There are a lot of changes taking place in my life right now. As I conclude my graduate degree from Truett Seminary and prepare to move to Cincinnati, Ohio, I find myself reflecting over the past few years. One event in particular stands out as a source of great pain: the loss of my grandfather last December.
Hugh Edward Hunter,* or Grandpa, was my primary father figure for most of my life. He lived with my family from my early adolescence until his death. He was a WWII veteran, a geologist, a professor, a university administrator, a father of two, and a loving husband. He taught me how to play poker, how to drive, how to argue, how to laugh at the world, and how to give to those in need. He was my counselor, co-conspirator, cheerleader, and confidant. Even now, I remember our fierce debates about Christianity with a smile. I love him dearly and I miss him now more than ever.
Around this time last year he was struggling to cope with the sudden onset of blindness. Always fiercely independent, he didn't adjust well to this instant dependency. What a frustration to be able to debate US foreign policy and free market economics, and yet be unable to walk. Within a few months, complications forced us to call in hospice to care for him. It was excruciating to watch Grandpa slip away from us, but I was grateful when he was no longer battling a disobedient body.
The following is the message I was honored to give at Grandpa's memorial service.** He was the impetus behind much of my drive to succeed. My debt to him is one I could never repay. I do not offer this in search of criticism, but as my way of acknowledging him "outloud." And, please don't ask me if he was "saved." I trust that God is good, wise, and just. He and Grandpa can work that out without my help.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day... (Gen 1:1-5)
You might be surprised that I chose this text to reflect on for our time of honoring Grandpa’s life. As a scientist, it is possible that a day didn’t go by when he felt threatened or down right angered by the attacks suffered by the scientific community at the hands of religious people. It is unfortunate that this beautiful passage of scripture has been used in a way to attack what Grandpa spent much of his life devoted to.
Partly a result of this opposition and partly a result of his own tenacious desire for truth, when it came to the universe—what I would call the created world—Grandpa had some very strong opinions. You will be happy to know that I’m not going to detail all of them now. But, I would like to share a few important ways that Grandpa’s life testifies to and encompasses the truths of Genesis 1—the creation, the universe that Grandpa spent many years studying, exploring, and teaching to others.
Time and Rhythm
The first way that I see Grandpa in Genesis 1 is in the inter-related concepts of time and rhythm. With the creation of the sun and moon, we are given the heavenly bodies that create our experience of time. These bodies order our lives into continuous repetitions of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Seven days, four weeks, 28 days of the lunar cycle. As you can tell already, the passage of time is intimately connected to rhythm as well. Genesis 1 shows that God has put an inherent rhythm into life. Over and over, the narrative relates: “and it was evening and morning, the first day…the second day…the third day…” Even in our bodies, there is the constant interaction of time and rhythm: the beating of our heart coordinates with the breathing of our lungs sustains our life.
Many of us find ourselves out of sync with this most basic aspect of our existence. In matters of time and rhythm, we fall prey to one of two extremes: hurried grasping or procrastinating inattention. One rushes through the passage of time without regard for the rhythms and value of life. This one speeds the progress of life like someone gulping an invaluable bottle of wine. This is hurried grasping. The other proceeds in time and rhythm only when shoved. They have no appreciation for the inherent value of life and the importance of keeping up with life’s rhythms. They ride down the railway of life, watching the telephone poles pass, but unwilling to look at where exactly they are heading. This is procrastinating inattention.
I think that Grandpa was a good model of what it means to live in harmony with the time and rhythm of creation. Whether it was because of his life growing up on the farm or the time he spent studying and exploring creation, Grandpa understood the value of time and the rhythm’s of the world. He approached life as one at peace with his past and prepared for his future. Although he would readily admit that there were many things he would like to have done differently, such regrets never prevented him from heading confidently into the next minute, hour, day, or year. Grandpa recognized there was an order to creation and that the small part in it that he got to play was infinitely valuable.
For many of us, he was mindful of the passage of time to the point of irritation. Yet, even this quirky desire to situate himself in time shows his concern and respect for the passage of time and rhythms of this world. He did not fall prey to hurried grasping. He did not fall prey to procrastinating inattention. As we learn from his life, I think we are wise to remember that everything in this world has a time and rhythm built in. We must learn to live in harmony with such things, as individuals and as a group. This cooperation with the way in which God made the world puts us at peace with ourselves, with one another, and with creation as a whole.
Humanity and Responsibility
The second way I see Grandpa in Genesis is in the interrelated concepts of humanity and freedom. You will recall the way in which human beings are portrayed in the first two chapters. In chapter 1, we are told that God created humanity in God’s own image, with the male and female together making up the image of God. Here, humanity is given the awe-inspiring task of ruling the created things. So many humans, drunk on the wine of their own importance, have used this teaching to support their gross exploitation of the created world. But, I think we know and Grandpa knew that this was a terrible misunderstanding. Our ruler-ship of creation is in the style of a caretaker, a gardener, not a despot or tyrant.
Grandpa modeled this in a profound way, as you know. He devoted most of his adult life to the study of the earth and the passing on of this knowledge to others. I still remember the wonder I felt when he taught me about the different kinds of rocks and how they were formed. I still remember that igneous rocks came from lots of heat and pressure while sedimentary rocks came from lots of particles and pressure. Like I said, Grandpa was a caretaker of the world, just as Genesis 1 intended.
In chapter 2 of Genesis, we learn that not only are we caretakers of creation, but we are directly derivative of creation. The name Adam means earth. Adam is formed from the adam and called by the substance he was made out of as a constant reminder of his connectedness to God’s world. As Grandpa would acknowledge, this ancient description of our origins is more sophisticated than I think the writer knew.
We know now that we really are made up of the same stuff. As beings made of atoms—especially carbon—we realize that as human being we came from the same stuff that makes up the weeping willow tree, the newborn kittens in the barn, and the food that we are digesting as we sit here. The juxtaposition here is striking: we are the caretakers of the created world and yet we are an integral part of the world we care for.
These first chapters of Genesis reveal the great importance of humanity as well as our responsibility. And, these are things that I think Grandpa understood better than anyone I know. Why did he care so much about politics and spend so much time writing letters to the editors? Because he knew that humans are entrusted with tremendous responsibility for the world and one another. And, neither age nor circumstances changed the fact that he felt responsible for the nameless, faceless others in the world. Grandpa understood that we have a profound ability for goodness and even greatness, along with a terrible ability for evil and destruction. Genesis shows us that God gave us these capabilities.
Once again, as we learn from Grandpa’s life, I think we are wise to remember his understanding of this truth. Grandpa lived as one aware of his importance, but also aware of his unimportance. He had a profound affect on the lives of many people, including myself, and yet he never became inflated with himself. Grandpa made a point of positively impacting others lives, as a good caretaker of the world, while also remembering his place as part and parcel of the world.
Genesis 1 is a flurry of activity as God forms and fashions creation, calling everything into being. The formerly dark and chaotic canvas is filled with all kinds of colors, movement, and sounds. The waves roar, the trees wave in the wind, and the animals create a symphony of sound over the whole earth. Yet, after six days of relentless activity, we are told that God rested on the seventh.
I think that this is a final lesson we can see in Grandpa’s life. He lived in recognition and respect for time and rhythm in creation, neither grasping hurriedly through life, nor procrastinating inattentively either. He also understood the significance and power of humanity and our responsibility to one another and the created world. But also, especially as he neared the end of his life, I think Grandpa finally began to understand and model the God-ordained concept of rest—the Bible word for it is “Sabbath.”
Although always desiring to do, to go, to perform, to make, to fix, I think Grandpa finally learned to rest. This gave him time and energy to impart to me and many of you the wisdom and insight he had gathered over his 91 years of life. And, this gave him time to look back upon his existence and make peace with perceived mistakes and difficulties.
Even if we do not do as Grandpa did and find rest in the present life even amidst toil and trouble, many of us will eventually reach a time of eternal rest at the end of our days. I am grateful that this man who has meant so much to all of us has finally ceased his toil after many years of time, rhythm, human work, and responsibility. Let us honor him and rest in the goodness of God’s world even now.
*For those who have wondered about the retention of my maiden name, you may be interested to know that one of many reasons why I choose to include "Hunter" in my name is that Grandpa was the last male "Hunter" of the family. One way I honor his role in my life by retaining his name in mine.
**This memorial message was written in interaction with Eugene Peterson's categories and ideas in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. The bulk of the ideas are his, while the applications to Grandpa's life are mine.