By Jerry Harris
It was October 21, 1999, my 40th birthday. That’s the birthday when many people start thinking they’re heading over the hill and begin contemplating their own mortality. Well, I was definitely contemplating mortality . . . just not my own. That was the day we buried my father.
We headed to the same spot where we had buried my mom five years earlier. The family had picked out an oak casket for my dad, and it was heavy for the pallbearers. I was officiating and walking in front of the casket when I saw my brother buckle a bit from the weight. I’m thankful they put handles on the ends so that I could reach back and help carry the load the rest of the way to the burial plot.
I thought of all the years Dad had carried the burden for me and the rest of our family. He bore it with grace, and I never heard him complain about it. With both of our parents gone, I remember telling my brother that now we were orphans. It was true that Dad was gone from us, but what he left us with remains priceless to me. I had received protection, provision, financial investment, emotional investment, spiritual investment, teaching, training, grace, mercy, and, most of all, love.
By that time, I was a father too—in fact, a father of four—and I was doing my best to instill in my children what my father had provided for me. I was starting to understand that being a father is much more than just a biological reality . . . it is a responsibility. It’s no accident the word response is in the word responsibility. That response to responsibility continues to live on in me and my kids 23 years since my father went to his heavenly reward.
When the prophet described the coming Messiah in Isaiah 9, he used several metaphors: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, . . . Prince of Peace.” He described him as someone who will bear the weight of government on his shoulders . . . but there is no metaphor more personal in Isaiah’s description than “Everlasting Father.”
The night before Jesus died for our sins, he brought those 700-year-old words to life by using a single phrase: “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). He was referring to the role of a father to his disciples—and not just a father, but an Everlasting Father. He was not going to let a petty thing like death at the hands of mere mortals separate him from us! That sentiment is reflected in Hebrews 13:6: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” What my earthly father could not do, my Everlasting Father did do! God being an Everlasting Father to me is the gift I need.
I am so thankful that I was blessed to have an incredible earthly father and I will forever be thankful that he chose to fall in love and marry my mother, the best decision he ever made.
He gave me his name, his traits, his care, his love, and his inheritance. He gave me a family to be a part of and helped me feel chosen and special. None of that was by accident. We are all chosen and special—that’s a truth that flies in the face of a world that never stops repeating the lie that we are the product of circumstance and coincidence.
In the process of human creation, a woman provides only a single product with her DNA, but the man provides between 250 and 400 million variations of his DNA, and yet, only one of those became who you are today. You were special and chosen before you were born, nearly one in 500 million! And while many may have a negative or no relationship with an earthly father—or may even have some deep-seated anger or hurt on account of him—our Heavenly Father presents a much different reality.
You are his creation! You were designed in Heaven to be his child. You were fearfully and wonderfully made! He gave you his name, traits, care, love, and his inheritance. He gave you a family to be a part of here on earth. But unlike our earthly fathers, he will not leave us as orphans. He will be our Father beyond the veil of this life and into eternity!
I was completely vulnerable when I was born. “Needing” was all I knew, but God provided people to fill those needs for me in ways that I could not comprehend. I was powerless! To come to Jesus is to realize you are powerless and vulnerable—only knowing you need something that you can’t provide for yourself. This is why Jesus says the only way to come to him is as a little child; that’s when we recognize who he really is. He is the Gift I need the most!
Thank you so much for that wonderful reminder that . . . even if our earthly father didn’t do as well as your earthly father. We can all have hope in Jesus!
I remember that day well. It was no coincidence our Dad died and was buried on your 40th birthday. What an insightful analogy. I also remember Dad being in the water with you as you were baptized into Christ. He taught us all about Jesus’ sacrifice and exemplified God’s love, discipline, and forgiveness. We were blessed.