"...For That is Far Better."
A few years ago Chris and Rebecca, close friends of ours, shared with us that her grandfather, Art, had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The doctors considered it terminal and inoperable, saying that it was one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer. He would have only a couple of months to live and for much of that time, especially as the end approached, he would be in agonizing pain. Like the rest of their friends and family, we prayed for this family, asking that God would strengthen them and that He would either heal her grandfather or take him home before the pain became too much to bear.
Rebecca’s family is spread across three provinces, one state and thousands of miles. Yet in the weeks following Art’s diagnosis, he was able to spend time with each of his children, with his nine grandchildren and their spouses and with his four great-grandchildren. Soon he and his wife found themselves in small-town Saskatchewan visiting Chris and Rebecca and their immediate family. Their little daughter, only a couple of years old at the time, loved to hug him, to sit on his lap and to rub his face between her hands. She squealed with delight when she saw him and the family was able to capture some wonderful pictures and video of them together. Art also delighted to meet his newest granddaughter who was only a few weeks old and who was named after his wife. Rebecca was able to spend some precious, quality time with him; sitting at his feet and listening to him recount God's goodness and faithfulness in his life. He and Chris sat together playing the piano and singing hymns to the Lord.
Art was at peace with what he knew was coming. He was ready to die. Still, he never doubted that if God saw fit, He might send the cancer into remission and extend his life here on earth.
On the second or third evening he spent with Chris and Rebecca and their family he began to feel tired and went to lie down in the living room. The family slowly migrated to his side and they spent the evening there with him. He sat on the sofa, holding his wife's hand, reminiscing about how they had met and had fallen in love. He told about his young son who had died many years before. Then he took Chris and Rebecca's baby in his arms and read her a blessing from the book of Numbers. "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." And shortly after, in mid-sentence, as he was answering a question Rebecca had asked him, his head settled back, his chest rose and fell once or twice more, and he was gone.
Perhaps it is more correct to say that he had arrived. He had left his wife's side—his wife who had shared his life with him—and had gone to the side of His Savior, who had given His life for him.
The family found out later that at the very moment he died, but on the other side of the country, a prayer meeting was underway. The church that Rebecca's uncle attends was praying that God would take him home soon, to spare him an excruciating end. God saw fit to answer innumerable prayers. He spared Art so much pain, but first allowed him to spend some precious moments with his family—moments that will never be forgotten. Imagine how precious the blessing will be to Chris and Rebecca's daughter when she is able to understand it. While she will not remember her great-grandfather, she will know how he loved her and will know how he held her up before the Father.
And it was such a blessing to me to hear about this man of God. I do not mean to glorify death, for I know that however and whenever it happens, it is an unnatural passing and a consequence of human sin. Yet sometimes even something so unnatural can excite the heart. To know that a man who loved God and lived life in His service has gone to his home! He escaped all that is unnatural in this life and went to be with the One he was created to be in communion with. He has gone where his heart ached to be. His desire, like Paul’s was “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Such a death is an occasion for both joy and sorrow—sorrow for the departure and the necessity of it, but joy for the arrival and all the blessing that brings.
Though I never met Art, he has often been on my mind. When I heard of his death I prayed for Chris and Rebecca and the family that the Comforter would bring them peace. And I prayed that God would let me stay strong, just like Art. Oh, that death might come so gently when my time approaches. That in a moment I might be able to go from the hand of my wife to the hand of the Savior is almost too precious to believe. Thanks be to God that we can all have such hope and such assurance of eternal life, if only we will trust in Christ, just as Art did.