Ruminations from Delhi

Peri and I are laying around in our New Delhi hotel resting up after our travels and ministry in India. We’re getting ready for the long haul back home at 1:00 AM tonight — a journey across two continents and an ocean. We’re looking forward to being back at Word of Life this weekend. We began our morning with a couple of room service cappuccinos and watching the latest episode of The Office online. Living the high life!

Last night I started reading an Indian novel — The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize). My favorite novels are those which don’t merely tell a good story, but explore important ideas through the art of story. I suppose that’s why Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are my favorites writers — they don’t just tell stories, they grapple with big ideas. As far as I’m concerned Fyodor Dostoevsky is really a theologian disguised as the greatest novelist ever. Well, anyway, I started Desai’s novel and came across this sentence.

“Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss?”

That line made me think. And as the author implies, I agree, the answer is no. We really do seem to feel loss more intensely than fulfillment. Does our subconscious awareness of this drive our insatiable appetite for achievement and acquisition? Are we engaging in a desperate bid to stave off the inevitable pain of loss? Perhaps. And if this were the final statement on the matter, life would indeed be, as Solomon’s cynical poem suggests, an exercise in futility.

“There is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all…madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” -Ecclesiastes 9:3

Solomon then goes on to identify the source of the madness which characterizes so much of our living.

“For the living know that they will die.” -Ecclesiastes 9:5

The madness of living lies in the certain knowledge of death — the ultimate loss and the bitter fruit of wanting to know too much (see Genesis 2:17).

Ignorance is bliss. Or more truly stated, bliss is ignorance.

Yes, fulfillment can never be felt as deeply as loss.

My friend Gary Glunt made this observation.

“There are interesting sociological, psychological and even biological factors (related to some very primitive areas of the brain) that individually and in concert predispose us to feel loss at a greater level than we do gain.”

Something in the human sociological, psychological and biological makeup prevents us from ever feeling fulfillment as deeply as loss. The deck is stacked against us. So we either don’t think about it and party on (“madness and folly” Solomon calls it) or we screw up our courage and face it. I think some of the best art comes from the daring attempt to look the inevitability of loss, and ultimately death, square in the face.

When we are younger we tend to be cavalier about loss, but as we grow older we perhaps grow wiser (if less cheerful).

So a twenty-five year old Bob Dylan sang,

When you ain’t got nothing
You got nothing to lose

But a fifty-six year old Dylan changed his tune,

When you think that you’ve lost everything
You find out you can always lose a little more

Cheery stuff, huh?

Yet as I write this I’m not depressed. I’m really not. But it’s not because I’ve managed to become ignorant enough to find some cheap bliss or employed enough madness and folly to enable me to temporarily forget the inevitable. No, it’s something else.


Can fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Yes, but only in resurrection.

As far as I’m concerned it’s either Nietzsche or the resurrected Christ. If Christ is not risen from the dead, Nietzsche simply told the truth better and more bravely than anyone else. Of course the truth sans resurrection is the path to madness.

If death has the last word, life is at best a cruel joke we can enjoy until we find out the joke is on us.

If God’s creation is ever to recover the designation of “good”, death must be defeated.

And this is precisely what I believe God accomplished in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is far more than a happy ending to an interesting story. It is even more than the vindication of the good guy. It is the one thing that is necessary for life to be invested with meaning. And because I believe in the resurrection of the Son of God as the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead and the restoration of all things, I can be legitimately hopeful. I can honestly believe that in the end loss will not be felt more deeply than fulfillment. Amen!

And here is a moment of irony. The best thing I have ever read on resurrection is N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope.* I read most of Surprised By Hope in 2008 right where I am at this moment: Poolside at the Orchid Hotel in New Delhi, India. (We’ve moved poolside since I started this blog. Yes, it’s a leisurely day.) And dear blog reader, with everything that is in me I would implore you to do yourself a huge favor and read that book!

(*Actually Surprised By Hope is the second best thing I’ve read on resurrection. The best is Wright’s eight hundred page masterpiece, The Resurrection of the Son of God. But I don’t have much hope that many laymen are going to attempt to tackle this book.)

So two books. The same hotel. The Inheritance of Loss and Surprised By Hope.

That pretty much sums up the choice set before the human race.

Can fulfillment be felt more deeply than loss?

Yes. Be surprised by hope!