“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”--Psalm 23:4
It’s nearing the one-year anniversary of my earthly father’s death. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve felt like it is a bad dream. I cannot number how many times I’ve thought, “I gotta tell Dad about this!” On occasion, I’ve actually picked up the phone to call him—his number is still in my phone. Nevertheless, death is real in this life and he’s gone. There is hope in Christ, for sure. I anticipate seeing my father again when Jesus returns (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). And though some days have been tough, I am certain that the Holy Spirit has supplied strength on my weakest days (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Few things have encouraged me more, however, than looking back at the grace through which my father faced cancer and ultimately death. Given the opportunity, I’m certain he would have lived longer on this earth. Who wouldn’t? But I never got the feeling he was angry about his cancer being terminal—not even once. I was there every time the doctor gave news, whether good or bad. I was there when the wonderfully caring surgeon told my father with tears in her eyes that they were wrong about his cancer—that it was outside his bladder and his prognosis wasn’t good. She struggled to get the words out and we struggled to hear them. Silence filled the room for a few seconds (it seemed like an hour). The silence was broken by words of faith—“Doctor, I am thankful for you. I know you did all you could. But God was God when I was diagnosed with cancer and He will be God when I leave this world. He is in charge and I am satisfied with that.”
I was there for that final visit with the cancer doctor. I heard those words as they fell from the cancer doctor’s lips—“Mr. Bryant, the treatment is not working and your cancer is spreading rapidly. I do not believe you’ll be with us in six months.” I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. It was all I could do not to cry, but I had to be strong. My dad and I had walked together as father and son…as brothers in Christ…as pastor and church member. For the last 10 years, we’d worked at the same company. We literally talked every morning for at least a half-hour, mostly about the Bible and what we’d read that morning (we always read the same reading plan). There are few people on this planet that I’ve ever talked with so much. Six months—which ultimately was less than two. Mom and I were devastated—both visibly shaken. Dad was relieved. It was clear that he was ready to go. This life had become hard and tough. Nobody loved his family more than my father. But Dad loved Christ more. The shadow of death was looming. And yet, he feared no evil. His Heavenly Father was with Him. My father found comfort in God, the Gospel of His Son and the sure promises of His Word.
I suppose it’s easy to be angry when you lose a loved one. I suppose it’s even natural to be angry when you lose a loved one. But I haven’t been able to be angry because my father was never angry. He was satisfied with God’s will for his life. What’s there to be angry about if God’s will is done? That’s what we pray, right?. That’s what I preach! He was merely following the leadership of God’s Spirit through His Word. No, Dad was never angry. He faced death like a faithful child of God should. I pray that I can face it so graciously when my time in this life draws to a close.
I thank God for the faithful witness of my father. I thank God that any anger and bitterness I could naturally feel at this time is alleviated by the manner in which my dad faced diagnosis and treatment and ultimately the end of his earthly life. If Dad wasn’t angry, how can I be? In fact, I honestly believe the way he faced the disease that ultimately took his life was not only a testimony of his spiritual strength in Christ, but his way of encouraging all of us not to be angry. He would have us to be thankful that the Gospel is real—and one day, we will meet again because Jesus has overcome death, hell and the grave.
I thank God for my father.
Todd Bryant is the Lead Elder at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net