Harvard Law Professor William Stuntz died last week at the age of 52 after suffering from colon cancer. Both pieces in The New York Times refer to his strong Christian faith. Professor Stuntz developed a distinctly Christian perspective on his field of expertise and in so doing became “one of the most influential legal scholars of the past generation.”
Timothy Darymple of Patheos interviewed Stuntz earlier this year: “You Will Call, I Will Answer: An Interview with William Stuntz.”
In 2009 he wrote a piece for Christianity Today: “Three Gifts for Hard Times.” In that piece he was blunt with regard to his situation: “Cancer will very probably kill me within the next two years.”
He had a gift of words to help us understand the torturous reality of chronic pain:
Living with chronic pain is like having an alarm clock taped to your ear with the volume turned up—and you can’t turn it down. You can’t run from it; the pain goes where you go and stays where you stay. Chronic pain is the unwelcome guest who will not leave when the party is over.
And yet he also knew and celebrated the Gospel of his Savior in relationship to suffering:
Joseph’s story foreshadows the central story of the Gospels. The worst day in human history was the day of Christ’s crucifixion, which saw the worst possible punishment inflicted on the One who, in all history, least deserved it. Two more sunrises and the Son rose: the best day in human history, the day God turned death itself against itself—and because he did so, each one of us has the opportunity to share in death’s defeat.
That is our God’s trademark. Down to go up, life from death, beauty from ugliness: the pattern is everywhere.
That familiar pattern is also a great gift to those who suffer disease and loss—the loss may remain, but good will come from it, and the good will be larger than the suffering it redeems. Our pain is not empty; we do not suffer in vain. When life strikes hard blows, what we do has value. Our God sees it.
Let us thank God for a life well lived.
Update: You can listen to his testimony here, delivered at Park Street Church in Boston.