Death of a Friend

My dear friend, Harry Hoffner, died the other day. Our prayers go out to his sweet wife, Wini, and their family. Harry has been a good friend ever since he examined me for ordination ten years ago. At the top of my email inbox is an email from Harry, which I recently received. It was on the subject of death.Birth and death enclose our present as a sort of parenthesis, inevitable brackets that say hello and goodbye. Even for the most vigorous among us, death patiently waits. We may not be able to see our hearse from our current vantage point, but we can be assured, the door is open. Pretty soon we will duck our heads and enter.There is something fundamentally wrong about death. The Apostle Paul described death as an enemy, “The last enemy to be destroyed.” It is the enemy of God, of man made in God’s image, and of all our plans.

Jesus wept in the face of death near the graveside of his friend Lazarus. This would not be the last time Jesus expressed such anguish. On the night before his execution, it says that Jesus’ soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. And on the cross, Christ exclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although God incarnate, Jesus nevertheless shared our anguish, sorrow and grief. Through Jesus’ atoning death, we have life.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” What could God possibly be saying through the death of a friend? I’ll think I hear what God is saying to me.

“Go to the source.” I have heard these words out of Harry’s mouth dozens of times. When he examined me for ordination, he responded to every one of my questions, “What is the source, Chris?” In other words, “Where in Scripture do you find that idea?” In working on my doctoral thesis and in preparation for my defense, “What is the source, Chris?” Harry continually pressed me toward the proper (original, not secondary) source. And most of all, Harry’s godly example, directed me to the Ultimate Source, that is, the Triune God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. While most of the world will perhaps remember Harry as a world-class scholar from the University of Chicago, I will remember him as a man who showed me by his faithful life that Jesus lived, died, and lives forevermore—the Savior who provides humanity a reason to live. Thanks, Harry.


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