It can be the most unlikely person who impacts us the most deeply. It was not surprising that, as a student at Fuller Seminary and as a lover of all things Old Testament, I would find myself challenged and provoked and delighted by a man named John Goldingay. Purple shorts and Coldplay T-shirts and a winning accent sort of had me at hello! What I did not expect was to have my life changed by the mostly silent woman who sat in a wheelchair who was his wife, Ann.
Ann Goldingay was a steady presence in my Fuller experience. So much of how John offered himself to us as scholar and friend bore the mark of her life impressed upon his. As he would teach, it often felt as if she were there in the classroom with us. Ann and John also welcomed each class into their home nearby campus every quarter for tea and treats and occasionally a movie or some other diversion. And Ann and John were faithful in their attendance at chapel every week, much more so than I. Their worshiping presence was something I could always count on, seated toward the front and on the left.
Since leaving Fuller, we have seen the passing of David Scholer and Ray Anderson, two giants of faithful instruction at Fuller and beyond. And last week I received word that Ann Goldingay passed away. Ann too was a giant, and her life, and John’s life with her, instructed so many of us. Knowing Ann, and sharing the life of a community with her and John, is one of the enduring treasures from my years at Fuller.
As I have thought about Ann this past week, I have had different memories stand out in my mind. I remember the first time I was in their home, sitting somewhat awkwardly by her side, speaking with her without expecting any verbal response. I remember John, turning toward her with a smile and witty comment when she would cry out in the midst of a class visit. And I remember a September night when Ann and her wheelchair were carried up our long flight of stairs on Kenwood to join in a surprise celebration for my birthday.
In his book, Walk On, John Goldingay shares about his life with God through the journey of Ann’s battle with MS. In his chapter titled Calamity, he shares his thoughts on the book of Job. He writes:
“What we may be able to infer is that calamities do have explanations, even if we do not know what they are, for there is another feature of the story of Job that delights me every time I think about it, not least because it establishes a similarity between Job and us. It is that Job himself never knows about chapters 1 and 2 of “his” book. So he goes through his pain the same way we do. And he illustrates how the fact that we do not know what might explain our suffering, what purpose God might have in it, does not constitute the slightest suggestion that the suffering has no explanation…I cannot imagine the story that makes it okay for God to have made Ann go through what she has been through. But I can imagine that there is such a story.”
As I have thought about Ann these past days, I have been struck by a passage in Philippians chapter one that for me describes the kind of impact Ann has had on my life and on the lives of countless others. The apostle Paul writes of a different sort of bondage than that which robbed Ann of her movement and speech, but the truth of how that bondage impacted others I believe is the same. He writes:
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly…
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.”
I don’t know ultimately what Ann’s chapter one and two are that might bring meaning to bear on her illness and suffering. But I can testify with certainty that there are significant riverbeds of progress and joy that wind through my soul as a result of Ann Goldingay.
Ann, may the angels lead you into paradise: may the martyrs receive you at your coming, and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have everlasting rest.