Every year Princeton Seminary brings in a distinguished scholar to deliver the Warfield Lectures. They are one of, if not the most prestigious lecture series in the country. What most people don’t realize is that the lectures are not named for B.B. Warfield, one of the deans of American Calvinism. They were named for his wife, Annie Kinkead Warfield. The story of their marriage is one that has been stuck in the forefront of my mind since I first heard it.

In 2010 Fred Zaspel wrote a book entitled The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary. He says that since its publication he has received more questions about Warfield’s wife Annie than any other subject. Annie Kinkead was born April 7, 1852, hailing from Lexington KY. She was a descendent of Revolutionary War general George Rogers Clark, often called “the Hannibal of the West,” and her father was a prominent attorney who defended Abraham Lincoln in 1855. She was well educated and was described by many as a beautiful, highly intelligent woman with a sharp wit. She married Benjamin on August 3, 1876, and shortly thereafter headed to Europe where her husband studied advanced theology.

But something tragic happened when they were in Europe. A brief account given by O.T. Allis, a junior colleague at Princeton, describes it as follows:

In his distinguished and eminently successful career, there was an element of tragedy. After graduating from the Seminary at the age of 25, he had married and taken his wife to Germany, a honeymoon during which he studied at Leipzig. On a walking trip in the Harz mountains, they were overtaken by a terrific thunderstorm…It was such a shattering experience for Mrs. Warfield that she never fully recovered from the shock to her nervous system and was more or less of an invalid during the rest of her life. I used to see them walking together and the gentleness of his manner was striking proof of the loving care with which he surrounded her. They had no children. During the years spent at Princeton, he rarely if ever was absent for any length of time. Mrs Warfield required his constant attention and care.

In a letter to his mother shortly after Annie’s funeral in 1915, J. Greshem Machen writes the following:

I have faint recollections of her walking up and down in front of the house in the early years of my Princeton life, but even that diversion has long been denied her. I never spoke to her. Her trouble has been partly nervous, and she has seen hardly anyone except Dr. Warfield. But she remained, they say, until the end a very brilliant woman. Dr. Warfield used to read to her during certain definite hours every day. For many, many years he has never been away from her more than about two hours at a time; it has been some ten years since he left Princeton (on the occasion of the experiment of taking her away in the summer)…What the effect of her death upon him will be I do not know; I think, however, that he will feel dreadfully lost without her.

As Mrs. [William Park] Armstrong said, he has had only two interests in life — his work, and Mrs. Warfield, and now that she is gone there may be danger of his using himself up rather quickly.

Historians debate the extent to which the thunderstorm affected Annie Warfield’s health and to what degree the trauma had physical manifestations. This much is certain: she seldom left the house, and it shaped B.B. Warfield’s career decisively.

Dr. Kim Riddlebarger writes in a summary of Warfield’s life that appears in his dissertation:

According to most accounts, Dr. Warfield almost never ventured away from her side for more than two hours at a time. In fact, he left the confines of Princeton only one time during a ten-year period, and that for a trip designed to alleviate his wife’s suffering which ultimately failed (Bamberg, “Our Image of Warfield Must Go,” 229). As Colin Brown incisively notes, Warfield’s lectures on the cessation of the charismata, given at Columbia Theological Seminary in South Carolina shortly after her death, are quite remarkable and demonstrate “a certain poignancy [which] attaches itself to Warfield’s work in view of the debilitating illness of his wife throughout their married life” (Colin Brown, Miracles and the Critical Mind, Eerdmans, 1984, 199). Though Warfield may have been known to many as a tenacious fighter, the compassion he directed toward his wife, Annie Kinkead Warfield, demonstrates a capacity for tenderness and caring that is in its own right quite remarkable.

This past Sunday’s lectionary texts brought this story once again to my mind. Peter proclaims to his hearers in the early Christian sermon, “Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:14a). This tragic injustice and its exposure is the source of Israel’s hope and consolation and the joy of every longing heart.

In the epistle reading, we hear a more mature Peter reflect on the nature of the redemption that his readers now possess:

You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God (1 Peter 17b-21).

Before the foundation of the world, God’s identity was bound forever to sinners. In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, the risen but incognito Jesus seems surprised that the disciples on the Emmaus Road couldn’t see that the Crucified God was what the Law and the Prophets pointed to all along. The cross was not some sort of haphazard Plan B in response to the absurd waywardness of our first parents. It was Plan A all along. In the words of P.T. Forsyth, “There’s a cross at the heart of God.”

Most of us excel at avoiding difficult people that would problematize our lives. Think how you can instinctively and convincingly pretend to read the ingredients on a cereal box in the grocery store to avoid locking eyes with someone from whom you’re estranged or who might bring up something that’s uncomfortable. Maybe you’re normally an introvert but became chatty and charming and insert yourself into a conversation at a party to avoid getting caught in one that would be awkward or embarrassing. Maybe you’ll skip a favorite event just to avoid seeing someone that makes you anxious. Maybe you won’t invite someone to an occasion, knowing it will be hurtful and have fallout that will cause even more anxiety in the future, just to avoid the possibility of an ungainly occurrence. Most of us graduate with PhD’s in the school of avoidance somewhere in childhood.

I sometimes wonder if B.B. Warfield would have chosen to court Annie if he had known what it would mean for his future. What is clear is that, for God, marrying a spouse that would problematize the divine life didn’t require a second thought. Indeed, it was God’s first eternal thought, and the thought from which the Bride of Christ, harlot that she is, springs. It seems that human prowess at avoiding difficult people and situations is exceeded by God’s ineptitude at such things. Good news for us, because we’re all someone’s problematic person. We’re all someone that someone else is looking to avoid.

In the second volume of the Church Dogmatics, Barth writes about what the doctrine of election means for God:

Man was in any case an extremely unreliable champion of this cause, an extremely compromised servant of the divine will, compromising even God Himself. What can it have meant for God to commit Himself to such a creature?

If for a moment we attempted the impossible task of picturing to ourselves man unfallen and sinless, we should at any rate have to say this concerning him. He is not God. The fulfillment of his calling to live to God’s glory is in any case a matter of his creaturely freedom and decision. For he is quite different from God. He is at least challenged and not sovereign like God. And because of this, man stands on the frontier of that which is impossible, of that which is excluded, of that which is contradictory to the will of God. In so far as he can and should live by the Word of God, participation in this contradiction is impossible for him. It is excluded, forbidden.

But will he live by the Word of God? What a risk God ran when He willed to take up the cause of created man even in his original righteousness, when He constituted Himself his God and ordained Himself to solidarity with him! If even the man whose existence we cannot in the least imagine had everything to gain by such a covenant, God Himself had everything to lose by it. But the man with whom the eternal will of God has to do is not this man; or rather, it is this man, not good as God created him, but fallen away from God. In fact, then, the risk taken by God was far greater. His partner in this covenant is not man on the brink of danger but man already overtaken by it; man for whom the impossible has become possible, and the unreal real, and the fulfilment of evil an actual occurrence. It is the man who gave a hearing to Satan, who did not guard the frontier, who did not keep the divine commandment, who lived otherwise than by the will of God, who thus willed to surrender the whole meaning of his existence, who brought dishonour upon God instead of honour, who became a traitor to God, an enemy and an adversary, who could be visited only by the wrath of God. It was the man whose wife was Eve and first son Cain, who answered a long series of special visitations by an equally long series of fresh aggressions, who finally drove the Messiah of God to the cross, whose name is at very best Peter and at worst Judas. And God has chosen this man and fellowship with this man in the election of Jesus Christ. It is the lost son of man who is partner of the electing God in this covenant. We are not so far speaking of what this means for man. What is quite certain is that for God it means severe self-commitment.

God does not merely give Himself up to the risk and menace, but He exposes Himself to the actual onslaught and grasp of evil. For if God Himself became man, this man, what else can this mean but that He declared Himself guilty of the contradiction against Himself in which man was involved; that He submitted Himself to the law of creation by which such a contradiction could be accompanied only by loss and destruction; that He made Himself the object of the wrath and judgment to which man had brought himself; that He took upon Himself the rejection which man had deserved; that He tasted Himself the damnation, death and hell which ought to have been the portion of fallen man?

What did God choose of glory or of joy or of triumph when in Jesus Christ He elected man? What could this election bring except something of which God is free in Himself and for which He cannot truly have any desire: darkness, and the impossibility of our existence before Him as sinners, as those who have fallen victim to His penalties? If we would know what it was that God elected for Himself when He elected fellowship with man, then we can answer only that He elected our rejection. He made it His own. He bore it and suffered it with all its most bitter consequences. For the sake of this choice and for the sake of man He hazarded Himself wholly and utterly. He elected our suffering (what we as sinners must suffer towards Him and before Him and from Him). He elected it as His own suffering. This is the extent to which His election is an election of grace, an election of love. an election to give Himself, an election to empty and abase Himself for the sake of the elect.

Severe self-commitment: this is what characterizes the Unavoiding God in a quest for chronically avoidant sinners. Lucky for us indeed.