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Richard Mouw

The Groves of Academe

Arguing About God, Arguing with God: Remembering Lew Smedes

We were planning a memorial service for Lew Smedes, and I asked his wife, Doris, whether Lew had some favorite biblical passages that I should use for my homily. "Well, of course, there was the hound of heaven passage in Psalm 139," she immediately responded. Of course. More than any of my other friends, Lew was a person who clearly felt hounded by God, and it was easy to imagine him praying that psalm: "Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?"

For him the sense of God's presence was for the most part a source of spiritual and vocational comfort. He finished what turned out to be his last book just before he died at age 81 of a head injury he received when he fell from a ladder in December 2002. The book, My God and I: The Life of a Chastened Calvinist—he called it "a theological memoir"—will be published soon by Eerdmans. He tells there how he first discovered that it can be a joyful experience to acknowledge the divine presence. He had transferred to Calvin College after a few years as a spiritual misfit at the Moody Bible Institute, and his first class at Calvin was in English Composition. His teacher, Jacob Vandenbosch, "introduced me that day," he testified, "to a God the likes of whom I had never even heard about." This God, Smedes discovered,

liked elegant sentences and was offended by dangling modifiers. Once you believe this, where can you stop? If the Maker of the Universe admired words well put together, think of how he must love sound thought well put together, and if he loved sound thinking, how he must love a Bach concerto and if he loved a Bach concerto think of how he prized any human effort to bring a foretaste, be it ever so small, of his Kingdom of Justice and peace and happiness to the victimized people of the world. In short, I met the Maker of the Universe who loved the world he made and was dedicated to its redemption. I found the joy of the Lord, not at a prayer meeting, but in English Composition 101.

But Lew could ...

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