“How long do I have, doc?” asked my Dad. “Bill, the horse is out of the barn; with treatment another year, maybe a little longer.” That was the cancer sentence pronounced to my Dad in the fall of 2005. He died in the fall of 2008. He was a fighter, a man of faith, a pastor of forty years, a man of prayer; but it didn’t save him for the claws of death.
“Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.” (Hebrews 9:27 GNT)
It is difficult to accept we have no control over how or when we die (apart from suicide or euthanasia). Scripture is clear God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34); He shows no partiality or favoritism. Wealth, social standing, position, authority, popularity, looks, or influence are not weighted in the eyes of God. To Him, we are all sinners saved only by grace and the death and resurrection of His son Jesus.
I admit my faith was shaken as I watched my Dad suffer with cancer. An internal volcano of anger simmered in my spirit and was directed toward God. How could God allow a man dedicated to the cause of Christ suffer such horrible pain? Why was there no intervention from God as my Dad’s body deteriorated to nothing but a bag of bones? I never spoke the words, but “What kind of God are you?” filled my mouth and heart like poisonous venom.
Near the end of Dad’s illness, my husband had a private discussion with him about the care of my Mom and any final requests before and after his death. In their conversation, my husband posed the question, “Why you? Why such suffering for someone so committed to the ministry of God?” My Dad’s reply was “Why not me? Look no further than Jesus; God’s son. He was obedient even in death but not without suffering.”
My Dad’s response was a turning point for the anger I harbored toward God. My Dad was dying, bed ridden and helpless yet his faith never wavered. His attitude toward God never changed; and through his suffering he continued to give thanks.
My Dad accepted his standing with God offered him no special privileges. His position as a pastor held no higher esteem than a homeless person. He saw himself as a sinner saved by grace and his rank and years of service in the ministry held no prestige over death. It was clear my Dad’s focus on life went beyond death, beyond the grave. His was fixated on the glorious messiah that lived within him. His earthly life was nothing in comparison to the glorious riches of heaven.
Shortly before my Dad took his last breath, he whispered, “I see the books, I see the big books.” I believe what he saw were the Books of Life; the books that list the eternal residents in the kingdom of God. He exhaled his last breath and died. We can’t control death, but we can control the judgment that follows. God clearly outlines how we will be judged.
To secure eternal life we must first accept Jesus into our life. When we commit our will and ways to the Lord, He brings spiritual growth that enables us to follow his direction for our life and our name is written in the ‘Big Books’ of life.
“Here is my final conclusion fear God and obey His commandments, for this is the entire duty of man. For God will judge us for everything we do, including every hidden thing, good or bad,” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, TLB).