FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–On Monday, Feb. 22, my dad, Javier Esqueda, died in Guadalajara, Mexico. These have been difficult weeks for our family as we rejoice with my dad’s face-to-face-celebration with the Heavenly Father, but mourn his absence among us. My dad always read with pride everything I have published and, very sadly, this is the first article I write without my father reading it.
My father’s death was unexpected. He was 71 and although he had diabetes, he was doing fairly well. Everything happened so fast from the moment we knew he was very sick on Saturday to his death on Monday night. I was fortunate to make it on time to be with my mom, Leti, and two brothers, Edgar and Rodrigo, in Guadalajara, and even though he was sedated, to tell him how much we loved him and appreciated his Christ-like example. My parents had several miscarriages and lost two daughters after I was born and before my two brothers were born. As the oldest brother who lives away, I can only trust that the Lord will take care of them.
My dad was an example of following Christ in spite of many difficulties. When he became a believer 25 years ago, most of his family rejected him. His older brother is a well-known Roman Catholic priest in Guadalajara and my father studied a few years at a Catholic seminary when he was young. Therefore, when my dad accepted Christ as his Savior and Lord, he became the shame of his family. I remember his own mother calling him the “donkey” or “animal” for leaving the Roman Catholic Church and, thus becoming like an animal without the church’s blessing. My father worked as an accountant in the Roman Catholic offices for almost 30 years, before he was fired mainly for being a Protestant. Although he lost his retirement, was betrayed for his own brother and family, and lost his inheritance, he never complained and continued trusting in the Lord. My father was a family man and served the Lord faithfully to the end.
My dad’s funeral was the following day at 1 p.m. (in Mexico, funerals are always this fast) and I had the privilege of preaching during the service. For over 25 years, nobody in my family has been willing to follow Christ. However, in the last weeks several relatives have expressed their interest in knowing more about the Lord and one aunt and one cousin told me they want to become believers. My father’s testimony, the strength the Lord has given to my mother and my brothers and the overwhelming support of God’s people are making an impact in my family. Over 250 people attended the funeral service even though it was on short notice and at a very inconvenient time. God provided us with His children, the church, to help us go through difficult times.
Christians face death with a different attitude than non-believers because we do it with hope and the Lord’s comfort (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, His followers know that death is not the end of everything, but the beginning of eternal life with Him. Christ has conquered death and my dad is more alive than ever because he now rejoices in the presence of his God and Lord. Moreover, Christians have the blessed hope of seeing again our dear ones and to be together forever with the Lord.
Nevertheless, the temporary loss of a close one leaves a deep and painful hole that even our hope cannot take away. The vacuum that I feel with my dad’s absence is so big that I cannot resign myself to not seeing him. Even though I will be with him in the future, it is also very true that I miss him greatly now and I can no longer talk to him and seek his advice. My son, Darío, will grow up without his grandfather; my mom lost her partner of over 40 years; and my brothers will graduate from college, get married and have children without my dad being there with them. The pain and the hole are as real as the glorious hope we have as believers.
It seems to me that Christians oftentimes confuse having faith with the absence of pain. It seems that because of our trust in the Lord, our pain should diminish or go away very soon and, if this is not the case, then we are showing a lack of faith. Without explicitly telling me, I perceive sometimes the pressure of those around me to get rid of the mourning, to move on, and to smile because of my faith in God. However, Jesus’ example confirms to me that the grief we feel because of death is real and it is also the natural expression of despair for the loss of the peace (shalom) God desires for us. Death is the consequence of sin and goes against God’s original plan for us. Christ came to this world to conquer death and to restore our peace (shalom), but He will do it completely in the future when He comes back again.
In John 11, Jesus was with His disciples across the Jordan River when they received the news that Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, was very sick in Bethany, a village not so far away from where they were. Mary and Martha were Lazarus’ sisters and since they knew Jesus loved him and was capable of healing him they hurried to send word to Jesus of the situation so He could go to Bethany soon and heal Lazarus. However, when Jesus heard that His friend was sick, He decided to stay two days longer instead of responding to the request of Mary and Martha. Jesus behaved in this surprising way because He knew Lazarus would die and that He would resurrect him so God and the Son of God may be glorified for the miracle (John 11:4). In fact, when Jesus is finally on His way to Bethany, He told His disciples that Lazarus was dead “and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him” (John 11:15).
When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days and Martha told Jesus that if He had been there, Lazarus would not have died. Jesus told her that her brother will rise again and expressed emphatically, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:23, 25-26). Jesus not only knew that Lazarus will rise again in the future resurrection, but that he will do it in a few moments.
Nevertheless, when Jesus was walking to the tomb He saw Mary weeping along with the Jews who were with the family and He was also deeply moved and wept (John 11:35). Jesus’ weeping was open and sincere since the people there realized how much Jesus loved Lazarus. Jesus knew all along that Lazarus will rise from the dead and yet He cried for His friend.
Death brings along a pain that even our hope in the Lord does not take away although it does provide a refuge and a different perspective. Jesus’ example with Lazarus’ death tells me that even though I know my dad is alive in God’s presence and that I will see him in the future, the present pain I feel is real and I can freely mourn. I can cry because my Lord cried. He will one day wipe away every tear from my eye, and there will no longer be any death or mourning or pain (Revelation 21:4).
In 1986, my younger sister Fabiola died in a pool accident before she turned 5. My dad, a new believer at that time, wrote the following words in his planner: “Fabiolita, this tomb keeps your body, God keeps your soul, and we keep your reminiscence.” My dad is now with the Lord enjoying the daughter he could not see growing up; his memory and legacy stays with us and with our family forever. I love you, Dad!
Octavio Javier Esqueda is assistant professor of foundations at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.