Monday, October 01, 2012

Miracles And My Father's Death

I haven't posted for several weeks. In early August, my father was diagnosed with cancer and was given weeks to live. The diagnosis and prognosis were startling. The symptoms leading up to his diagnosis didn't suggest cancer, much less cancer in such an advanced stage. Earlier this year, I had thought my father could easily live another decade, maybe two decades or more. He was only in his sixties, and he hadn't even retired yet. He died on September 19.

When I left in August, I was in the middle of a series of posts about Craig Keener's recent book on miracles. (For those not familiar with the series, you can read my introduction to it here.) I'm continuing with that series, and I've decided to include this post about my father as part of it. I'm doing so for a few reasons. For one thing, healings often don't occur when we want them to, and that subject is worth considering in a discussion of miracles. Secondly, my father's case does involve some miracles, even though he wasn't healed of his cancer. Third, I still intend to post an index to this series when I'm finished with it. If this post is included in that index, then the post should get more readers than it would in isolation. I love my father. I want his story to get a wider audience.

Shortly after my Dad's death, a cousin (who's significantly older than me) wrote the following to me in an email about my father:

We were not that far apart in years and I think of him more as a brother than an uncle….

I remember fondly many good times with John.  One of my memories is the time he took me along to one of his softball games.  I must have been about 8 or 9, and John about 15 or16.  When John came up to bat the coach of the opposing team motioned to his outfielders and told them to move back because John was up.  That is the way I like to think of John - standing tall and commanding respect.  But even more than that, throughout the years, over the long haul, I remember him  as one who was exceedingly generous, to me and to everyone.  Stand back people, John is up!  I dearly miss him.

My cousin mentioned that my father was generous. He was, and he was cheerful, faithful, and had many other good attributes. When he died, he had been married to my mother for 42 years, never separated or divorced. He provided my brother and me with a large, stable, peaceful, and happy home to grow up in and return to in later years. There are so many good memories of experiences together, conversations, holidays, gifts, vacations, and so much else. Dad was a successful businessman. He eventually started his own small business, which was successful as well. His viewing and funeral were attended by a lot of people and with a lot of sadness and tears.

I've invested much of my life in apologetics. It's something I care deeply about. Much of the work we do on this blog is of an apologetic nature. I've said a lot about the importance of apologetics in the past (like here), and I won't repeat myself at this point. But I want to say some things about my indebtedness to my Dad in this context.

Dad gave me a home to grow up in and an education. He provided me with money for books and other resources and taught me how to use a computer, which is so valuable in many contexts, including apologetics. Much of what I know about computers and a lot of the computer-related help I've received over the years (repair work, etc.) came from Dad. I have a lot of memories of spending time in my parents' home reading books, staying up late at night to study some issue or another, or writing apologetic material on one of the computers, for example. He often encouraged me in my apologetic work. When Steve Hays and I published our e-book, The End Of Infidelity, earlier this year, the first response I got was an encouraging email from my father early that morning. On other occasions, he offered financial help if I wanted it, to return to school or publish a book, for example. If you've benefited from my apologetic work over the years, you're indebted to my father.

Some of you know that one of my primary interests is Christmas apologetics. (See here for an overview of my Christmas material, and see here for a recent update to it.) One of the factors that motivated me to take up that area of apologetics was a series of media stories criticizing the Biblical accounts of Jesus' birth during the Christmas season of 2004, accompanied by the lack of a significant Christian response. I've been doing a lot of work on Christmas issues since then. But another factor that's always been in the background is how Christmas was celebrated in the home I grew up in. It was always celebrated as a major holiday, with decorations, music, food, a lot of gifts, and visiting with relatives. Many of my happiest memories are from the Christmas season. One of the reasons why I've been so concerned about Christmas issues over the years is that I came from a home that encouraged it.

I could say a lot more about my father, but I want to move on to address something I haven't mentioned yet. Dad wasn't a Christian.

Because he wasn't a Christian, his cancer diagnosis created two difficult situations simultaneously. While he was being cared for physically, some of us were trying to lead him to Christ. He did eventually become a Christian. I was able to explain the gospel to him many times, discuss apologetic issues with him, work through his doubts with him, read scripture to him, and pray with him, among other things. A passage of scripture that was especially important to him was 1 Peter 1:3-5, apparently because of what it communicates about the gracious and secure nature of salvation. He asked me to write a prayer for him based on that passage, which I did. These are some of the most treasured experiences of my life. He finished well.

My grandfather and others desired and labored for my Dad's salvation for many years. (I still attend the church I went to with my grandfather when he was alive. When I was at church yesterday, a man who used to sit next to my grandfather stopped me while I was walking by, to talk to me about my father's death. He mentioned that he had prayed for my Dad's salvation, apparently because my grandfather asked him to. That would have been more than 15 years ago, maybe even 20 years ago or more. Those prayers were answered, though it took a long time.) I've been thinking a lot about how the day of my Dad's arrival in Heaven was a happy day not only for him, but also for my grandfather and others who would meet him there.

When my grandfather died in 1996, his death had a significant maturing effect on me. I want the same to be true of my father's death. I may not see him again for something like 50 or 60 years. I want to use that time well.

I would not with swift wingèd zeal
On the world’s errands go,
And labor up the heavenly hill
With weary feet and slow.

God’s providence was evident many times and in many ways during the events following my father's diagnosis. There’s too much to dismiss all of it as coincidental. Some of what occurred is highly likely to have been supernatural. I wasn't expecting these things to happen, but I noticed a pattern early on, and it was a source of a lot of comfort, encouragement, and joy during a difficult time.

I have a lot to be grateful for. Cancer is a terrible illness. There was a lot of sadness during the closing months of my father's life, and I miss my Dad. But there have been blessings that weigh a lot more. God is the fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13), whose riches are unfathomable (Ephesians 3:8), in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). "Thy best, thy heavenly friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end."

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.


  1. Jason, we are sorry for your loss, but we rejoice that your father turned to the Lord before his death, and you have the blessed hope of reunion with him and other loved ones.

  2. I'll echo John's response.

    My mom died just nine days before your dad on Sept. 10. She, too, died of cancer unlooked for at 66. A sudden and unexpected diagnosis of weeks to live, followed by a 10 day decline ending in her death.

    My mom was a believe for many years, so I never feared for her eternal future, but I'll tell you that this post you wrote strums a lot of cords in my spirit.

    So many faithful people prayed so fervently for her healing, but it fell largely to me to remind everyone, including mom, that while healing is a good and right thing to ask for, for the Christian, to die is gain (Phil 1:21).

    Thanks for this post!

    Be reminded of 1 Thessalonians 4:13.

  3. Glad to hear that your father accepted Christ. If this is true, then God has healed him of his cancer. When you see him next, he will be alive and well and cancer-free.

  4. Jason,

    My heart is mournful at this news, and yet I know you are mourning so much more but it is not without hope and that is good news.

    Reading your words I was reminded how God works all things together for the good of those who love him and call by him. It also reminded me that we can never measure what one’s impact on the Church of Christ is by merely human reasoning. So many of us are not only indebted to you for all your great labors, but now we know we are indebted to your father who God was likewise using for our good. Just think when it will be revealed to him, that though he became a Christian late in his life he was being used all along by God, through you, for His Glory and the perfecting of the Saints.

    Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

    May the Lord keep you and be with you!


  5. May the Lord Jesus grant you and your family His peace during this time.

  6. Jason,

    Thank you for sharing this story. I'm the only Christian in my family and I've been praying for years, so this is a great encouragement to me. My condolences to you in your loss along with my hearty congratulations that you'll be seeing your dad again.

  7. Dear Jason,

    Praise God that your dad turned to Christ before it was too late! How did it happen if you don't mind sharing?

  8. I want to thank all of you for your prayers and comments.

    Mr. Fosi, I’m sorry to hear about your mother. But I’m glad you had good evidence of her salvation ahead of time. My grandparents on my mother’s side of the family probably won’t live much longer, but I’ve been confident of their salvation for a long time. That makes such a difference.

    TUAD, my father went through an early phase of struggling with doubt accompanied by professions of faith. I don't know when his faith originated. The doubting phase ended in late August, and he made multiple credible professions of faith accompanied by evidence of sanctification. I had a lot of discussions with him, and I took notes. I’m confident of his salvation, but I’m not confident about a date or specific circumstances. His earliest professions of faith were in discussions with me, and I apparently discussed the subject with him more than anybody else. But other people were involved as well.

  9. hey Jason, you don't know me but I added you not too long ago. i found your blog via google one day and saw that you had used a latin phrase that i like to use as well.

    anyway, i read your post and must say i am thankful that God has shown you his glory and presence through these trials.

    i lost my dad in 2009 from a massive stroke. i wasn't even home when it happened. little did i know leaving earlier that day for school did i soon realize it would be the last time i would kiss my dad goodbye when he was alive.

    it's definitely a tough thing, but through those troubling months of him being in a comatose state to his death that same october God had shown me his strength. i found comfort in knowing that i had done all i could. for nights at his bedside, i would just sit there and pray, and i would even talk to my dad though he was in a coma. i had been so earnest to make sure he was saved and pray and read passages and explain the gospel and tell it to him. i was hoping that God had truly saved him. In that time, I realized the events had been producing fruit up until then:

    He had shown seeds of true repentance ever since the first stroke he had back in '89. though the first one left him disabled, he kept moving, and through those years i saw his love for the things of God grow more and more. It was actually during the last few weeks of his life that he wanted me to read him verses in the Bible and to explain them to him. I remember going through the passages of the gospel of John and he was so engaged with the reading. at that moment, i shared with him the gospel and he had said he accepted Christ as Savior.

    looking back, I am so thankful for the providence that God had given for me to be there and present the gospel. I had actually been becoming engaged with theology myself, and was so excited to learn the scriptures, so it was timely that my dad was there to be the audience. i am so thankful for it happening, and the crazy thing was that i didnt even realize it at the time, until i recalled the events before the stroke.

    i am thankful for your post. it has reminded me about my own dad in many ways. we know now that they have no more suffering as we have on earth. they are better off than we are, and so we should be joyful. so i wanted to encourage you, and to use your understanding of the goodness of God to keep growing deeper in Him. be blessed, brother and grace and peace to you and your family.

    1. raphael aaron,

      Thanks for the encouragement!

      I can relate to a lot of what you wrote, but I want to comment on what you said concerning how different things look in retrospect. When the events are happening, there’s so much urgency and so much to do. You’re trying to think through the issues involved and decide what to do next. It’s easier to lose sight of the bigger picture. You notice some things in retrospect that you didn’t notice initially, or you gain more of an appreciation for what you had noticed all along. I was initially eager to have any evidence of my father’s salvation. Once I had evidence, I wanted more. Once I had evidence of his sanctification, I wanted more of it. God gave me some of both, and I can see that it was more than enough as I look back on what happened.

      In the weeks leading up to my father’s death, I had settled on a phrase from John 14:19 as something I’d like to have on the headstone at his grave (“because I live, you will live also”). Earlier this week, my mother came across something my Dad had made, apparently something he made as a child in a church context. I don’t remember having ever seen it before. It was a painting featuring that phrase from John 14:19. My mother didn’t know about my intentions regarding that passage when she found the painting, but afterward she agreed to put that passage on his headstone.