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Eulogy for Peter Akintola
Saturday, April 17, 2004
The words of the prophet Isaiah from the Hebrew Bible are strong, strident, harsh, and hard. His words, and the response they demand, are painful; rigorous; unyielding. It is his job, as a prophet, to tell us truths we do not want to know. His hardest words, perhaps the hardest words in the entire Christian Bible, are these:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow
from heaven, and returneth not thither,
but watereth the earth,
and maketh it bring forth and bud,
that it may give seed to the sower,
and bread to the eater:
so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth:
it shall not return unto me void,
but it shall accomplish that which I please,
and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace:
the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree,
and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree:
and it shall be to the Lord for a name,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
There is no accounting, and no solace but time, for the untimely death of Peter Akintola. There is no fairness in it, no lesson to be learned, except the lesson Isaiah teaches.
The lesson has two parts: The first is that God's ways are not ours; God's thoughts and understanding are not ours, and so we will not know - because we cannot know - what sense this death makes, why things happen as they do, or what God's plan is for any of us. If we believe that God is in charge of a benevolent world, then we will believe that God makes sense of it - but nevertheless, we cannot.
And our response to that is, rightly, anger and outrage as well as sorrow.
But the second part of the lesson is this: that the words of the prophet will prosper; that the thorns and briers of our lives will produce fir trees and myrtle; that no matter how foreign, how impenetrable the acts of God are, no matter how alienated we are, we shall not be cut off.
Isaiah is a hard and sorrowful taskmaster; but what I believe is this: Regardless of whether we believe the historical or spiritual validity of his words, we must act to make them true. Not for Isaiah's sake, but for our own. We must act to take strength and love from Peter's example, from his smile and his delight in living, from his best self, and employ our memory of that best self to make our community a stronger community, our world a better place. That is the only way we can do Peter lasting honor, the only way we can make his name, in Isaiah's words, "an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."
May God bless Peter Akintola, and may we bless him too, by how we live our lives, and how we love each other, and our College, and our community.