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updated 5/16/03

Smedes Had Hope

EDITOR'S NOTE: In addition to the links in the story below see:

  • a story by Rich Mouw in Books & Culture that includes an anecdote about how English 101 at Calvin led Smedes closer to God
  • a memorial tribute from Mike VanDenend in the Calvin Spark
  • an article by Lew Smedes on the website of The Banner
  • a media advisory about a service of remembrance

Calvin College graduate, and former professor of religion, Lewis Smedes passed away on December 19, 2002 after suffering a serious head injury in a fall earlier in the week. The Fuller Theological Seminary professor emeritus had been hanging Christmas lights at his Sierra Madre, California, home when he fell. He was 81.

Smedes was married to the former Doris Dekker, a 1945 Calvin graduate, in 1948. They have three children: Cathy, Charles and John.

Smedes graduated from Calvin in 1946 and from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1950. In 1985 he was named by the Calvin Alumni Association as winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award, Calvin's highest alumni honor. Smedes taught at Calvin in the late 1940s in classical languages and then returned to teach as a professor of religion from 1957-1968. In 1970 he began a tenure at Fuller Seminary that continued until his death.

In 1987, Smedes gave the first-ever Henry Stob Lectures at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary on "The Making and Keeping of Commitments." Those lectures later were included in an omnibus volume of the first 10 Stob Lectures entitled "Seeking Understanding."

In 1996 Smedes was a participant in the Genesis series on PBS, hosted by Bill Moyers. Called Genesis: A Living Conversation, the series gathered thoughtful and engaging individuals to discover what the Genesis stories say to us today. He participated in a segment called "Call and Promise," that looked at God's call to Abraham to leave his home and the promise that he would father a great nation.

Smedes was a prolific and accomplished author whose 1984 book, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve, remains a landmark work on the topic of forgiveness. He continued to think, write and speak on the topic up until his death. In fact, in late November he spoke at a California church on forgiveness.

"There are two reasons I am talking about forgiveness today," Smedes said. "First, the single greatest cause of misery and tragedy in our world is the inability of people to forgive those who have wronged and wounded them. Secondly, the only cure for the bad memory of a past wrong is the act of forgiveness."

Smedes also wrote Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve, How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is All Wrong?, Sex for Christians and a dozen other books that both were critically acclaimed and popular with the people in the pew. Just this fall, Smedes had finished a spiritual memoir, titled, My God and I, which Eerdmans will publish in the spring of 2003.

His 1998 book, Standing on the Promises, was subtitled: Keeping Hope Alive for a Tomorrow We Cannot Control. That was a crucial theme for Smedes. He liked to tell the story of painter Michelangelo, who, one night, after a long day of work painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, wrote: "I'm no painter." But when the sun came up again, Smedes said, Michelangelo got up from his bed, climbed up his scaffold and labored another day on his magnificent vision of the Creator. What pushed him up the ladder, asked Smedes? Hope.

"A person without hope is inwardly dead," Smedes once told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "There's nothing, nothing, that anybody has ever done without the power of hope." Smedes added that Christianity is big on hope. Christianity, he said, provides hope beyond hope. A hope that can keep you going when you can't find a reason.

And so each day Lewis Smedes continued to labor on his magnificent vision of the Creator. He had the hope beyond hope.

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Contact Phil de Haan
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