I am the sixth of six children. The first child is eighteen years older than me, and the fifth child was ten years older than me. I say "was" because a few hours ago I received the news that my brother died this morning.
Ralph was the only sibling I ever lived with, really, because the others grew up and moved out before I was old enough to remember living with them. Memories of Ralph have flooded to my mind today--building a fort in our yard, climbing trees together, the couple of times he built bicycles for me, teaching me how to swim, and in so many ways being my hero.
As I grew older and became enmeshed in the drug culture, Ralph taught me a lot about that as well. I know it must sound funny, but I'm actually grateful for his mentoring in those years because, among other things, he taught me how to do what I was doing without being killed--and it worked.
But eight years into my drug abuse the light of Jesus Christ shone upon me and saved me in a miraculous way. A couple of years into my walk with Christ Ralph called one day to say that he was getting out of the drug culture because of what he had seen happen in my life. I was elated to hear this news. But unfortunately he didn't follow through on his commitment and in a very short time sank even deeper into the darkness.
Because of our divergent paths, Ralph and I spoke only a handful of times over the last decade. I reached out to him several times, but for whatever reason he wanted nothing of it, so I let him go. And I prayed for him with all my heart, but something in me always knew that one day this call would come--and it did.
I have a strange but sweet admixture of feelings right now. On the one hand, I believe the Bible with all of my heart and therefore I know that my brother will have to account for his life. Hebrews 9:27 says, "...it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment..." I fear that his time of judgment will not at all be pleasant, that he will now face a great and awesome God who will pour his wrath out upon my brother.
Oh, how this grieves me and causes me to tremble before God and search my own heart and rid myself of any known sin and wonder why I was saved and my beloved brother was not. Oh, how this causes sweet worship to arise in my heart as I ponder the absolute holiness and goodness and justice and wisdom of God, knowing that he does all things well and that, in the end, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Even those who come to know the wrath of God will acknowledge to greatness of God and the righteousness of his judgments.
On the other hand, I feel a deep grief because one of my former heroes is now gone and I will never see his face or hear his voice or share the gospel with him again.
All at once I feel grief, sober-trembling before God, and glad-hearted worship--and indeed, it is strange and sweet.
"The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).