6Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, Or the golden bowl is broken, Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, Or the wheel broken at the well. 7Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it.Ecclesiastes 12:6-6 – NKJV
I make no apology for this post. With God’s guidance, encouragement, and comfort, I have to deal with the loss of my dear mother however I can. I’m sharing my thoughts and feelings here for two reasons:
- I need to regiment them for myself so I can deal with them. Writing them down allows me to define and organize them. I share them in the hope that the feedback I receive from the readers – especially my brothers and sisters in Christ – will help give me some peace of mind.
- I hope they may be of use to someone who needs to hear the truth.
I am fully aware that some of the things written here will be offensive to some – perhaps especially to some of those I dearly love the most. Once again, I make no apology. I have a God-ordained right to my thoughts. Even in our politically correct society – for the time being at least – I still have the right to voice my thoughts and feelings in any way I please. It is thoroughly predictable that some will take offense, and even be deeply hurt by this post. Paul wrote about this nearly two thousand years ago to the church in Corinth.
18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.1 Corinthians 1:18-26 – NKJV
Finally I make no apology for God Himself. He created the entire universe by the power of His Word. He owns all things and therefore has the perfect right to ordain all things in any way He pleases whether or not His creations – with their limited understanding – approve. This is the “stumbling block of offense” Isaiah wrote of, which my sweet departed mother could never get past. So to those who might be offended by the things written here, I can make only one suggestion – don’t read them. Nevertheless, for your own eternal benefit I strongly encourage you to read and consider them carefully.
The Succor of the Road
Even as I flew to be at my mother’s side in her final hours, I had already decided I wouldn’t be flying back. Surely it was expedient to bring some of her furniture and other gifts with me on my return home (something I couldn’t have done if I had flown back), but that was just the icing on the cake. The benefit to my spirit was in the journey itself with its accompanying solitude and anonymity. Looking back on it now, I realize I was being a little selfish. My family – particularly my ailing wife – also needed me to be present with them during this time, but I badly needed some time apart from everyone to fully consider what had taken place. I didn’t listen to music, or sermons, or Bible readings along the road. I listened only to my thoughts, seeking the voice of the LORD. When the prophet Elijah ran away from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel who were seeking to kill him, he heard the call of the LORD.
11Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.1 Kings 19:11-12 – NKJV
Like Elijah, as I turned my rental truck out onto the road, I was seeking to hear God speak solace to me in that same still small voice. Some months ago as my wife and I were making our way back home from somewhere via a hitherto untried – and as it turned out, not very efficient – route, she remarked, “I can’t understand why you feel compelled to put every inch of road underneath you.” Indeed, this wanderlust is deeply ingrained in my soul. I inherited it from both my mother and my father. Thinking about it as I write, it occurs to me that this was one of the few things they really had in common to hold their otherwise largely joyless union together. When I was a child, life on the road was always more enjoyable and exciting than life in the home. Consequently, in times of trouble I have always sought the refuge of the road. It’s not that I run away – quite the contrary. The road brings the trouble into focus. It allows me to work through my thoughts and seek the LORD’s guidance, when otherwise the need to get things done and keep up my end of conversations would be a distraction.
It was my mother’s wish not to have any memorial service – particularly not a religious service of any kind. She desired instead that we would all get together after she died to celebrate her life with joy in remembrance. Indeed, the loved ones surrounding her in that ghastly situation began to do just that as soon as she died. But I just couldn’t join in. What was there to celebrate? In my heart, I believed and still do believe that one of God’s beloved children had turned away from Him, denying His offer of eternal fellowship with Him in all His glory, preferring instead an eternity of spiritual torture, darkness, and loneliness apart from God – what Jesus called “the outer darkness.”
I was angry – with her, with God, and with myself. When I’m angry, my gut instinct is go out and walk or drive alone somewhere until the anger dissipates – albeit perhaps only temporarily. So that’s what I did. Call it cowardice. It was to a degree. Call it selfishness. Yes – that too.
Angry With Myself
Almost twenty years ago now, I first called upon the name of Jesus for salvation. After visiting my father’s grave at Arlington on a Memorial Day road trip, I pondered the tough questions concerning life and death as I drove the remaining few hours to my destination. I remembered the Gospel of Jesus I had heard from a street evangelist in Alexandria, VA a quarter century before – the same Gospel I had related to my father just before he died a few weeks before Memorial Day several years prior. As I drove through the evening, I was praying to God as I often had in times of stress, when He clearly whispered to my heart a single question, “How can you expect me to hear your prayers when you continue willfully in your sin?” I suddenly realized that although I believed in Jesus’ resurrection, I had never fully surrendered my heart to Him. Somehow that night, God had finally been able to break through my stubbornness, my pride, and – if the truth be told – my self-indulgent enjoyment of a besetting sin that God abhors. I finally recognized the whole Truth of His Gospel – His promise of eternal life in Him for all who believe in His resurrection and surrender our hearts to His lordship. Naturally, my first desire was that all of my loved ones – my wife, my sons, my mother, my siblings, and my friends – would also come to know the Truth. I took it as a call of duty from God Almighty to share the glorious Gospel with them. I took to heart Jesus’ final admonition to His followers just before He ascended to His Father.
19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.Matthew 28:19-20 – NKJV
Praise God! Within weeks, He had also revealed Himself to my dear wife, and given her the heartfelt desire to believe and humble herself before Him. Twenty years on, I recognize that my wife’s salvation was purely the work of God’s Spirit acting within her just as He had done with me – entirely apart from our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. The choice to believe the Gospel we had heard and surrender ourselves to Jesus’ lordship over our lives had been our own, but all the other events and actions concerning our salvation had been due to God’s manifest will alone.
Sadly at the time, I believed that somehow I could win my friends and family to the LORD myself if only I could witness His Gospel message in the proper way. In a sense, I had misread and misunderstood this Great Commission from Jesus to His followers in Matthew 28. I didn’t recognize that my only duty was to inform them of the Truth (make disciples). I didn’t understand that it is God’s Spirit who must call them to Himself and by their own heartfelt consent, perform the miraculous transformation in their hearts to make them true believers and followers unto the salvation of their souls. In my ignorance and arrogance I sought to make converts of them all by drilling the Gospel into them until they recognized the Truth. In fact, I was trying to usurp God’s place in His plan of salvation.
Quite understandably my loved ones all rebuffed my heavy-handed approach. Rather than drawing them into the family of God, my Gospel bullying drove them further from Him and in some cases created estrangement between us that has lingered to this very day as a perturbing undercurrent in our relationships. For all of this, I have been deeply ashamed and self-loathing for years. My anger with myself over this was brought into sharp focus with my mother’s death. If I had been a better Gospel witness – emphasizing God’s love and the joy of fellowship with Him – perhaps she might have heard and believed. If I had been more diligent in prayer and fasting, perhaps God would have honored my prayer and rescued my mother from judgement.
Angry With My Mother
The illness that carried my mother away wasn’t particularly remarkable – a viral upper-respiratory infection that would have been a mere inconvenience to all but the very young or very old and vulnerable. She had experienced bouts with such infections before and always recovered. But she, the family, and her medical caregivers all knew that one of them would one-day kill her. I don’t think any of us really believed this would be the one until the last few days of her life.
During one of these episodes a few years ago as my wife and I were finishing up our shift in the hospital caring for her, I asked my mother if it would be all right for me to share the Gospel one more time with her. She asked how long it would take. I’m not really sure why she asked that. After all, she was flat on her back in a hospital bed with nowhere else to go. She certainly didn’t have any pressing demands on her time at that moment. But I told her it would only take two minutes. In actuality, it took about three, but she graciously allowed me the extra time. The Gospel is so straightforward and simple to understand, even a child can hear and believe. In fact, it is easier for an innocent child to believe and be saved than a jaded adult who brings a scarred heart to the table.
For the record, here is the Gospel I shared with my mother that day:
- There is an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God who created all things and is present everywhere at all times. The Bible makes no explanation of this, assuming that everyone already knows that God always was and always will be.
- God created the universe we know – time, space, energy, and matter – out of nothing by the power of His Word alone. He literally spoke the universe into existence. (Genesis 1 & 2, John 1:1-5)
- God created mankind in His own image out of the dust of the earth. Just as God Himself is an eternal trinity of persons – Father, Son Jesus, and Holy Spirit – so mankind is eternal, being a trinity of body, soul, and spirit. (Genesis 1:26-31)
- God created us for fellowship with Him to love Him just as He loves us. But being the very essence of love Himself, God recognized that love must be a choice. Not even God Himself can force someone to love. In order for mankind to love God, He needed to give us the power to choose not to love and serve Him if we so wished.
- If our choice to love and obey God was to be truly free, we needed to have an alternative. God therefore created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and gave Adam the command to never eat its fruit. (Genesis 2:16-17)
- Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s command, ate of the forbidden tree, and thereby introduced death, suffering, disease, decay, war, and every other form of what we now collectively call “evil” into God’s hitherto perfect creation. (Genesis 3, Romans 6:23)
- Since mankind’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden all of us have been sinners by nature and by thought, word, and deed. Our sin has separated us from God because in His perfect holiness, God cannot dwell in the presence of sin. God defines for us exactly what He means by sin in His Word – The Bible. (Romans 3:23, Psalm 14, Psalm 53, Exodus 20:1-17)
- Our rightful punishment for sin is death. (Romans 6:23, Genesis 2:17)
- Since God desires fellowship with mankind in mutual love, He made a way for sinful man to be reconciled to Himself through a substitutionary sacrifice. God Himself became a man – Jesus of Nazareth – and dwelt among us, living the perfectly sinless life which we could not. He was therefore able to take upon Himself the sins of all mankind, suffering the punishment of death on the cross in our place. (John 1:9-14, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 53)
- Jesus was crucified, died on the cross, and was buried, but being God He did not remain in the grave. On the third day He rose again by the power of His own Spirit, and was seen by many. (Mark 16:1-13, Matthew 28:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-10 , 1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
- Jesus promised that we too may partake of His resurrection into eternal life in His glorious presence simply by believing in His resurrection. The only things we need to do to claim this reward are believe in His resurrection, surrender the lordship of our hearts to Him, and make confession of our belief aloud. (John 3:16-17, John 11:25, Romans 10:8-13)
- There is no other way for people to obtain eternal life than belief in this Gospel and confession of our faith. (John 14:6, Acts 4:8-12)
On that morning my mother listened attentively as I laid out the Gospel one last time before her. When I asked if she had any questions about it, she responded, “Tell me this. Why wasn’t it good enough when I was baptized into the Presbyterian church when I was seventeen?” I told her then what I truly believed at the time, and still do. Only God knows whether a person truly believes in His Gospel. I don’t know what was in my mother’s heart on the day she was baptized, nor seventy odd years later in that hospital room, nor the evening she died as she gasped for breath on her deathbed unresponsively staring straight forward.
I do know this, and it gives me the most profound sorrow I have ever known. When I asked her the following day whether she had considered the Gospel Truth I had shared with her, she said, “I’m sorry, Brian. That ship has sailed.” I also know that in the intervening years she steadfastly requested that no memorial service of a religious nature be held for her. On the day she died, my poor brother got handed the disagreeable task of informing me during the ride from the airport to the hospital of her expressed wish that I not pray aloud for her in her presence. In my experience, when a person is truly born again into God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within the heart, we are compelled to tell everyone we meet about the miraculous thing that God has done within us. So although it pains me deeply to say so, in truth I must frankly say that I don’t believe my mother’s baptism was “good enough.”
Hence my anger with her and with God Himself. Why did an otherwise intelligent, passionately loving and compassionate person allow her pride and stubbornness to blind her to the plain Truth and hold her back from receiving the gift of eternal life freely given, which cost God Himself His very life to obtain for her?
Angry With God
What I feel right now toward God can’t really be termed anger so much as disappointment and confusion. My continual prayer for my mother and the rest of my family for many years past has been that He would reveal His presence and the Truth of His Gospel to them in a way that they can understand and believe. Yet, I know that God must allow them to make their own choices. His plan of salvation – conceived since before the foundation of the world – would be meaningless if He has already chosen who will be saved and who will not. I believe in the very core of my being that such is not the case. The Gospel of Jesus Christ that I hold to is as stated above – wholly geared to God’s offer of salvation in Christ by His sacrifice on the cross being accepted and claimed by the free choice of those who are being saved. So I guess it would be more correct to say that my prayer for my family has been that they would be fully aware of the Gospel with its opportunity to receive eternal life in Christ, so they can make informed choices.
I trust in my heart that God hears my prayers, and will answer them in His own way in His own time. I also trust fully that God will not hold guilty those who never hear His call, and that He is faithful to call everyone to Him. This is Biblically sound doctrine.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.2 Peter 3:9 – NKJV
This implies that God gives His call to all people, whether they hear Jesus’ Gospel from another person or not. One thing is perfectly clear – my mother is gone from us. Her window of opportunity to believe and confess has now closed. Did she ever hear his call? If so, did she receive it or reject it? I don’t know whether or not she heard and accepted His call before she was baptized at seventeen. When I was a boy, she took me to church now and again, but apart from those occasions I never saw any indication of her enjoying a day-to-day relationship with the living God. Perhaps she was a true believer at seventeen, but like the seed sown among the thorns in Jesus’ parable of the sower, her faith was shipwrecked by her experiences in this wicked world.
Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.Matthew 13:22 – NKJV
My mother once told me that meeting the airplanes full of wounded young people coming back from Vietnam when she was a Red Cross volunteer in Hawaii had destroyed her faith. She said she could no longer believe in a God who would allow such things. Is it possible for someone who once believed Jesus’ Gospel and confessed His lordship over her heart to fall away from that faith and still receive her salvation? This, of course, is a debate which has raged for over half a millennium and even longer. The Bible would seem to indicated otherwise.
4For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.Hebrews 6:4-6 – NKJV
With that said, some of the Bible expositors I most trust frankly admit they don’t really know what this passage means (see my study notes on this passage here). So what is the case with my departed mother? Like me, in her pride she kicked against the goads, which surely must have troubled her mind with regard to the Gospel if indeed God does call everyone as He says.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.Revelation 3:20 – NKJV
Did my mother ever hear and respond to His call that I truly trust He must have made to her time and again – either to accept it or reject it? I simply don’t know. Hence my besetting confusion and disappointment.
My favorite passage in all of God’s Word was written by Paul the apostle from his house arrest in Rome to the church he had founded in Philippi a few years before.
12Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.Philippians 3:12-14 – NKJV
In my zeal as a newly-reborn Christian believer to see my whole family come to know Jesus the LORD, I was woefully ignorant of the role of God’s Holy Spirit in the process of redemption. But even in my arrogant ignorance, my motivations were pure – wholly out of love for the lost. Years later, I have learned the Truth that Jesus taught.
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.John 6:44 – NKJV
The astute reader will recognize that this teaching from Jesus flies in the face of what I have already written about mankind’s free choice versus God’s immutable will in the process of salvation. Admittedly, this is problematic. Some of the greatest minds in western civilization have struggled with this conundrum for centuries. I doubt that my feeble mind can resolve it here. I find biblical support for both God’s predestination and mankind’s free will in deciding who will be saved and who will not. Without being able to understand though, I do believe that God’s very nature would prevent Him from unfairly judging anyone. When my mother and I each stand in turn along with everyone else before the throne of God Almighty on the Day of the LORD, when all the books are opened and Jesus Himself judges the living and the dead, there won’t be any “Not Guilty” pleas. Everyone who ever lived will fully agree that God’s judgement in all things is completely righteous and just.
As a young believer, I stumbled upon a promise from God in which many hold a false hope just as I once did.
…“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”Acts 16:31b – NKJV
Tragically, many people are hanging their hopes on this verse as I did. Even more tragically many Gospel preachers hold out this verse as a promise given to all believers – quoting it in isolation as I have here, outside of its overall context in God’s Word. The fact of the matter is that this promise was given by Paul and Silas on a singular occasion to an individual man – the jailer in Philippi – and to his family. The promise was fulfilled in and for those specific people that very evening. It is not a general promise to all believers as I once hoped.
The fact of the matter is that God’s Holy Spirit must work in the heart of believers before they can choose to trust and follow Him. No matter how sweetly I preach the Gospel message to my family, it is God Himself who must draw them to Him, and they must be willing to accept His call just as I did. Just as with any form of education, one of the primary lessons disciples of God in evangelism must learn is just how little we actually know. Hence, Paul – the great evangelist to the Gentiles and author of nearly half the New Testament – humbly wrote to the Philippians that he still had a great deal more to learn. Instead of blaming myself for not being able to reach my mother and other loved ones with the Truth of the Gospel, I trust that God for His own glorification will continue to perfect me into the image of Jesus until the day He calls me to Himself or returns to claim His bride – the Church.
…He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;Philippians 1:6b – NKJV
So I press on in the desire to honor my God and the hope that He may find use for me in the lives of those around me despite my shortcomings and weaknesses, knowing that He is working all these things in accordance with His perfect plan and will.
Forgiving My Mother
My dear mother was a universally acknowledged “good person.” She was never mean-spirited or vengeful, although the circumstances in her life – particularly in her marriage – might often have justified her being so. Her defining characteristic was her loving empathy. She had an innate talent for being able to see into people’s hearts, and make them feel that she understood their joys and troubles. Not only that, she was able to share in them fully as if they were her own. In parental discipline she was firm, but never harsh or unfair.
Yet despite all that and regardless of her innermost beliefs regarding His Gospel, she was never able to humble herself before the living God of the universe, at least insofar as I was ever able to discern while she was alive. This is quite understandable. She came of age just as the atheistic philosophies of Charles Darwin and those whose science is underpinned by his theories were coming into their full force. During my mother’s lifetime the evolutionary idea known as uniformitarianism became what is called in the realm of mathematical proofs, a “given” within our institutions of learning and our society as a whole. The Biblical idea that a loving Creator God not only brought everything we know into being but also takes an active role in the development of the universe fell out of favor, and is now actually illegal to teach in many schools. Small wonder then that her personal beliefs fell into line with her education and the beliefs of the learned people around her. By the time I came to her espousing another point of view regarding creation and salvation in Christ alone – the same viewpoint she at least purported to believe on the day she was baptized – her heart had already been hardened against the Truth by the lies of our great enemy and the worldly philosophical system which he has established. Writing about this brings to mind the words of one of my favorite poets (whom my mother truly couldn’t stand) – Bob Dylan
I was blinded by the devil,Bob Dylan – Saved
Born already ruined,
As I stepped out of the womb.
In fact, my mother was paralyzed by unbelief. She was caught in a web of deceit skillfully woven by the father of all lies since the foundation of the world – first calling into question the Word of God, and then ridiculing and denying it. My mother is to be pitied for having been deceived just as Eve was, not reviled for refusing to bow her knee.
Yet I do still hold some hope for my mother. Those who know me well will surely agree that I am a skeptical, cynical, sarcastic, pessimistic, pragmatic person. One of the deepest regrets in my life is the way I unwittingly but quite systematically destroyed the childhood dreams and aspirations of my sons because I am not by nature an optimist. As a father, I continually pointed out the practical steps my sons would need to take before they could accomplish the things they dreamed. Even worse, I often emphasized the impracticality of the dreams themselves, pointing out more practical alternatives. In so doing, I hoped in my love for them to spare them from the hurt of having their dreams shattered by the world. I failed to learn the parenting lessons my own mother seemed to know instinctively.
- Let your children dream. There will be plenty of time for practicality once they’ve grown.
- Take part enthusiastically and joyfully in their aspirations.
- Take genuine joy in their successes.
- Mourn their failures with them.
- Encourage them to try again, giving their all in pursuit of their dreams and secure in the knowledge that their parents fully support them.
During the many periods when I was away from the home earnestly believing I could best serve my family by working in locations far apart from them all over the world for months at a time, my mother sought with limited success to restore and nurture my sons’ dreams and undo this damage I had done.
Yet despite my miserable, curmudgeonly nature, I still hold a glimmer of hope for my mother. I certainly know that with God all things are possible. Perhaps my mother was able to come to belief in Jesus’ Gospel and make the confession of faith that God required for Him to be able to redeem her in those final hours of her life when she was struggling for each breath and absolutely unresponsive to those around her who were remaining behind. In my present abiding uncertainty and sorrow for her, I hold fast to God’s certain promise spoken through the apostle Paul.
12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:12-13 – NKJV
It seems arrogant and even blasphemous for a mere man to speak of forgiving God. Who am I to presume that right and power. As King David wrote in his beautiful song of praise…
3When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, 4What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? 5For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. 6You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,Psalm 8:3-6 – NKJV
Yet I do speak of forgiving God, in the sense that I accept God’s actions and His perfect will as being utterly holy and true. I know in my heart that God carries an abiding love that I will never fully plumb for me – His child. If I am angry with God, in the back of my mind I envision Him looking upon me with deep compassion and understanding in the same way an earthly father might look upon his youngster’s temper tantrum. God has shoulders broad enough to carry my anger. One of the stories we often re-tell in our family is of the time my brother stomped into the living room of our home and loudly proclaimed, “I hate you, Daddy, and good luck!,” before storming back out – no doubt a well-rehearsed one-liner meant to pierce our offending father’s heart to its core. In a way, my little rant here (although not a one-liner by any stretch) is much the same. When I say I’m angry with God, He knows I don’t really mean exactly that. He knows that what I really mean is that I’m hurt, confused, and desperate for His reassurance. I can be assured that God is not offended or hurt by my raving for two reasons:
First, God created me to be exactly as I am (apart from the fallen nature I inherited from Adam).
8The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. 14For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.Psalm 103:8-14 – NKJV
Second, God Himself has experienced the sorrows and temptations of living as a mere man in our fallen world, having come to dwell among us as עִמָּנוּאֵל `Immanuw’el (God with us) in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.
5Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.Philippians 2:5-8 – NKJV
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.Hebrews 4:15 – NKJV
Therefore, God fully understands my sorrow and despair at the death of my mother and even my confusion, disappointment, and even anger at the way He has ordained the universe. Like my mother, I am faced with the question, “If there truly is a loving God, why would He judge unworthy to dwell in His presence a woman who was universally acknowledged by her fellow creatures an exceptionally ‘good person’, and cast her instead into ‘the outer darkness’ in utter solitude and torment forever?”
But unlike my mother and many others, my inability to answer that terrible question hasn’t driven me away from God, but rather closer to Him. Part of the answer comes from humble acknowledgement of the fact that I am not God (for which everyone should be deeply grateful). Not only am I incapable of exhibiting God’s holiness, I am utterly unable to even understand Him. Yet He accepts me in my sinfulness anyway, because He is able to view my unholiness through the lens of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in my place, not only forgiving me, but somehow rendering Himself incapable of even seeing me in my natural state but only in my redeemed state.
8“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. 9“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.Isaiah 55:8-9 – NKJV
The Word of God is perfectly clear. All people will be judged by God after we die for our works here on earth.
27And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.Hebrews 9:27-28 – NKJV
Furthermore, the nature of God’s final judgement is also laid out clearly in His Word.
11Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.Revelation 20:11-14 – NKJV
But WHY has God ordained His plan of salvation this way?! After all, He is our Father and Creator. He knows every aspect of our being. He SAYS that He loves us. Almost everyone does their best to be good. All of us fail because we have an in-born sinful nature, but some of us – like my dear, sweet mother – get very close to the mark of sinless perfection. Couldn’t God just give us all a “participation trophy” and welcome us all back into His presence whether or not we ever called upon the Name of Jesus for salvation in the heartfelt belief in His resurrection while we were still alive to make the choice? That’s certainly how I would arrange things if I were God.
I could try to apologize for God, explaining His utter holiness and abhorrence of sin that runs so deep that mere people can’t even describe it. I could go on to say that if God were to give everyone a “pass” He would have to become a liar because He has told us in His Word about His plan of salvation and given us fair warning about His pending judgement. Going back on His Word, and changing His mind are things God is simply incapable of doing. God cannot tell a lie, unlike all of us for whom lying is second nature. But frankly, I find such explanations wholly unsatisfactory in answering all of these questions for myself, so it would be disingenuous of me to try to foist them off on my readers even though I am fully convinced that they are true.
The simple fact of the matter is that God is God. He is the Creator of all things. He is perfect in all His ways regardless of whether His creatures understand or agree with them. Furthermore, He has created us in His image with an innate ability to discern right from wrong. By His very nature, His judgements are always perfectly righteous. No one at the Great White Throne will be able to cry foul. Everyone will agree with God’s verdicts and sentences. This is also a flawless answer to the “pygmy question” and the “innocent child” question. How will God judge those who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus or were incapable of responding? We know from our own sense of right and wrong, and our faith in the righteous nature of God that His judgements in even these fringe cases will also be fair and right.
Of course, my mother was neither a member of an isolated tribe nor an innocent child. I know without any doubt at all, that my mother heard the Gospel Truth on a number of occasions while she was still alive and capable of deciding whether to accept or reject it. What I don’t know is how she truly responded in her heart. And since I trust in the righteous nature of God, I humbly place her into His loving hands to await His judgement.
God’s Whisper Amid the Roar of the Road
13Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. 14For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 – NKJV
I firmly believe that God is faithful to ensure that all of us – including my dear departed mother – are given the opportunity to remember Him and call out to Him “…before the silver cord is loosed, Or the golden bowl is broken, Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, Or the wheel broken at the well.” Furthermore, I believe that His judgements on all of us will be true to His nature – lovingly righteous and perfectly holy. When Solomon exhorts us to “fear God” in this passage, he uses the Hebrew word יָרֵא yare’ – which means not only to fear, but also to hold in awe, revere, honor, and respect. Surely the purpose for which God created us is so that we may not only “fear” Him but love Him with the entirety of our being just as He loves us. Fulfilling this purpose is the free choice that God has given us. We must choose to honor and show our love for Him by keeping His commandments to love Him with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul and all our strength, and to love our fellow creatures as we do ourselves. As the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome…
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.Romans 12:1 – NKJV
Finally, I am fully convinced in the depth of my heart that God’s promise to His chosen children will be fulfilled…
1Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”Revelation 21:1-4 – NKJV
When the books of His judgement are opened, there will be many whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. On that Day of God’s final judgement, surely many will weep and mourn – both those whose names are not written there and those who loved them, prayed for them, and hoped earnestly but in vain for them. Yet God’s magnificent promise is that He will wipe away all those tears among His remnant of true believers, and abolish all sorrow by renewing all things into the perfect state in which He originally created them.