Today we celebrate the first anniversary of the homecoming of my father-in-law, Timothy Stanton. His body succumbed to cancer in the early morning hours of November 18, 2013. Though he left his body behind, he most assuredly lives in the presence of God.
2013 had been a horrible year for my wife and me. We suffered two miscarriages and faced the likelihood of our prayers for healing being answered with “No.”
On a Saturday in early November last year, we got a phone call informing us that my father-in-law’s end was near. Sunday, we packed and traveled the six-hour drive to his Florida home. When we arrived, I was surprised to see him alert, sitting up on his couch. I had seen my great-grandfather suffer the same type of cancer. He had been bed-ridden for months before his death. My father-in-law did not appear at all close to death.
Throughout the week family members arrived to say their “Good-byes.” After Thursday, his health quickly deteriorated. He survived the weekend, and with his wife, and two daughters at his side, early Monday morning Timothy Stanton slipped the bonds of this imperfect life and found himself face to face with Jesus.
He left a godly legacy to his wife, his daughters, and his grandchildren.
In the weeks following my father-in-law’s death, I struggled with my understanding of God. I never had a crisis of faith, but I had to come to grips with who God really is. I had some frank discussions with God:
“God you say in your Word ‘Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.’ You said ‘Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?’ Well, God, I asked for healing for my father-in-law, and guess what? You didn’t do it. I asked for ‘bread’ and was given a ‘stone.’ You say you are good, and you give good gifts, but my experience says to me that you are a liar.”
For several weeks I struggled with what my experience was telling me. I kept praying, seeking for some understanding. Then one day I had a Job-like moment with God. Job had questioned God at length. When he finally fell silent, God answered Job with questions of his own. “Were you there when I laid the foundation of the earth?” After all my questions of God, he had some for me. He asked “Are you an infinite being with all knowledge of every situation throughout all of history in the entire universe?”
“No,” I sheepishly replied.
“Then how can you possibly know my plans or understand my ways?”
At that moment I understood what “faith” really is about. Faith is not some belief in something despite the evidence. Too many Christians think faith and reason are enemies. People think faith is “believing hard enough,” or “believing in something despite the evidence.” Belief, however, does not create truth.
Too many Christians treat faith like this: Someone walks into an empty room and believes with all his might that a chair is there. When he goes to sit down he falls to the floor because that wishful thinking cannot create a chair.
Faith is walking into a room, seeing a chair, and trusting that it will hold you up when you sit down. Why do you have faith in the chair? Because of the evidence: it has four legs, it looks sturdy, it is made of wood, it has held you up when you sat in it before. You then take the risk and sit down in safety. That is faith: trusting in something/Someone that is trustworthy.
I knew that I needed to exercise faith in God. Not in a mere opinion about him, or in some wishful, positive thinking. But in a complete trust. I looked to the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead just like he said he would. I then understood what it means to put my trust in God. I said “I will trust you, God. My experience says you’re a liar. But I believe you are true and my experience is the lie.”
Through my struggles with my father-in-law’s death God has given me a new understanding of death. Because I trust God, I have embraced what he says about death. “O grave, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” I Corinthians 15:55. “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” II Corinthians 5:8.
For those of us who have yielded ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, death is nothing to fear. The sting of death is gone. Death is not the end. The finality of death is a lie. Because of the resurrection, death is merely a portal to the presence of Jesus.
So, today we celebrate my father-in-law’s homecoming to the presence of Jesus. His life isn’t over. His perfection has only just begun. We mourn his parting, but not as those who have no hope. We weep at his departure, but not as if his absence is final. We will see him again because of the resurrection power of Jesus.
Timothy Stanton was a loving husband, a devoted father, and is now called “Good and Faithful Servant” by his heavenly Father. On this anniversary of a his passing, we trust Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, will reunite us with him in our own glorious homecoming.