Life…a matter of inches
Last week, my dear wife Debby laid her father to rest—Irvin Paul Weaver of Lakeland, Florida. He was 91. Died in his sleep, like we all wish to die. In Christ, he was a devoted man of faith who reflected joy and love to all who knew him. His smile could light up a room, even in his last, often pain-filled, days. He and Debby’s mom celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary just last November.
His desire was to go home to his Lord, but he also struggled to leave his dear bride behind, her recent years having been made more complicated by increasing dementia. He sought constant reassurance that she would be okay. He had similar thoughts for my wife, his only child. Debby herself struggles with a degenerative brain disease which has compromised her speech, swallowing and balance, among other things. As Dad’s end drew near, he became increasingly concerned for her
So he patiently waited for that release. Still he had a ready smile for everyone who came to visit him,
and wanted his family and friends to know that he was ready to die. He had trusted Christ for salvation and was at peace with his Lord. After 91 years,
he had kept the main thing the main thing. A few years back, our pastor delivered an Easter sermon in which he spoke of life on this earth as being represented by, like, an inch, along an infinite line that stretches as far as the eye can see. Most of us spend our time, energy and resources on making that little inch of time the most it can be, and we forget to prepare for the infinite amount of time we will spend in eternity. Dad was prepared.
When the time came, I think he understood the apostle Paul’s frustration when he wrote, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. I am torn between the two: I desire to be with Christ which is better by far, but it is necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
(Phil. 1:21ff). Dad understood his life was not his own. He had been bought with a price. His days had been ordained and numbered by his Creator. And it was his Heavenly Father’s decision as to when that homecoming would take place.
In our last conversation with him on the phone just two days before his death, Dad made sure to tell us how much he loved us, and he even complimented Debby on her speech over the phone. Like many of his generation, he was not known for being the most demonstrative person at expressing his feelings. But as the end drew near, he seemed to be more attuned to the feelings of those he loved most, and began expressing his love much more directly.
Now that he is “gone,” I—we, too, experience an emotional paradox. Sadness and joy.
I used to think Juliet said it best in Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet:
“Parting is such sweet sorrow.” She was merely anticipating a momentary absence from her beloved Romeo. She fully expected to see him again, and soon. But then I read the words of John the apostle in Revelations 14, and concluded that his description wins the prize.
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, Write: Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from now on: Yes, said the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”
Though perhaps no experience associated with being human frightens us more or is more mysterious than death, John calls those who die in the Lord blessed. And for obvious reasons. In death, we are finally at rest. We cease our striving. Our struggles are over. And we are fully in God’s presence—we are with the Lord. He no longer is experienced where we are (condescension), but rather we experience Him where He is (ascension).
Dad could boldly face death, because the judgment and penalty for his sin had been paid in full by the One he trusted for salvation—His savior Jesus. This week we were reminded that, for him and all other believers in Christ, suffering, pain, and loss are only temporary—only a part of this life. What endures forever is peace with God, joy in His presence, and sweet reunion with those who loved Him and have gone before us. As we celebrate the life and homecoming of Irvin Weaver, may each of us pray with the Psalmist: Teach us to number our days that we might apply our hearts to wisdom.
(Ps. 90) After all, this life is about an inch. tad