Nicholas Wolterstorff on the Neverness of Loss

While reading through Nicholas Wolterstorff’s powerful book Lament for a Son, I came across this moving description of how tragic loss leaves a hole that cannot be replaced. In this book Wolterstorff, who taught philosophy at Calvin College, the Free University in Amsterdam, Notre Dame, and Yale, chronicles his own journey through grief after the loss of his 25-year-old son, Eric, to a mountaineering accident.

These words helped put words to a loss our family is dealing with as my 21-year-old nephew died tragically just over three weeks ago. While we hold firmly to the faith-filled hope of eternity in Christ, we also wrestle with the painful reality of living without one we love so much. Wolterstorff gives a word for that which I find so real and fitting: the “neverness” of loss.

Gone from the face of the earth. I wait for a group of students to cross the street, and suddenly I think: He is not there. I go to a ballgame and find myself singling out the twenty-five-year olds; none of them is he. In all the crowds and streets and rooms and churches and schools and libraries and gatherings of friends in our world, on all the mountains, I will not find him. Only his absence.

Silence. ‘Was there a letter from Eric today?’ ‘When did Eric say he would call?’ Now only silence. Absence and silence.

When we gather now there’s always someone missing, his absence as present as our presence, his silence as loud as our speech. Still five children, but one always gone.

When we’re all together, we’re not all together.

It’s the neverness that is so painful. Never again to be here with us—never to sit with us at table, never to travel with us, never to laugh with us, never to cry with us, never to embrace us as he leaves for school, never to see his brothers and sister marry. All the rest of our lives we must live without him. Only our death can stop the pain of his death.

A month, a year, five years—with that I could live. But not this forever.

I step outdoors into the moist moldly fragrance of an early summer morning and arm in arm with my enjoyment comes the realization that never again will he smell this.

As a could vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return, he will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more. (Job 7:9-10)

One small misstep and now this endless neverness.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 14-15.

Grief: a poetic reflection

falling fast in a dark shaft
with no handholds or bottom below

cast out on rough seas alone
struggling to stay above the waves

walking ghostly among the corporeal world
or like the only fleshly body in a landscape of phantoms

nauseous stomach like something within needs to be expelled
yet empty inside with a sucking black hole fixed at the center

a multi-story building crashing down upon all around
scattering debris and forms unmade and unidentifiable

cold—ice cold—stripped bare in Arctic air
and burning in a waterless desert under a scalding sun

the numbness of all this existing inside
concurrently with everyday, ordinary life

Eastbrook at Home – June 27, 2021

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Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM.

We also continue our preaching series, “The Messiah’s Mission,” as Pastor Jim Caler preaches from Matthew 11:2-19 on the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist.

This series continues our extended journey through the Gospel of Matthew, which includes previous series “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” and “Becoming Real.”

Join in with the Eastbrook 365 daily devotional for this series here.

We also continue in-person services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, and you no longer need to RSVP ahead of time.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access the service directly via Vimeo, the Eastbrook app, or Facebook.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in your tithes and offerings to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

Living with the Right Kind of Fear

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

What are you afraid of? For me, one of my main fears over the years was the fear of heights.

For years I did what anyone would normally do when afraid of heights. I avoided leaning too far out from the side of cliffs and didn’t necessarily go to the viewing areas of tall buildings. But then my friend, Dale, was celebrating his 40th birthday and invited anyone who wanted to join him to go skydiving.

What better way to conquer a fear than to jump out of the side of an airplane thousands of feet above the earth? What could really go wrong? Well…a lot…but here I stand before you…a lot less afraid of heights than before.

Jesus says His people need to have the right kind of fear. Some of their fears, like the fear of physical suffering or fear of those in authorities, need to be reduced and put into perspective. Physical suffering is not good. Those with authority do often misuse their authority, and none of that is good. Jesus is not saying such things are good or even that they’re trivial. But He is saying that such troubles are not nearly as bad as facing not only physical but spiritual destruction in hell. In a sense, he’s saying we need to be afraid of the right things.

One theme throughout the Bible is that there is wrong fears and right fears. And the most important fear to have is an appropriate fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is not terror of God smiting us, but fitting reverence for who God is. Fear of the Lord should motivate us more than fear of suffering. To put it another way, our reverence for God should be stronger than our reverence for our own safety or for preserving our physical bodies.

When I consider this, I think of believers we are connected with who live in other parts of the world where religious persecution is real and regular. There are believers we know who are right now imprisoned for their faith. The outcome is unclear and the timing is undefined. They have endured hardship, sickness, and hunger while imprisoned. It is risky for others to bring them supplies, even in this situation. They trust themselves to God even in the face of their fears because God is bigger than their captors and their suffering.

And what about us? What do we fear in relation to our faith? What do we fear about sharing Jesus with others? What anxieties hold us back from asking someone if we can pray for them?

Jesus says that God knows us, even down to the number of hairs upon our head. Jesus says that God knows the sparrow, even when one drops dead to the ground.“So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). We need to fear the right things and trust the right things. Jesus says to the apostles, and through them to us, that we can rest in God’s care and focus our lives on appropriate reverence for God. This will help us have the right focus as we live our lives on mission for God in this world.

The Messiah Sends, part 2

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I continued our series entitled “The Messiah’s Mission,” by looking at Matthew 10:26-11:1. This is the second part of Jesus’ commissioning discourse which followed His calling of the twelve apostles. You may want to take a look at Nic Fridenmaker’s message from last week, which explores the first part of this teaching by Jesus.

Here, I talk about how Jesus sends His people out with the right focus, the right priorities, and the right end-goal.

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

Sent with the Right Kind of Fear (10:26-31)

  • Do not fear physical suffering
  • Do have appropriate fear of God
  • Living with real reverence and trust

Sent with the Right Kind of Priorities (10:32-39)

  • Acknowledging Jesus publicly in our lives
  • Loving Jesus more than anyone else
  • The reality of suffering in the disciple-life
  • Living to find real life

Sent for the Right Kind of Reward (10:40-42)

  • The reward of welcoming Jesus
  • The reward of welcoming Jesus’ people
  • Living for a real reward

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into Jesus’ call to mission in one or more of the following ways:

  • Consider memorizing Matthew 10:38-39
  • Take some time in prayer this week to consider what it means for you to take up your cross in pursuit of Jesus. What competing loves and allegiances do you need to lay down or put in their right place? In what specific ways might you need to step forward into true discipleship with Jesus?
  • In order to reflect more deeply on this passage, select one or more of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 10:26-42 to sketch, ink, or paint. As you do that, prayerfully reflect on Jesus’ calling on your own life.
  • Pray for yourself, your friends or family, your small group, and Eastbrook Church, that God would strengthen us as His people to walk with Him and join His mission.