The Dancing Puritan

Friday, February 8, 2013

Death and Friendship

The Inklings of Oxford were writers and friends. At the core of the group were C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. The group met twice a week to drink, eat, converse and to read aloud to one another. The first people to ever hear the Lord of the Rings and Screwtape Letters were the Inklings. Loud talk, laughter, analysis, debate and general discussion marked their gatherings. These men were bound together in common interests and mutual respect.

Yet as any of us know, friendship is not without it's trouble. To be close to a person is risky. A friend, once loyal, might desert us at the end. The Apostle Paul wrote of such a person, ...Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica...(2 Timothy 4:10). Those words did not easily roll off of the lips of Paul. To be abandoned by a friend is painful, to say the least.

The closest of companions may abandon or forsake us. Even if our friends never prove to be disloyal they are, like us, mortals.  David wrote in Psalm 27, For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in (10).

The word death means separation.  When a person dies they are separated from their body, from their family, from their work, from their possessions and from their friends.

Death invaded the Inklings. A girl, riding her bicycle near Oxford, was visibly upset when she cried out, Charles Williams is dead.

Warnie Lewis (brother of C.S.) wrote, I felt dazed and restless, and went out to get a drink.  There will be no more pints with Charles...the blackout has fallen, and the Inklings can never be the same again.

It is interesting what one thinks of at the death of a friend. Warnie Lewis immediately remembered the hours that he had spent with Charles Williams and the other Inklings at the Bird and Baby pub.  One of his first thoughts was, there will be no more pints with Charles. Nothing could, would or in fact should be the same when a friend dies.

C. S. Lewis spoke of his walk from the hospital to the Bird and Baby.  The Inklings were already there.  The very streets looked different said Lewis.

The death of a friend is not the end of meaning for those who remain. It is not the death of memories or influence. Lewis wrote to the widow Michal Williams: My friendship is not ended. His death has had the very unexpected effect of making death itself look quite different: I believe in the next life ten times more strongly than I did. He seems, in some indefinable way, to be all around us now.

The thoughts of Lewis are similar to those described by others who have experienced the death of a loved one. There is a sense in which the friend is still around, though invisible. Their influence lives on. The things that they have collected still exist. Buildings that they built, books that they wrote, mementos they have left behind--all point to the reality of the person. As the Bible says of righteous Able: By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks (Hebrews 11:4).

It is we, that are left behind, who are most vulnerable when a loved one dies. That is especially true of widows and orphans. That is one of the reasons the Bible mentions on several occasions that God cares for widows and orphans.  They, of all who are left, are the most fragile and the most needy for attention. Yet anyone, after the death of a friend, is vulnerable to loneliness and depression.

The person dying may also feel a profound sense of loneliness.  The Apostle Paul, near death, wrote from a cold and damp dungeon and revealed his desire for companionship. He wanted Timothy at his side. ...For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.  Do your best to come to me soon...(2 Timothy 4:6-9).

Do your best to come to me soon Paul wrote Timothy.  Though Paul had the confidence that soon he would be with the Lord. Though his deep conviction told him that being with Christ was far better than anything on the earth. He nevertheless wanted Timothy near him at the end of his earthly journey.

Nothing is the same when a friend dies.  Nothing.  But we must not fall into despair.  Paul wrote, to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21). To be with Christ is indeed far better than life here, but as long as we live we must work for the betterment of our friends.

When facing the heart-wrenching loss of a friend we must remember to live on. We must keep fighting the fight of faith. To live on with purpose after the death of a friend will require knowing God and embracing friendship.

Quotes about the Inklings (Williams, Tolkien, Lewis etc) are from the book: The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter.