The Death Of My Father [Great Mourning & Great Rejoicing Are In Order]
This was going to come out sooner or later, and word seems to travel a lot faster than I can keep up with, so many of you know this anyway: my father has been rejoicing with Jesus Christ in heaven for the last two weeks.
I suppose that, wherever heaven is, “two weeks” is timeless and clocks and calendars are insignificant, but infinity will always be unthinkable until we experience it, and so time has us finite shells of people all locked up behind its cruel prison bars.
The last few years have been difficult for my family, and excruciating for my father, in particular. He had back surgery four years ago that only intensified the torment in his spine, leaving him debilitated and handicapped at home, and although I do not see it necessary or appropriate to divulge a chronology of haunts in his life, the physical pain paled in comparison to the torture in his mind. Having taken medications for the majority of his life due to severe chemical imbalances, he began weaning off of his 25 year-long prescribed antidepressants (whose effectiveness was declining rapidly along with/partially due to back pain) so that he could attempt something new.
That process began seven months ago, and all of the “something new’s” were ineffective. It has been a long haul. The physiological ramifications of new drugs that not only didn’t stabilize him, but caused severe instability, were devastating. Three weeks ago, he went missing, and yesterday the detective that was assigned to the case when we filed our missing person’s report confirmed that they had found his body. He took his life the day that he left.
I could go into the whys and the hows and the questions and the answers and the details and on and on, but it is not necessary. What is necessary is remembering that God is good, and he is sovereign, and he works everything according to his perfect will, and that is an all-inclusive promise, in all-inclusive circumstances, with no “except” clauses. I used to hate people for telling me things like that when life was hard, because it is such the Christian cliche response to atrocities in this life, and I felt as though the phrase were seeking to minimize my heartache. Sometimes it does - sometimes it’s the only way people can brush off a situation without staring at it head on and facing it. It’s a way to compartmentalize. Oftentimes it doesn’t so much say, “God is good and this is terrible and he really does understand and he really is in control of it so it’s okay to be heartbroken, but know that Jesus sympathizes and will see you through” - as it says, with an farce sense of genuine affection - “God’s good. Let’s talk about something else.”
But over the past couple of years, the phrase “God is good” - and seeking with my whole heart to live and view life within that truth - has brought me the most joy, and it is no different here. There are beautiful promises - covenanted promises - of deliverance, all throughout the Bible, for God’s people. I have been reading through the Bible for the last seven or eight months, and such history as Israel’s Exodus from Egypt carries new weight each time I read it, where God allows for horrible circumstances, even ordains horrible circumstances, and certainly controls each horrible circumstance, for the ultimate purpose of his glory, and our joy, and he is most glorified when our joy is found in him.
You know what is happening right now? My family is glorifying God, and taking joy in his goodness. We are mourning, yes, but “we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” And my father has seen the Savior face to face, and knows greater joy than I ever will on this side of death.
I read a book awhile back called “A Sweet & Bitter Providence” and have since written many things based on the truths that the Holy Spirit revealed to me through John Piper’s exhortation on the supremacy and providential sovereignty of God. The book is a study of the Biblical text of Ruth, where a whole lot of things are said about God willing and being in charge of harsh things. I had a problem with that for a long time, but I realize that even through the book of Job, the devil was able to do things that were horrendous and seemingly contrary to the will of a perfect God, but only with God’s perfect permission, which was his will and worked for the good of Job and the glory of God (“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” - Rom. 8:28). Naomi’s life sucked in the book of Ruth. Her husband died, and her sons died, and she told her daughters-in-law that “the Almighty has brought calamity upon me” and “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me”. She ascribes her troubles to the harsh hand of God. But what is God doing? By the end of the book, Ruth has stuck with her mother-in-law, married her kinsman, and placed Naomi into the genealogical line of Jesus Christ himself. He turns her mourning into dancing.
The Lord is truly in charge of it all. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” - Proverbs 16:33
I cannot believe that I am actually writing the words “my dad is dead.” I feel numb as I write them because I never thought I would see this day, and I don’t know if the reality has actually set in that I’ll never be able to give him a hug again. I’m not trying to be Theology Man, I’m just sharing what brings me joy. And I’m not saying that I understand God, or that I have his purposes wrapped around my finger, because I don’t, and I’m a 21 year old kid who is ignorant about much of this life and the things that go on in it, and I wish, as of this moment, in my human, limited understanding, that God’s will were different than it has proven to be. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a God who does understand, and that he is in complete control, and that there are not accidents and that there is nothing beyond his reach, and that it would be far worse were God somehow too weak to save my father than it is to trust that he is powerful over this, and that he is a compassionate Lord, “able to sympathize with our weaknesses, yet without sin” who wept, who mourned over the death of his friends, who endured the most horrendous God-ordained, providential suffering that was and ever will be in all of history, at the cross, and who invites us into his throne room of grace for strength and mercy in time of need.
A couple of my pastors came up to our house tonight and talked to us about we don’t let the opportunity that this situation brings us to glorify Christ pass us by. (In other words, use this for Christ’s glory.) One of them was telling my sister that, although she may not understand it now, “to whom much is given, much is required” should be remembered and prayed over. My mom has spoken numerous times about what an exciting thing it will be to see how the Lord uses our situation in other people’s lives. I love that. I think that we will be able to better come alongside others and weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.
My dad was amazing, and I respected him. He loved my mother and he loved my sister and he loved me. He was a man of God, and he raised me as a father who did everything that he possibly could to model his Heavenly Father’s heart. If only he could know how many phones calls we have gotten, from all over the world, with weeping friends on the other line telling us how much he impacted their lives. My deepest sadness comes from the fact that he was so sick that he couldn’t take hold of the encouragement he received. Sometimes I so wish that I knew the mind of God. But although we’re assured heartbreak, we’re never promised understanding. As to why it came to this, I do not have an answer. I think that my dad saw it as his last act of courage to love his family and remove “the fly in the ointment”. I strongly disagree with his choice, I hate his choice and I think that it was a sinful (although not unforgivable) choice, but I know with certainty that he loved us, and I think that in his mind - as heartbreaking as this is for me - it was more an act of selflessness than selfishness.
I have wept harder than I have in years just trying to finish this blog. I was reading Isaiah the other day, and this gave me great hope: “For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer.” - Isaiah 54:7-8. Of course, the context is different and relatively inapplicable, and the “overflowing anger” and wrath of God has since been poured out on Jesus Christ, and the Lord hasn’t abandoned us, but I loved it for another reason. This was in reference to the Babylonian exile, which was not “brief” - but it was the blink of an eye compared to the eternal love of God. My mom keeps on saying that she finds a whole lot of joy in remembering that God is timeless, and what seems so hard and so wearisome for so long is not a portion of one second to our eternal Savior. Yes, this will be long and difficult, but it will also be a fleeting moment in eternity, and is unable to stand against the love and compassion of our Redeemer.
There is joy, and the joy of the Lord is not circumstantial. It is different than happiness, which is fleeting and dependent. It is a peace that surpasses understanding, and by the grace of God, my family is experiencing it. The love of God is not contingent on sweet or bitter providence. The story of Naomi gives me hope for the joy of my mother. The cross of Jesus gives me hope for what plans the Lord has in store from this point forward.
A couple of years ago, the promotion company that I worked for put on a show called The Wake, here in Albuquerque. I came home and told my dad that he had to come to the show, because he was going to be healed. He came, and we set up a folding table and put cushions on the table so that he could lay out flat and watch a bunch of hardcore kids dance to Sleepy G and listen to Chad Johnson speak, and receive prayer at the end of the set. He wasn’t healed that night - at least not in the way that I thought he would be, but before that night, I never believed that God was going to heal him, and ever since then, I have. Unwaveringly. I know with everything in me that God told me he would heal my dad, and I wish that it would have happened in a different way, but he fulfilled his promise, and my dad’s broken body is finally made new, and whole, and perfect, in Christ. That is cause for great rejoicing, and I praise Jesus.
My dad always used to laugh when people would ask him how he was and say, “Better than some, not as good as others!” There are so many beautiful things happening in the lives of friends and family around me, and the work of the Lord is evident and it’s amazing. Frickin, praise God for that. The overflow of love and support that we have received from friends and family is amazing. Praise God for that. The work that we have faith the Lord is going to accomplish through this is going to be absolutely amazing. Praise God for that.
“To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” - 1 Timothy 1:17
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” - 2 Timothy 1:9-10
“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’” - Job 1:21
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose… What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 8 (basically)
“To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” - Philippians 1:21