RON SIDER But if at that moment of death, it is true that Christ is risen—and that we, too, shall be raised from the dead to live forever in the presence of the Risen Lord—then again, nothing else matters. Compared to life for all eternity with the Lord of the universe, even Dr. Pelikan’s The back page of the most recent news- astounding academic achievements as letter from the Yale Graduate School perhaps the most brilliant living scholar Department of History was devoted to of Christian history simply fade into the life of my doctoral advisor, Jaroslav insignificance. Especially at Easter, Pelikan’s aphoPelikan (1923-2006). But, for me, it was not the long list of outstanding academic rism provides perspective and hope. He achievements that was most moving. certainly is not saying that life here on earth is unimportant. God created us as Rather it was his final aphorism. To be sure, Pelikan’s academic suc- body/soul unities designed to revel in the cess was stunning. He could read by age goodness of creation. Christian scholar2 and earned both an MDiv and a PhD ship is significant and worthy of our best by age 22. He published almost 40 books efforts. But Pelikan reminds us that all and was awarded 42 honorary degrees. of that goodness and success pales in He was named the Jefferson Lecturer in comparison with eternal life. It is betHumanities (the highest honor the fed- ter, Jesus said, to lose the whole world eral government confers for distinguished than to lose our relationship with the intellectual achievement). He was pres- living God. Perhaps one sees that most clearly ident of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, chair of the board of the when facing death. But it is true for all American Academy of Political and of us, whether we have a month or five Social Sciences, and founding chair of the more decades to live. If Christ is risen, Council of Scholars at the Library of Congress. The list goes on and on. But that is not what amazed me. The Yale History Department (both when I was there in the ’60s and now) is a very secular place. But in their tribute to this distinguished Sterling Professor Emeritus of History, they noted that toward the end of his long battle with cancer Pelikan provided the last of his many striking aphorims: “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen—nothing else matters.” Dying from cancer, Pelikan knew that if death ends human existence—if, as Bertrand Russell said, we die, rot, and disappear forever—then nothing else matters. No matter what fame we have achieved, all is finished. No amount of joy, success, honor for a few short decades matters much anymore. It is over and we disappear into nothingness.
if the truth about reality is that we can accept Christ’s offer to live with him forever, then nothing else matters as much as gladly accepting that invitation. No matter what our age, we should rejoice in and live out that truth. We rightly work hard; shape scholarship, culture, and society to the best of our ability; and delight in the goodness of this material world for whatever years the Creator gives us. But we know that our short sojourn here is not all-important. It is just the beginning of life eternal. As a result, neither success nor failure is all-important.We can let go of frantic grasping for success.We can accept temporary failure or even premature death. Because Christ is risen indeed. When I read this astounding witness to the center of Christian faith in my Yale Graduate School newsletter, I felt like weeping for joy. Even in the most secular sectors of contemporary life, there is still a powerful witness to the truth of Easter. Christ is risen. And nothing else matters as much as this glorious gospel truth. ■
“...nothing else matters.”
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“If Christ Is Risen…”