Reinhold Niebuhr Timeline: Dies in Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Reinhold Niebuhr Timeline: Dies in Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Eulogy for Reinhold Niebuhr

Eulogy for Reinhold Niebuhr
by Abraham Joshua Heschel

This is a critical moment in the lives of many of us, in the history of religion in America: to say farewell to the physical existence of the master and to pray: Abide, continue to dwell in our midst, spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr. Do not depart from us; we need your power, we need your guidance, in faith, in conscience.

For many of us the world will be darker without you. Reinhold Niebuhr, your spirituality combined heaven and earth, as it were. Your life was an example of one who did justly, loved mercy and walked humbly with his God, an example of unity of worship and living. You reminded us that evil will be conquered by the One, while you stirred us to help conquer evils one by one.

A full appreciation of the greatness of Reinhold Niebuhr will have to take into account not only his teachings, but also his supreme integrity as a person. It will turn not only to his books but also to his deeds. For all his profundity, prophetic radicalism, insight into the ultimate aspects of human destiny, Reinhold Niebuhr maintained a concern for the immediate problems of justice in society and politics, of the here and now.

In boldness of penetration, depth of insight, fullness of vision, Reinhold Niebuhr's system excels any other system produced by an American theologian to this very day. He has helped us all in striving for human integrity in religious terms. He has, to quote his words, "sought to strengthen the Hebraic prophetic content of the Christian tradition."

A lover of Zion and Jerusalem, imbued with the spirit of the Hebrew Bible, he was a staunch friend of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, of the poor and the down-trodden here and everywhere.

His legacy is rich, precious, vital: Purity of heart, disgust with intellectual falsehood, with spiritual sham, whether in the Congress or in our own sanctuaries.

Shall we remember his legacy? How shall we thank you, Reinhold Niebuhr, for the light you have brought into our lives? For the strength you have given to our faith? For the wisdom you have imparted in our minds?

He began his teaching at a time when religious thinking in America was shallow, insipid, impotent—bringing life and power to theology, to the understanding of the human situation, changing the lives of many Christians and Jews.

He appeared among us like a sublime figure out of the Hebrew Bible. Intent on intensifying responsibility, he was impatient of excuse, contemptuous of pretense and self-pity.

It is deeply meaningful, to ponder at this hour some words of the Hebrew Bible. With Job, we say:

The Lord has given,
The Lord has taken,
Praised be the name of the Lord.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart.
He is my portion for ever.

Niebuhr's life was a song in the form of deeds, a song that will go on forever.

Revered, beloved Reinhold: In the words of the Psalmist:

You are the fairest of the sons of men,
Grace is poured upon your lips
Therefore God has blessed you for ever.

And now your soul is entering life eternal, a beautiful princess. And with the words of the Psalmist, I conclude:

With joy and gladness
She is led along
As she enters the
Palace of the King

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Paul Elie

is senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage.

Jean Bethke Elshtain

is an author and Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Robin Lovin

is Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and the author of Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Realism.