Last night the strangest thing happened. Debbie and I were getting dressed for a walk in the neighborhood (trying to keep in shape at our ages), when I was pulling on my socks at the desk at my laptop when I pulled up my Facebook page and noticed this post from my friend and my former RUF intern Tom Cannon:
“My Dad, Joseph J. Cannon, Jr, passed away at 5:00 pm today. ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ – Genesis 18:25″
Through his involvement at Rose Hill Presbyterian Church and the faithful ministry of Pastor John Bumgardmer, Tom had come to understand some of the Biblical truth of God’s sovereign grace. Because of this when I showed up on the USC campus Tom and I met and for the next two years he was an intern with me with Reformed University Fellowship. After spending time with Tom, I knew that we were bound together by something that even to this day I cannot fully understand much less explain. Well, Tom left USC to enroll at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. The Presbytery (a collection of Presbyterian churches and ministers in a paricular geographical area) I was part of sent me and Debbie to visit Tom as one of our “students under care”.
That is when I met Tom’s dad Joseph J Cannon Jr., when Debbie and I went to Tom’s house and met his family. Thinking back on the situation, what strikes me as odd is that the highlight of our visit was lunch with one of my spiritual heroes, Cornelius Van Til but when Dr. Van Til died several year back I did not shed a tear. When Tom’s dad died, I cried like I had lost my dad all over again. I began to ask myself why, why all these tears for a man that I barely knew. Then I began to think about death, grieving and sorrow.
I grew up in a small family where there was very little death. I had a first cousin, Bob Hollingsworth, who died when I was in junior high. He was a wonderful cousin, one that I would very much have liked to have known through the years. With that exception I knew little of death growing up. I never knew my grandfathers, one died long before I was born and the other for one reason of another (family stories differ) was not around when I was growing up. My first exposure to death close to the heart was the death of my father-in-law, Dave Cranford who died the day I graduated from seminary in May of 1981. When it came to comforting my wife during this time I was completely useless. I thought that God’s word about grieving was found in Job 1:21 “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord”. Not knowing that these were the words of Job before he came to know God “face-to-face”.
So when did I learn to grieve? It was in 1996 when a man named Jack Miller died. Jack’s
name will not make it into any history books. Even in the annals of church history, I doubt that he will get a foot note. but Jack changed my life. How that happened is for another blog but God used Jack to help me “re-understand” the centrality of the gospel to my life, marriage, ministry and everything else in my life. So in 1996 Jack died and I wept for 2 months. No, that is the truth. I found myself having to pull over to the side of the road 2 months after Jack died to compose myself well enough to see to drive. Why was this? Well one of the things that Jack taught me is that this world is not running the way that God had originally intended, it is a fallen world marked by death,separation, sickness and loss. All of these things, though under our Father’s soverign care, is part of a fallen world that Jesus came to correct.
So since that time I have come to hate death and to believe that too many Christians accept death “as the way things are”but that is just not right. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus’ tomb, knowing that in a few minutes he would raise Lazarus from the dead. Why did he weep? Because he knew that death was not God’s original intension, it was the devil’s plan and he hated anything that was opposed to his Father’s will. As I have told congregations in the past who have gathered to mourn the loss of a loved one: “Death hurts like hell”. I would say this not in some sort of profane way but as an actual description of what death is like. Sometimes Christians gather to worshipand the presence of God’s Holy Spirit is so real that it can almost be touched. At times like these Christians sometimes say “If it were anymore like heaven, I could not stand it”. But death is just the opposite. It is a realtiy of everything that the enemy of our souls designs for us: separation, isolation and loss. If you want to know what hell ie like, it is like losing someone you loved very much. So when death comes I mourn.
I find myself weeping at the oddest moments. When some movie star, whose work I have enjoyed dies; when a public figure dies (even when I may have disagreed with his politica) passes on; when a rock musician whose songs have brought joy to my heart sluffs off this mortal coil. I have come to embrace the words of John Donne “each man’s death diminishes me”.
If that is how I react when someone I hardly knew dies, how does it impact me when someone I deeply love suffers loss. I just about lose it. I have so many questions about life and death and judgment and eternity that I just do not get sufficient answers for that I end up weeping, but weeping with hope.
So as my friend Tom weeps for the loss of his father there is little I can do but weep with him. I am confident in his faith but even more confident in the grip that our heavenly Father has on him, God will not let him go even in the midst of his grief. But until the day that Jesus returns to finally banish death, I will weep because of death. I will contiue to hate death and to understand that death hurts like hell, it really does..