As children of God and joint heirs with Christ we cling to the promise of the hope of glory, and we take great comfort in knowing that our brother, David, is with his Lord and Savior already. This is a wonderful truth to ponder even as we grieve an extremely painful loss.
— Derek Halverson, president, Covenant College
By David Tulis
The death of David Taaffe, a Chattanooga-area college student, in a climbing accident in Switzerland casts a shadow over the day’s events. The account of the Monday death of this Spanish major at Covenant seems like a small detail easily overlooked but for the remark made about his soul.
President Barak Obama’s visit to Chattanooga next week dominated Page A1 of the local newspaper. A federal house vote to continue funding for a National Security Agency program to spy on every American was made amid a dissent by local Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who voted against his better judgment but in accordance with the will of the people. Here in Chattanooga among commoners, I occupied myself interviewing Lori Carter, a homesteader mom homeschooling the last of her six children atop Lookout Mountain, a girl named Camilla, 15, who testified on behalf of chickens before the city council.
Beyond the shadows of doings great and small stands the story of Mr. Taaffe, 20. He’d been a soccer player who had gone to high school at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville. He had been a resident assistant who would have been in his junior year this fall. He was killed near Interlaken, alone after having parted ways with two companions.
The remark by Dr. Halverson was the only thing I’d seen all day in the news cycle that touched on the simple, profound truths of Christianity. There exists on the earth a people who are “the children of God.” By implication, there are others who are not. They are “joint heirs with Christ.” By implication, others are not members of the family, and not in line for the inheritance of present and eternal mercy. Dr. Halverson says “we cling to the promise of the hope of glory,” which tells of the Christian’s existence upon the earth but a spiritual presence before the throne of God, where souls dwell in eternity. Glory exists from and in God, and from our fallen estate we hope to attain that glory, and in the holy scriptures men find the promise of that hope. Dr. Halverson’s phrase suggests that a relationship with God is important, but is not obtained by any sort of mechanical, ritual or procedural means. This hope of glory the Christian sees through promises. It lies somewhere ahead, visible but invisible, and even among committed Christians attained by believing an invisible God who is perceived by faith.
The Christian narrative of any man’s death reminds us of the terrifying antithesis of the sovereignty of God in the affairs of men. He does as He pleases, and is a Potter accountable to no vessel of clay. The wheat fields are glorious, but the tares will be burned. The invitees of the king refuse to come, so strangers are brought to his table. The proud Pharisee condescends to pray to God but a tax collector sits on a back row, head bowed. In the accounting of a young man’s death, there is also a genuine appreciation of God’s welcoming home His sons and daughters, fallen, but redeemed sacrificially.
The good professor says “we take great comfort in knowing that our brother, David, is with his Lord and savior already.” Confidence of this kind is supported not by a vain hope on behalf of Mr. Taaffe, by religiousity, spiritual cant or traditions, but by the living evidence of his Christian faith. This evidence is the fruit of Mr. Taaffe’s convictions as a Christian for which he is recalled. His fruits, as the book of James explains it, are his good works of mercy or self-denial — his sanctification, that daily work of increasing his holiness as a sinner saved by grace alone through faith in the atoning work of Christ, as the Christian church teaches.
“This is a wonderful truth to ponder even as we grieve an extremely painful loss,” Dr. Halverson says. The promise of the gospel has spread from 12 tribes from the loins of Abraham to every land in the world. Its great promise encompasses more tongues and places than ever, its claims upon the people who are the focus of the daily news cycles as powerful as ever, as irreconcileable as ever with the hubris, big talk and lawlessness of the mighty.