At my father’s funeral a few weeks ago, I reflected on Genesis 25:8: “Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.”
He was full of years. Most Scholten males have died in their fifties or sixties, but my Dad was a miracle of sorts. He lived to be seventy-seven. Because of the family history, he didn’t expect to live this long. He even convinced my Mom to let him retire at 60, telling her he probably would not live to sixty-five. They joked about that for twelve extra years! They were good years. Like Abraham, my Dad lived a long, full, happy, good life. He was satisfied and content.
He was gathered to his people. This is not simply a euphemistic reference to death; nor does it simply mean that he was buried with his ancestors. It means that he was gathered into eternal life, with his fathers, with his people. My father was raised in the church and has been around the church all of his life. He has now been gathered to his people, the people of God who have preceded us.
As I have reflected on my Dad’s life, I have been comforted by the knowledge that I really have two fathers, my earthly father and my Heavenly Father. My earthly father was like my Heavenly Father in many ways.
My father loved me. It wasn’t because I was good; I wasn’t. In college I stole his car to drive to Ohio to watch Hope College play a tournament basketball game. My brother threw a massive, wild party at the house while our parents were on vacation. He loved us anyway. We were his sons, and that was enough. In the same way, God has loved me because He is love and because I am his son. It is pure grace.
My father gave me life and he tried to teach me the way to live it. He was always there for me when I needed him. It was a great comfort to me to know that if I or my kids were ever in any real trouble, I could expect help from my father and my family. That was like a security blanket for me. Dad also gave me good advice, and when I followed it, things went better for me. Too often, however, I would listen but not heed his advice. The older I got, the smarter and wiser my father became and as the years passed, my respect for him continued to increase. Dad hadn’t changed at all; I did. I just came to understand him better and appreciate him more. I started to grow up and out of my selfish blindness and youthful pride and I began to recognize both the wisdom and the love that was wrapped up in all of his advice. My Heavenly Father gave me life, too. He teaches me what life is all about and gives perfect advice. I don’t always listen, but my respect for Him has grown over the years. I realize that there is great love and pure wisdom wrapped up in His advice, even greater than that of my earthly father.
My father showered me with blessings that I did not earn or deserve. The last time I was with him, he gave me $80.00 for gas, two new shirts, and paid for eating out twice. He refused to let me pay even when I wanted to. Last Christmas he gave me three shirts, two shorts and took me out to eat a few times. He even mailed me a new pair of shoes. He did this for all of his children—blessing after blessing, gift after gift. In the same way, my Heavenly Father showers me with blessings that I did not earn or deserve: forgiveness, acceptance, eternal life, true comfort in the face of grief. He has even conquered death and prepared a place for his children after death. My Heavenly Father is exceedingly kind and generous to His children.
My Father kept his word. Like all married people, my parents had their issues. My Dad could be tough to live with and my Mom isn’t perfect (close but not quite!) but they remained committed to the vows that they had made and were married to each other almost fifty-six years. My Dad was a man of integrity. He was faithful and committed. If he thought something was his responsibility, he did it, no matter what it was or how much it cost him. My Heavenly Father is faithful too. He is married to His people and He will keep His word to protect and provide for His family, even when His people are far from perfect. He will do whatever it takes to keep his family together, no matter what it costs Him. Not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is what God’s covenant is all about—the dying commitment of Jesus that conquered death.
My father accepted me. Whenever I was with my parents, it felt like home. They treated me as their son—their young child, really—and I loved it. I could be myself with them. I could be a child there. I did not have to pretend to be someone else or try to impress them to earn their kindness and favor. I could just relax and enjoy their presence and their love. Home was my safe space. My Heavenly Father feels like home, too. I can be myself with Him. I don’t have to put on airs or pretend to be better than I am to earn His favor. He accepts me as a child—a weak, stubborn child perhaps, but His child. I can rest in His love.
My father passed on his character. A little bit of my Dad is in each of his children. If you watch us walk from behind, you will see it. We look like him. My father gave me his corny sense of humor and his great memory. Jeff got his brains and organizational skills, and Sherrie got his loving patience. We all, obviously, received his appetite! A piece of him is living in us. His character has seeped into us, his children. God does the same thing with His children. A little bit of Him is in each of us.
It is good to grieve. Tears are love in its liquid form. Grief is the painful echo of a deep love fully expressed. I wish I could talk with my Dad again. I wish I would have spent more time with him. I wish that our lives would have overlapped more than they did. I wish I could benefit more from his presence and his wisdom and his humor, but I can’t. What I would give for one more hour with my Dad!
I had a good earthly father and I will miss him, but I have a Heavenly Father who is still with me. I wish I could talk to him, and I can. I wish that our lives would overlap more, and they can. I wish that I would benefit more from His presence and His wisdom, and I can. My Heavenly Father never leaves His children. I grieve with hope, knowing that my father has been gathered to his people. His God is my God; his people are my people and someday, whether I follow the lifespan of most Scholten men or have a long life like my father, I will see him again when I am gathered to our people and to our God.