MY HEART GASPED. My mind swirled, losing its equilibrium, and I felt fear, tangible fear, creep up my chest. I blinked, took a step back and leaned against the doorframe of the waiting room. “Wait, say that again.”
Robbin looked at me and said, “They tried, his pacemaker stopped, and they couldn’t bring him back.”
And just like that, the fear vanished. I never felt it again. Not when I walked into my dad’s hospital room and prayed for him to rise from the dead; not when my mom and sister returned home from Toronto and I held them as they cried; not when I spoke at Dad’s memorial service; not even when we stood by the graveside and Mom wept and I stared at the pine box beneath the green canopy. I looked at death, and the fear never came back.
The six years since then have been long—and short, somehow. Most days I’m fine and life feels normal. But some days come, some nights, and I feel Dad’s absence deeply. I miss his ready grin and loud laugh, his rough whiskers as I kissed him good night, his calm voice as he talked, his praying figure as he knelt at his bedside.
But in the midst of the pain, I have a hope. A certainty about a coming event in the future.
I had forgotten about that hope, to be honest. Life’s been busy and I think about a lot of other stuff besides the future. But today as I read Lee Strobel’s book, The Case For Christ, I was reminded of it. I was reminded that when I face life’s toughest question, “What about death?”, I have an answer.
In 1998, Strobel asked Gary Habermas, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University, whether the stories of Jesus appearing after his crucifixion were reliable. Strobel’s last question of the interview was simple: why is the resurrection of Jesus important?
Habermas rubbed his graying beard. The quick-fire cadence and debater’s edge to his voice was gone. No more quoting of scholars, no more citing of Scripture, no more building a case. I had asked about the importance of the Resurrection, and Habermas decided to take a risk by harkening back to 1995, when his wife, Debbie, slowly died of stomach cancer. Caught of guard by the tenderness of the moment, all I could do was listen.
“I sat on our porch,” he began, looking off to the side at nothing in particular. He sighed deeply, then went on. “My wife was upstairs dying. Except for a few weeks, she was home through it all. It was an awful time. This was the worst thing that could possibly happen.”
He turned and looked straight at me. “But do you know what was amazing? My students would call me—not just one but several of them—and say, ‘At a time like this, aren’t you glad about the Resurrection?’ As sober as those circumstances were, I had to smile for two reasons. First, my students were trying to cheer me up with my own teaching. And second, it worked.
“As I would sit there, I’d picture Job, who went through all that terrible stuff and asked questions of God, but then God turned the tables and asked him a few questions.
“I knew if God were to come to me, I’d ask only one question: ‘Lord, why is Debbie up there in bed?’ And I think God would respond by asking gently, ‘Gary, did I raise my Son from the dead?’
“I think he’d keep coming back to the same question—’Did I raise my Son from the dead?’ ‘Did I raise my Son from the dead?’—until I got his point: the Resurrection says that if Jesus was raised two thousand years ago, there’s an answer for Debbie’s death in 1995. And do you know what? It worked for me while I was sitting on the porch, and it still works today.
“It was a horribly emotional time for me, but I couldn’t get around the fact that the Resurrection is the answer for her suffering. I still worried; I still wondered what I’d do raising four kids alone. But there wasn’t a time when that truth didn’t comfort me.
“Losing my wife was the most painful experience I’ve ever had to face, but if the Resurrection could get me through that, it can get me through anything. It was good for 30 A.D., it’s good for 1995, it’s good for 1998, and it’s good beyond that.”
Habermas locked eyes with mine. “That’s not some sermon,” he said quietly. “I believe that with all my heart. If there’s a resurrection, there’s a heaven. If Jesus was raised, Debbie was raised. And I will be someday, too.
“Then I’ll see them both.”
Minutes after I read this passage, I found out that a man named Jim was killed Friday afternoon in a motorcycle accident. He had been at IHOP for ten years, lead the ministry department that focused on prayer for Israel, and had several children and grandchildren.
And in an instant, he was gone.
It hit me so hard how fragile life is. I am not guaranteed tomorrow. I guess I had been thinking that if I lived a good Christian life, if I served the Lord and was busy with the work of the kingdom, I would be safe. Nothing bad would happen to me. But Jim was a man like that. My dad was a man like that. My pastor, who died from Leukemia, was a man like that. Derek Loux, a father of 10 kids (8 adopted), was a man like that. We are not guaranteed tomorrow.
But our hope, our glorious, majestic hope, is that one day there will be a resurrection. Jesus really will come back, the dead really will raise, and those who accepted him as Lord really will live with him forever.
I really will see my dad again. I really will be able to introduce him to all of my friends, to my wife and kids. I really will be able to run up to him and kiss him on his whiskery cheek and whisper over and over in his ear, “I love you, Daddy! I love you, I love you, I love you!”
That doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Like Habermas said, life is still hard, there still is pain.
But if there is a resurrection, there is a heaven. If Jesus was raised, Dad will be raised. Jim will be raised. Steve will be raised. Derek will be raised. Beth will be raised. Jill will be raised. Wendel will be raised.
This is my glorious hope.
Quotation taken from: Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. 241-242.