Ulrich Simon was a German Jew who fled Germany in 1933 to England. There he met Christ, studied theology at King’s College in London, and became a priest in 1938. After two short stints in parish ministry, he returned to Kings as a professor in 1945. While he was in England, things had progressed much more viciously on the continent. In German concentration camps and the Stalin purges of Jews in Russia, he lost many of his family members. Two of his best known books are A Theology of Auschwitz (1967) and his autobiography, Sitting in Judgement (1978).
He was too Biblically orthodox to be made head of the Old Testament Department. The pains of the World War II years, perhaps also colored by his disappointments with not being made the head of the OT department, took their toll. Despite his wonderful optimism about many things, occasionally he would droop into pessimism about “sick humanity.”
Without any question, he was my favorite professor when I was at Kings. I came to Kings in 1974, only 9 days out of the combat skies of Viet Nam. War, like his experiences three decades before mine, led us into a wonderful friendship. At lunch time, we used to walk across the Strand to the Old Bailey, where the Law courts met. We would sit in the gallery munching on bread and cheese from a bag between us. He loved to watch things unfolding but always had the same observation. Still with a deep German accent, he would say, “Zis is amazing. A liar accused of a crime has a witness take the stand after swearing to tell the truth. He is examined by a liar in a proceeding presided over by a liar, judged by a jury of twelve liars, and out of zis, we have the best possible chance to find ze truth.”
He was an amazing gift to me while I battled with liberal professors. Some were orthodox, but I also had to do battle with those who didn’t believe in the resurrection or even in God at all. Very strange to me for priests in collars and academic gowns to lecture in class about how suffering disproved the existence of God and logic dismissed the resurrection.
From Ulrich (Herr Doktor Professor) ,I learned to “tunnel through.” He forbade me from going to lectures with some of the professors, saying, “Zay are polluting your soul.” But I still had to do all the reading and write endless essays that were critiqued both by professors and then again by him. He said, “You are strange for a warrior. You are a tender soul–but you like cameras. Cameras are stupid. They hardly capture anything. Remember your memories. That will serve you better than photographs which deceive you into thinking that you remember.”
Eventually, I was able to handle more and more of the disagreements. One of the things that helped me do that was the way that Herr Doktor Professor Ulrich showed me to extend an argument out to its natural conclusion. He also told me I was a terrible Hebrew student and that if I studied it for three more years I would not be able to translate as well as the RSV text of the Bible, and “the RSV,” he said, “is nothing special. Greek is better suited to a pilot.”
After I left Kings, he became the Dean. Kings then moved into much more strength in orthodoxy. I suspect though, that it was very difficult for him. He did not like administration at all. Because things were difficult, however, he did not refuse them, choosing instead to “tunnel through.” Sadly, he died in 1997.
I thought of Ulrich in a friendship I developed with an Orthodox Rabbi. They actually had a number of similarities, though my Rabbi friend never came to believe in Jesus as Messiah–at least not yet. The Rabbi did, however, share with me many of the great insights that he had. My favorite one was about the Hebrew word hesed. Hesed is the word usually translated as lovingkindness. It has its roots, though, in engineering. It has to do with the channeling between two bodies of water that are unequal. If one pond, for example, has a great deal of water and the other has little, a channel dug between the two equalizes them. By “tunneling through,” the bounty of one is shared with the other. The one with paucity contributes nothing but to be the receiver. That is very much like us with God. Through His hesed for us, he “tunnels through,” through the life and death of Jesus so that we can receive from His abundance.
True lovingkindness requires “tunneling.” It is costly to love in a way that actually allows grace to flow to another person. Recently, the Rev. Robert Heaney, an Irish priest who is moving to Virginia Theological Seminary to lead the Center for Anglican Communion Studies, wrote, “Beyond all the controversies, we have not tended to friendship in the way that we should have.” Heaney said in an email interview with TLC, “We have institutionalized our walking together and our walking apart, [yet] we are brothers and sisters. We are friends. It is fellowship and it should be acts of fellowship which bring us together in Christ.”
While that is true at one level, at the core of the problems in the Anglican Communion at this point is a mis-diagnosis of the problem. It is entirely possible for someone to adopt a position or direction that causes them to move away from Christ’s redeeming love rather than toward it. Everyone is not a brother or sister in Christ. To be together in Christ, each person has to be in Christ. If it is just about friendship and walking together or walking apart, we have missed the truth. Truth is very challenging. In postmodernism, truth has been replaced with relativism, feeling, and intention. Something that was true yesterday for the postmodern person might not be true today. What is important to them is what someone’s intentions are and how circumstances “make” people feel. If the trajectory of a series of decisions is leading people away from Christ, it is not loving to affirm them in their desires to pursue that direction no matter how passionately they want to do that. Instead, we are called to “tunnel through.” The chief tool of that tunneling is truth spoken in love. Not many of us master that. Far too few attempt it.
The ongoing “Indaba” project tries to get people to humanize those with whom they disagree. We are asked to endorse behaviors and beliefs that others feel are right. Gentleness is not ignoble, but loving people well will mean that eventually the light will have to shine on things which cause them to diverge from the redeeming love of Christ. In order to bear Kingdom fruit, deliberations in the Anglican Communion are going to have to embrace truth and consequences as well as feelings. There are certainly ways in which we are enriched by feelings, but we should not be defined by them. We were created for a higher purpose. As Christ has “tunneled through” for us, we are sent with the same commissioning: to help others meet the Christ who has “tunneled through for them,” and help them to be transformed by His love.
From The Independent. 16 August 1997: Ulrich Ernst Simon, theologian: born Berlin 21 September 1913; ordained deacon 1938, priest 1939; University Lecturer, King’s College London 1945- 60, Reader in Theology 1960-72, Professor of Christian Literature 1972- 80, Dean 1978-80; married 1949 Joan Westlake (two sons, one daughter); died London 31 July 1997.