03 February 2009

Sempiternam Requiem

by Phil Johnson

o matter what else happens between now and the end of my life, I'm sure the past two weeks will stand out as a momentous chapter in the full story. I've had a taste of bitter sadness and glorious triumph all at once in a heaping spoonful. I've cried more and laughed more in two weeks' time than I typically would in a full year. Both the sorrow and the joy have been deeper than I ever imagined possible. And the whole experience has profoundly affirmed my conviction that God is both sovereign and good; "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Most regular Pyro readers know that my mom went to heaven a little more than a week ago. She had struggled with chronic muscle disease since the mid-1960s, and she needed supplementary oxygen constantly for the past decade. But she was still very active and busy. She and my dad traveled from Tulsa to Seattle in July for her youngest grandson's wedding. Though physically weak, she was tough in every other sense. I was not expecting her to die.

In fact, her death came as a terrible shock. She seemed fine at Christmas. Then just two weeks ago, doctors discovered she had stage-four lymphoma. It had already invaded her lungs, bones, and other organs. She was admitted to hospital that very day. Less than a week after the cancer was found, she was gone. The Lord graciously gave Darlene and me three precious days with Mom before she died. It was a wonderful opportunity to try to say all that was in our hearts. Then just before sunup last Friday, she went to heaven in her sleep.

I've written before about the odiousness of death. I have spoken at many funerals, and I even worked for a year or so in a funeral home. But in all my 55 years, death has never struck this close to home before. I despise death—and the sin that earns those dreadful wages—more than ever.

Still, the one thing my mom's death has made me think about most carefully is how extremely gracious the Lord has been to me and to my family. His grace was never more palpable than when Mom was dying—and ever since. I understand exactly what J. Gresham Machen meant when he dictated a cryptic telegram on his deathbed: "I'm so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it."

And even in the wake of such a painful loss, I can say with absolute conviction: "He has done all things well" (Mark 7:37).

Phil's signature


Jon said...

I think this goes without saying, but with our hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ, death has lost it's sting. Our sorrows may remain in this life, but I pray all of us can keep our focus on Christ.

Keep up the good fight Phil, we're always encouraged by your words.

Underdog Theology said...

Please allow me to post a link to one of my blog posts that I feel is relevant: "Beam Me Up, Scotty!"

steve said...

The prayers have been constant, Phil, since we first heard the news.

Thanks for sharing your heart and for a sobering reminder that keeps things in heavenly perspective

Steve & Becky

Rick Frueh said...

"He has done all things well".

At 21 I held my mother's hand and watched her die. I was unsaved as was she. Two years later that sense of helplessness came over me as I was confronted with the claims of Christ and God used that experience to draw me to salvation.

It is sometimes difficult to understand the word "all" in that Scripture, but it is eternally true nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Bless you Phil. And thanks for sharing this very personal time with us.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Well said.

jeff said...

God bless you Phil.

DJP said...

It's not for nothing that Scripture speaks of, and approaches, death as "the last enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:26). It knows nothing of the world's desperate attempts at denial and prettying-up. It's still an enemy. But Christ has conquered it, and there's our hope.

bassicallymike said...

It won't be long before you encounter someone who has lost their mother and you can, as 2 Cor. 4 puts it "be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

What a blessing to know that the trials we encounter throughout our lives are not just painful trials but training in the way of usefulness to our God. Still bittersweet, but we do praise God for the sweet he mixes with the bitter.

Your mother has blessed us through you! We thank God for that!

candy said...

I went through the same thing Phil. My mother was tough as nails. When she was hospitalized for a broken hip, we thought she would just bounce back. She got an infection and quickly went downhill in a couple of days. I hope I see her in heaven. What hits me sometimes is the regret that I spent my time selfishly instead of making more time for her when she lived with us.

I hope your family continues to be comforted and blessed.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Thanks for the update, Phil. This was great to read this morning.

donsands said...

Thanks for sharing that testimony of God's grace. May the Lord continue to bless and comfort you and your family. Amen.

"O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!"

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss, Phil. I've been there as well. The day after Christmas, 2005, I took my mom to the ER for what we all thought was her gallbladder. They discovered lung cancer and she never left the hospital until she died on March 14. It was heart-wrenching to watch her go downhill. But the Lord was faithful, and He was gracious. He gave me precious moments with her during that time that I still treasure.

I know that God will supply your family with His sustaining grace as you move through this time of mourning and loss. May He be ever close.

Solameanie said...

May the Lord bless you and your family, Phil. How wonderful that you were able to spend time with her before her homegoing, and how wonderful that she is now in His presence.

Dave said...

Peace and grace to you and your family, Phil. And thank you for this great post.

SolaMommy said...

God bless you and your family, Phil.

Rhology said...

When my wife and I lost our first baby to miscarriage, the grief was very powerful. A friend quoted Romans 8:28 and said "Now, these words may seem empty now, but..." and I stopped her. No, that's exactly it - that's our HOPE! Those words are anything but empty, they are life itself.
May the Lord bless you as He's blessed me with a bittersweet partial healing.

Connie said...

Thank you for your testimony of God's endless mercy and grace--even in and through the death of your dear mother.

You and your family continue to be in my prayers.

Phil Johnson said...



Stefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan said...

And as for you, Phil, blessings be upon you, your father, Darlene, and all your kin.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

Becky, slave of Christ said...

"But in all my 55 years, death has never struck this close to home before."

This is when grief becomes tangible, where before it was abstract.

"I despise death—and the sin that earns those dreadful wages—more than ever."

Thanks for saying this. Thanks for succinctly showing the biblical reason death is abhorrent to us: sin.

Praying for you and your family, Phil.

Rick Potter said...


Your words of hope are powerful - Thank You for your committment. And, there is beauty in that wrinkled graphic. So many times we experience the crushing power and convulsions that would have us believe our place is there in the bottom of the waste basket. And true too - except for the steam iron of God's great and wonderful redemption - Accomplished and Applied - in His Son.

Blessings to you and your family. Thank you for all you do.


rebecca said...

I understand exactly what J. Gresham Machen meant when he dictated a cryptic telegram on his deathbed: "I'm so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it."

I've repeated this quote to people several times lately and usually I just get a quizzical look in response. But I really do not know how I could live my life except in fear of death without the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Maybe it takes the death of someone close to you to truly understand its significance.

Tim Lee said...

What a wonderful testimony to the grace of God.

God bless you my brother

JT said...


Thanks for this good reminder of how terrible death is, and how great the gospel is. What a strange and amazing thing that God takes the enemy of death and makes it a means of meeting him.

May God be with you and your family.


Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

When I lost my mom, I also lost a er warrior, who prayed for me. I lost my best human friend. I'll be praying for you, and waiting till this is brought to pass;
''The last enemy to be destroyed is death.''

Timotheos said...

In 1987, while a senior at MBI, I received the phone call that informed me that my father had died from a heart attack. This was totally unexpected. He was only 47.

At the funeral, after reading from his ordination paper I sat, then we were ushered out of the room as the casket was closed. While in the other room, I turned to watch that casket close, and in my heart of hearts, D.L. Moody's words regarding his impending death came to mind. And, the words of my own father came to mind as well.

My aunt tried to discourage me from watching that casket close, but I simply turned to her and said, "It's o.k., he isn't there anyway. He's already home. I'll see him again, soon."

Phil, I don't venture to understand the depth of your grief, but I do echo the substance of your hope! And, I do echo your sentiment regarding the 'sting of death.' I too, hate death and sin.

I look forward to heaven, for the reunion of the saints, and more importantly the glorious presence of the One who IS!

Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.

In the Grip of His Grace,

lawrence said...

"It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed in tears
And wake in glorious repose
To spend eternal years

It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breathe the air
Of boundless liberty..

It is not death to die."

It's been said. God bless.

Susan said...

From the Apostle Paul:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

--1 Co 15:50-58

Hang in there, Phil. It shall not always be night....

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil:

Still praying for you & your family, knowing that God is indeed the Comforter.


Pedro said...

I share your sweet pain brother, having lost my mother to cancer 3 years ago.

But I am afflicted and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, set me on high! (Psalm 69:29)

God bless.

David S said...

The Spirit's presence at the death of my father in 2000 was a moment I'll never forget. Such overwhelming peace and joy - even amidst his departure and my remaining.

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"Jesus wept". Ever since our son died just over two and a half years ago, I have had a lot of thoughts about the story of Lazarus and his sisters.

I have wondered what caused Christ to weep. Was it a sadness over death in general - which is caused by sin? Was it compassion for his friends and the grief that they were going through?

Whatever the meaning is, I do find it comforting - especially as I think of Christ as our High Priest and going to the Father, interceding for us. He understands our humanity and our grief.

When you walk through the valley you are privileged to blessings and a closeness of the Lord's presence that you would not otherwise experience.

You and your family have been in my prayers ever since I read about your mom and you will continue to be.

I Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.


Gilbert said...


May the God of all comfort continue to comfort you and your family, knowing that your mom is now in victory. I pray that God will use this to draw those you love who don't know Jesus to Him, and bring those who do even closer.