Sunday, July 29, 2012

A token grief

I’m appalled to see that Ben Witherington has published a book about his daughter’s death. That, of itself, doesn’t leave me appalled. Writing reaction pieces in the heat of the moment can be therapeutic for the mourner.

What’s appalling is the publication date. This was published two months after she died. And we have to make allowance for the lag time between the time he sent the MS to the publisher, and the time it came out. Admittedly, the turn around time is shorter for an ebook. Even so, I assume the book was written barely a month after his daughter died.

So this is an instant grief manual. Yet surely the impact of his daughter’s death has yet to fully sink in. A loss like that has delayed effects as well as immediate effects. You can scarcely begin to process the loss a few weeks after the event. How can he give advice to other mourners at this stage in the process? Isn’t that unbearably shallow and shortsighted? Why not wait a few years?

Surely his daughter’s death merits more sustained reflection that the movie reviews he dashes off. Should this be just another rush-job, like so much of his output? 

Why the haste? Why the nonstop output? How can he just move on to the next series of projects without missing a beat?

Why maintain the frenetic pace of teaching, speaking, writing? Why not slow down? Take a break? Go on Sabbatical? Rent a cottage by the lake. Take his wife. Go for long walks in the woods. Or take a rowboat. Have quiet time for prayer. Mediation. Read devotionally. Be receptive to what God is teaching him in this experience.

Not everyone has that luxury. Lots of folks have to work long hours five or six days a week to pay the bills. But his schedule is more flexible.  He’s a workaholic by choice, not necessity. It’s not unusual for career-driven men to be self-absorbed. That’s something we need to resist.

Even if Witherington was something of an absentee husband and father, given his ambitious itinerary, imagine what his wife is going through. If not for himself, can’t he take extra time out of his hectic schedule for her, during this time of desolation and devastation? I’m reminded of something I recently read: Application is the whole purpose of biblical interpretation. Short of this goal the interpretive task is incomplete and risks reducing Scripture–however high our view–to an object to be mastered rather than a voice to be heeded.

Christian piety is ultimately about what we are, not what we do. About spiritual formation. Fostering a godly character.


  1. "something I recently read [quotation]"

    Were was that written?

  2. Merold Westphal, "The Philosophical/Theological Response," S. Porter & B. Stovell, eds. Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views (IVP 2012), 162-63.

  3. In case you're curious, if you go to the Google version of the book and input "application" in the search box, you can read the verbatim quote and surrounding context on pp162-63.

  4. I think the speed at which he produced the book is actually comforting to him because it's his way of affirming his belief that God wasn't the cause of his daughter's death. That God had nothing to do with it. Therefore there's no reason to take time out to try to discover any providential lesson that God might have to teach him through this tragedy. Any delay would be a denial (or at least a doubting) of his Arminian theodicy. Something which he knows could lead to his blaming and becoming bitter toward God. But that's just my guess.

  5. Since the Lord is everywhere, knows everything, and can do anything except sin, then at the very least the Lord permitted this sad event to occur. I cannot imagine any scenario where a Christian theologian actually says that God had "nothing" to do with it. Did Witherington actually say this?