Facing Death and Judgment
Roger S. Brook
Last June my family and I attended a conference on homeschooling. Fourteen thousand people came together on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville for instruction and encouragement.
One evening we were all in the arena, listening to Dr. Mickey Bonner speak on prayer. He spoke of our need to seek God's face earnestly and come before him with a broken and contrite heart. "We must learn to pray with the mind of Christ, and it comes only when we have humbled ourselves before him," he said. "It comes only when we are broken."
At that instant he fell backward to the platform, neither reaching back to cushion his fall nor clutching his chest in pain. There were a few convulsions of his diaphragm. For two seconds we were all stunned, and then several people with medical training ran forward to help.
The conference leader asked us all to get on our knees, and he prayed for mercy. There was much weeping. I felt in my heart that Dr. Bonner had died before he hit the platform, and I found myself unable to pray seriously for his life. The ambulance came shortly, and we were dismissed to our dorm rooms.
We got ready for bed and I gathered the family for comfort and counsel from the Scriptures. I read from Psalm 116 ("Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints"), Psalm 90 ("Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom"), 1 Corinthians 15 ("Where, 0 death, is your sting?... Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ"), and 1 Thessalonians 4 ("Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep"). We discussed these truths briefly and went to bed.
Please understand that though I have never been to war, and have been raised in America where hospitals isolate and funeral homes sanitize death, I have no complex about death. I actually lived in a funeral parlor as a watchman in college. Please also understand that I have walked with a confidence in the Lord's promises for over thirty years. Nevertheless, I lay there replaying in my mind Dr. Bonner's plea to seek God's face with a broken heart, then seeing his heart break and knowing that he saw God's face in the next moment.
I was awestruck. The fleeting fragility of life. The eternity of God. The insignificance of man. I lay there in fear. It was not a nail-biting terror, but a holy, awesome, breathtaking fear that gripped me. I felt empty, completely insignificant, having no value, having nothing to offer to God, who seemed so big as to be completely unknowable.
Questions flooded my mind. How can we really know anything?
How can I know that I am saved? I know the heart of man is deceitful above all thingshow do I know my own heart is not deceiving me? Yes, I have lived my life naming Jesus' name, but he will reject many evildoers who will have done many wonderful things in his name (Matt. 7:21-23).
I longed for someone to counsel me. If I had known where to go, I would have gotten dressed and gone. I was left to sort out my feelings alone. I guess I didn't want to disturb my wife or be disturbed in front of her, or perhaps I was unsure I could express what was going on anyway.
I just lay there in a spiritual darkness, crying out over and over, "God save me." I was nothing and I had nothing to offer. "God save me, for Jesus' sake."
In all of this, I felt all the more sure about certain things. I knew God was the sovereign Creator of all. I knew he needed nothing from anyone. I knew that the only way to God was the way of humility. And there I found a ray of hope. The stark, utter fear that drove me to question provided the very answer to the question. I began to comfort myself that my crying out to God, with nothing but the cross in my hands, was not only the only possible way, but surely was the way.
As I write this down, I see that in my experience God was answering Dr. Bonner's prayer for me, to seek his face with a broken and contrite heart. I believe that God let me see a bit more of him. I learned something more of the "woe to me" of Isaiah 6:5.
I am left with this. However sure I am of my salvation, the size of God is not reduced at all. He is an awesome God. Fear him. I am also ashamed as I look back at my life of lighthearted confidence, which I'm afraid sprang from a pride in my "good Christian life." Search your hands. Are you offering to God anything more than the cross? If you don't have both hands firmly around the cross, you don't have a good enough grip.
In all my years of Christian walk, I have never felt the fear of God like this. As the distance between me and Knoxville increases, things are returning to normal. I'm sorry. I have a somewhat awkward longing to feel so empty and fearful again. It is there that I am most confident that God hears my cry for mercy, for the sake of Jesus alone. May God grant you and me more of this fearful emptiness.
Mr. Brook is a member of Grace OPC in Vienna, Va. Adapted from Grace Notes. Reprinted from New Horizons, October 1997.