Aaron Edward Kimel died by suicide on 15 June 2012. He was 32 years old. He is grievously missed every day, every hour, every minute. He was a joy to each of us. A very special and gifted man. Brilliant, dry sense of humor, peacemaker, a lover of classic rock, expert on Marvel comic books, passionate Redskins’ fan, nerd. Please remember Aaron in your prayers today. May he rest in peace.

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Wolfhart Pannenberg: The Most Interesting Theologian in the World

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