“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 NKJV.
My brother Johnny was born about sixteen months after I was and we spent most of our time together as boys. He was more like our grandfather, Pop, than I was. He was quieter and spent most of his time alone; he enjoyed the outdoors and fishing, insects and examining nature. As a teenager he enjoyed snow skiing and developed a talent and interest in cooking. He tended to step on the rebel side of things.
We both started drinking early in life and had our first drinks while boys of about six years old as Mom and Dad laughed and had us taste their alcoholic drinks. We both began drinking heavily on our own as pre-teens. And we both sensed and knew that something was terribly wrong in our family and home and that something important and essential was missing in our lives. We couldn’t then identify what that missing ‘something’ was but keenly felt its lack and damaging absence. So, as teenagers, we both decided that we needed religion. It was lacking in our family. Thinking maybe it would fill the void, we went together to talk to a Catholic priest about joining the Catholic Church. Our step-Dad, Bill, was Catholic. We started catechism classes and didn’t complete them there in Arizona because, as was usual, the family underwent collapse and crisis and moved away to another place. We both did fully join the Catholic Church later in life.
After I turned twenty-five I saw Johnny about five times. I learned that he had died of cancer at the age of 56. As I had seen in our boyhood, he turned his back on our crazed family and decided to ‘go it alone’. He once said that the family had hurt him too much. I’m sure this is true; he always seemed to be especially faulted and denied by the family. His drinking continued and worsened as mine did. He went through a divorce and a serious illness and then things really fell apart for him. I met him and he seemed delusional, not really all there, and he told strange tales of his having become a mercenary and killer. I later learned that he had lied to me about many things and that this was his habit. His life disintegrated as mine did but in God’s grace I was broken and saved by the Lord Jesus Christ. My numbing sinful habits brought me into utmost confusion, futility and pain but the good Lord in His gracious plan used my sin to break my proud heart and then He manifested Himself to my heart as my Lord and God. Christ put me together as new man. I prayed often that Jesus would do this for my baby brother, Johnny. I dearly loved him.
In very late December I got an email from a woman that had been involved with Johnny for many years stating that he had passed on as a Catholic. This was very difficult for me as I had prayed for his salvation earnestly, sometimes in fasting, for about twenty-five years. At one point in that long span of time I felt that God would certainly save him. He had heard the gospel—that was clear. When the news of his death came so suddenly I was shaken. I sought the Lord about this and came to an assurance that God may have saved him, His power or ability is not limited and I know that God led me in crying out for Johnny’s salvation and welfare. I still have a hope that I will see Johnny in the Lord’s presence with Mom, my father, Kenneth, perhaps with my step-Dad, and with Cindy, my sister. All had heard the gospel clearly and Mom, Kenneth and Cindy had professed faith in the Lord before their passing. My hope for Johnny is founded only on Christ’s ability and desire to save sinners. There is no evidence that he received a new heart before he died but my hope is in God who saves. Perhaps the Lord regenerated Johnny’s heart before his demise. The Lord is a specialist at saving the broken-hearted and my brother was a broken man. My trust in the all-sufficiency of Christ has been strengthened and I am content to wait, love God, finish the work he has for me and my wife Kappy, with a hope that in God’s presence part of my eternal joy will be had in finding that my dear, broken, needy brother, Johnny, has been rescued from his sins and powerlessness and death through the saving love of the Savior who bled and died to save sinners and bring them to saving faith and into His Kingdom of life. And yet I know that I must and will, in love, surrender to Christ in all things, especially in His glorious Presence, if my hope for Johnny proves groundless.
If your loved one has died without Christ…let me encourage you in the face of this very painful reality to draw close to the Lord who has infinite compassion and is able to comfort His people. Surrender to God’s will knowing that God can do no evil and that all that He does is right.
If your loved one has died and you’re not sure about his standing in Christ…look to the Lord who alone knows the secret things and trust Him knowing that He only does right and will never do evil.
If your loved one has died in Christ…rely on Christ’s grace to help, comfort and ease your pain at your loved one’s passing. Look to Him and rejoice for your loved one’s glorification and beautification with Jesus.