I just finished writing an obituary for my father-in-law. My post today is helping me work through the experience of watching him decline and die. It is also a reflection on a mission trip that God sent my wife and me on during 2006.
Sometimes God sends people into distant lands to help bring strangers into a relationship with our Lord Christ Jesus. And sometimes God sends us back into our family to try and bring some of the well-known captives into the freedom offered by Jesus. This later scenario was the path that God laid before my wife Kathleen and me in June of 2006. We helped my wife’s mother remember a long forgotten relationship with Jesus when she moved in with us. After that, as I mentioned in a recent post, we have been laboring hard to bring Kathleen’s father into a relationship with God. We prayed, wrote a letter, talked with him, circulated intercessory prayer requests, sent an Episcopal Priest to visit him, and watched God temporarily pull his wife out of dementia so that she could speak to him about repentance. Through it all he stubbornly clung to control and doubt. Sadly, He slipped into a coma early in the morning on December 31st.
My wife, her mother, and I went to visit him that afternoon. We talked with him on the assumption that he could still hear even though he could no longer respond. My wife was very aware of God’s peace in his room as soon as we stepped across the threshold, which was a very different mood from what she had experienced previously. We proceeded to pray with him, and to remind him of what he could do to establish a relationship with God even though he couldn’t talk. My wife thanked him for the things that he did for her as she was growing up, and forgave him for the things he didn’t do, as well as forgiving him for the physical and emotional abuse. Through it all there was no visible response from her father.
At this point, the Episcopal priest, Rev Barbara, came into the hospice room. She said that she was driving by and God told her to stop in and check on Bob. She talked with us for awhile then offered to speak final prayers for Bob and to anoint him. It was a very beautiful service. The prayers provided yet one more framework through which Bob could repent and turn his life over to God. We stayed with him for about an hour and a half before saying our final good-bys.
Bob died this morning about 4:00 a.m. without regaining consciousness. We don’t know if Bob Ever made peace with God. We will not know where Bob will spend eternity until we are able to search for him in God’s Kingdom.
The saddest part of this story is that we cannot celebrate the salvation of a sinner. All we can do is rest on the fact that God is the ultimate judge, not us! We are hopeful that the peace in Bob’s room was a sign of a positive turning, but only God knows this for certain.
There is not a lot of sadness in our home today about Bob’s passing. I suspect this is also true in the homes of his extended family. His controlling, contentious, and angry patterns of sin filled living did not bring him into close relationship with people during his life. As his wife said, “He hurt a lot of people.” Bob died alone, because the lives of his wife and two daughters were broken by his sin. The wages of a sinful life is ultimately isolation. I think about the joy we could have shared with him if he had turned his heart. I think about the healing that could have happened between he and his wife and his daughters. I think about the love that could have been released into his life through us, if he had told us that he had acknowledged Jesus as his Lord and Savior. But none of this happened. I am hopeful that he did turn to God and that he was forgiven, and that he will not be faced with eternity in hell.
Lord Jesus, you have the power to turn any situation to the good. I pray that Bob’s life will ultimately be of benefit to your Kingdom purposes. Even though he never went out on the mission trail, never said “yes” to you in public, or told us that he was sorry for anything he did during his life; I still fervently pray that good be brought forth from his life. I pray for your mercy over him if he did not turn to you, because I don’t want anyone other than Satan and his band of fallen angels to be thrown into the lake of fire. Could we have done more? Was their something different we could have said? These are the hardest questions that we are asking. Lord Jesus, teach us more of your ways. Reveal the sin that still trips us up. Prepare our hearts and minds for the next mission trip that you wish to send us on. Help us let go of self-judgment and rest in your love. Judge us and correct us now with your rod, so that we can benefit from living under the guidance of your shepherd’s staff. I pray for completeness and wholeness so we can serve you as fully committed bondservants. Amen.