How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you– Psalm 31:19 NIV
My Dad died over the holidays.
Death is never pleasant or easy. The Bible teaches death is not something human beings were created to experience (Genesis 2:16-17). Therefore, every death is grim, traumatic and depressing on some level. All that being said, as far death goes, his was less terrible than many. My Dad died quietly and peacefully in our home two days after Christmas. He didn’t linger on the edge of death for weeks or months as some do, nor was he terribly uncomfortable as he neared the end as some are.
We were fortunate to have all four of our children with us the night he passed. Each shared something they loved about my Dad or a fond memory they had about him then we all prayed for him. A few minutes after we were done praying he breathed his last breath and that was it.
He was gone.
The next day I gave information so his death certificate could be filed with the state. The woman filling out the paper work asked all manner of questions about my Dad’s life. Among other things, she wanted to know: where was he born? What kind of career did he have? How many years was he married? How many children did he have? What level of education did he receive?
On paper my Dad’s life looked pretty good.
He graduated from college. He remained married to the same woman for forty-two years. He had a rewarding career in entomology. He travelled extensively and lived in a number of interesting places. He fathered six children: four boys and two girls. At the end of the conversation the woman gathering the information commented that it sounded as if my Dad had lived a full and happy life. The reality of his existence was a bit different. My Dad was not a horrible man. He wasn’t evil and I doubt it was ever his intention to cause harm.
My Father did live a life that was unaltered in any conspicuous way by the restorative and redeeming work of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying my Dad was an unbeliever. I honestly do not know if he was or he wasn’t. His spiritual state was a bit of a mystery. I do know he and I talked at length about a commitment he made to Jesus shortly after my Mother died. I also know that over the last few years my husband and I and many other Christians attempted to have a number of spiritual conversations with him. However, in his later years’ dementia became an ever-increasing issue in his life so it was hard to know exactly where he stood spiritually. I do know after his “conversion experience” he never really grew spiritually or allowed his attitudes and behaviors to be transformed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:2, Colossians 3:5-16, 2nd). Like so many people in this world who commit their lives to Jesus my Father remained exactly what and who he had been all of my life. In his case this meant he was a hard man with a bad temper and a whole slew of bad habits, who judged others with a measuring stick he refused to use on himself. Sadly, he had few friends as he neared the end of his life. He died estranged from four of his six children and his two brothers.
For the sake of my own sanity I choose to believe the best about my Dad’s eternal state. The mercy of God is great and the word of God never returns void (Hebrews 4:12, Isaiah 55:11). Therefore, I am choosing to believe I will see my Dad again someday. He will be an entirely new man and we will have the relationship we were always meant to have (2nd Corinthians 5:17)
That being said.
In my more navel-gazy moments of grief and loss I wonder what my Dad would say now that he is firmly on the other side of the great divide that exists between the living and the dead (Luke 16:26).
If he could I believe my Dad would say that a life lived for self is ultimately a wasted life. He would advise the living to mend fences and build bridges with the people we love while we have the opportunity to do so because there will come a day for all of us when those opportunities will be gone forever. He would likely have a lot to say about the importance of avoiding bitterness and not sinning in fits of anger (Ephesians 4:26, Hebrews 12:15, Ephesians 4:31. Most significantly, I believe with all of my heart and soul my Dad would tell us all to take any commitment we have made to Jesus seriously. He would advise us to do the things the New Testament tells us to do so we will grow into the people God designed us to be. Because then—and only then—we get the full and abundant life Jesus promises those who believe enough to put God’s words into action.
Because that is ultimately where real life is lived.