I was 29 years old when my father died.
Only hours before his death, I spoke with him. Our eyes met one another, the same eye contact I had with him from my birth. I held his hand as he drew his last breath, and he was gone. His body lay lifeless and unresponsive.
The morticians took his body from the hospital room where our family had waited through the night. My mother, brothers and I visited the funeral home and chose a casket.
Shortly afterward, other family and friends joined us to view his body lying still and quiet, dressed in his familiar suit, his hair combed. I stood by the casket and stared at his face. It was obvious another hand had combed his hair and another hand had tied his tie.
He seemed to be sleeping. I almost imagined him drawing breath. Almost imagined him opening his eyes that sparkled once again with life, his lips parting in the familiar grin remembered, the dimples reappearing in his cheeks.
But he didn’t move. We buried his body in the cemetery 35 years ago, surrounded by friends who came to comfort us, many of whom are now buried beside him.
I asked myself the question Job asked centuries ago, the question every man and woman must ultimately ask when they stand where I stood on that day, “If a man die, shall he live again?”
Job’s struggle with the question was not about theology or philosophy. His struggle was like mine. It was personal.
It is the struggle we all must face sooner or later, when those whom we love die. “At least there is hope for a tree,” Job said. “If it is cut down it will sprout again. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.”
The world will ponder Job’s question this weekend when we gather in Christian churches around the world. If Jesus was raised from the dead, the answer to life’s most important question is clear.
Luke wrote, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”
Paul wrote, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me.”
Foreseeing this event, Job reached the same conclusion. After having pondered the question we all must ponder he said, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
The Faith & Values column appears regularly in the Saturday Life section of The Billings Gazette.
Pastors, ethicists, educators or others who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp; Billings Gazette; 401 N. Broadway; Billings, Mont. 59101. Or call her at 657-1281; fax to her attention at 657-1208; or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.