Ideas, beliefs, and opinions. We all have them. In the college classroom, at the information table, and in the coffee shop, I’ve had plenty of discussions—most of which have centered in the realm of intellectual thought—about faith. Recently, however, I faced a most unwelcome experience—my father-in-law’s passing from this earth—that riveted me in reality.
Ted was a great guy, and so we were all deeply troubled when his year-long battle with cancer took a sudden and drastic turn for the worse. Within 24 hours, family members were gathered around a hospital bed as the ravages of major organ failure drained the life from his frail body. Tick tock went the clock as almost 82 years on this earth abruptly came to an end.
Comparing humans to humans, Ted was a really good person. In addition to being well-liked, he had been a good father to my wife, a good grandfather to my children, and a good father-in-law to me. None of us wanted to let him go, but neither could we deny the reality of death’s door.
In that pain-filled moment, we cared nothing about nebulous concepts and ideas. What we needed was the confidence that this was not Ted’s final end—that the biblical promises we all held dear were actually true. What we experienced clearly confirmed what we all believed.
Filled with grief and unsure what to do, I began to read out loud from the Psalms. It was especially difficult at first—I couldn’t read more than a line or two without breaking down in tears. As I continued through the Scriptures, I found myself drawn to 1 Corinthians 15 and the significance of the resurrection.
Then, as my reading morphed into prayer, it happened—God’s presence began to settle into the room. Those gathered near experienced it differently—a profound sense of peace, a physical sensation of warmth, the tingly anointing of the Holy Spirit—but we all recognized the familiar presence of our Creator.
When you care deeply about a person who is about to die, you want more than a vague belief or idea. You want the confidence that he or she is stepping into a better existence and that you will one day meet again. Such a sense of confidence is not without merit.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ—a historical fact—vanquished the power of death. The cold reality of death, therefore, is overshadowed by the vibrant reality of God’s life. It’s more than just an idea, more than a vague hope, and more than a nebulous belief.
I’ve talked with a lot of pastors who have stood near as others have slipped into eternity. The consensus is clear—there is a marked difference at the time of death between those who know the living God and those who don’t. For this and many other reasons, I can’t begin to imagine abandoning such a real faith to avoid offending those who disagree.
Death is real—that’s for sure—but for those who have embraced Jesus Christ as their Savior, it is never final. By no means did my father-in-law’s last breaths spell the end of his existence. Death was simply a stepping stone into a greater dimension—a fact that was confirmed by the reality of God’s presence in that hospital room. For this, we find an amazing sense of comfort and peace even in the midst of our sorrow. Death may be real, but God’s life is more so.