Death & Taxes on Good Friday

Good Friday is the yearly remembrance of Jesus’ Christ’s betrayal, trial, suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial. Christians across all times, cultures, and geographies have communally and reverentially worshiped Jesus as the author of salvation in his sacrificial act. Over the last 100 years, Good Friday has fallen on April 15th only four times. And, this is the first year in my lifetime that Good Friday is being observed on April 15th. 

Why is this important you might ask? 

You might be asking yourself, “is this essay going to be about how Good Friday relates to taxes and Tax Day?” Well, the answer is no, but also kind of yes. 

You probably know the phrase, “Nothing is certain but death & taxes.” It originated with the English Writer Daniel Defoe, and was popularized by Benjamin Franklin when he wrote in a letter to a friend, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Encapsulated in this quote is the thought that humanity cannot run away from certain things, certain permanent experiences that continue from generation to generation. 

Governments have existed for thousands of years and have taxed their people, from Babylon to Egypt, from Rome to the United States. Death equally and more powerfully has always existed. Death is the great equalizer. Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, sick or healthy, powerful or ordinary, you will die. No human, who has ever lived, has not tasted death. But, in a loose sense, death is also a kind of tax. 

Let me explain this a little bit more.

Our word “tax” comes from the Latin word “taxare,” which originally meant to formally disapprove of someone. That is obviously not how we use the word today. But, the word “taxare” also had connections to touching, grabbing, inspecting, which is how the French eventually changed the meaning of the root word “tax” and how we got our english version. They saw that “taxing” was the government “grabbing” or “seizing” an assessed price from the people. So, a tax is the governmental authorities in power “gripping” “grabbing” or “seizing” the goods they assess as necessary compensation. 

So, how is death a tax? How does death relate to humans having goods seized by an authority? 

Well, in the Christian worldview, humans were created as God’s image bearers. We have a unique dignity, value, and worth because God bestowed his image upon us at our creation [Genesis 1:27]. That is why humans are noticeably different from animals, plants, and the rest of creation [Psalm 8]. We have minds, rationality,  creativity, morality, and more that all points to a unique and exalted spiritual reality and existence. The same way coins and currency have images of their country’s leaders stamped on them, humans have God’s image stamped on us. 

So, in the Christian story, when humanity sinned against our good God; there were consequences. God’s good creation, all of it, was cursed [Genesis 3]. We see this everyday. Work is hard. People are mean. Wars are fought. People die. There is sin, evil, and death everywhere, and it can be experienced in a small lie or an international war, in gossip or in murder. So, God put a “tax” on mankind. Death. God, as the supreme authority, put a price on our disobedience and evil. Humans all die. God reclaims his image back unto himself. And, like I said earlier, no amount of money or power can change this reality.

The Psalmist even exclaims this truth in Psalm 49 when he writes:

Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. [vs 5-9]

No man or woman can avoid this tax. No amount of money, no position of power, no new technology can save a human from the grip of death, the seizing of his life before God. It is appointed unto man once to die, and then our judgment [Hebrews 9:27]. You can’t hide your life from God, how rich people hide their money in Costa Rica or the Caymans. That’s not how it works.

So why am I writing about Good Friday, Tax Day, taxes, and Death? 

Well, April 15th represents all of those experiences for me this year. You see, April 15th is especially hard for me, not because it is Tax Day (I normally do my taxes in February or March), but because it’s the anniversary of my Dad’s heart attack and subsequent death. My dad’s death negatively affected me more than any other event in my life. And, every year I contemplate my dad’s death, it’s affects on my life, my family’s life, death in general, and death in the Christian story. 

One thing that my Dad’s death has taught me over and over again, is that you need to face death. You need to contemplate your death. You need to live a life knowing that you will die someday. That your taxes will come due, and God will call you home. Avoiding thinking about death and the great questions of life is no way to live. Distracting oneself with entertainment, riches, popularity, and the such can only help for so long. Sooner or later you need to confront death face to face. I find it interesting that often people dread the IRS more than thinking about their own mortality in life.

But, I can tell you that when I faced death, when I asked the question, can I offer anything to escape death? CanI pay the debt owed to God? Can I pay the great tax? I was met with only silence, anxiety, and fear. 

And, then I answered: no! 

There is nothing I can offer.

But in that place of darkness and despair, and complete honesty, a little light started flickering. And, that light was Jesus Christ. The Psalm I quoted earlier stated, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. But the story of Jesus Christ is exactly that. Jesus Christ is where heaven met earth, where God became man, so that man might be reunited with God. And this is what is so comforting as a Christian. The Christian story, my story, my father’s story is Jesus’ Story, and he pays the price. 

“No man can ransom another,” but God can. God can ransom humanity from the grave. The God-man Jesus can pay the tax that was due. He can heal our broken image. He can make the payment to God for us. And, so he did on the cross. He died the death that we deserved so that we might live in the light and life of God himself. 

No other religion, no scientific phenomenon has ever explained the world this way. No other religion has God descending to mankind to save us in his mercy and grace. And no scientific narrative, experiment, or technology will cause mankind to become like gods and avoid death. So, I put my faith in the one who can make the payment because he was a human like me, and the one who can satisfy the payment to God as God himself. I put my faith in the God-man, Jesus Christ. My only hope in life and death.

Ultimately this is a special year for me. Good Friday couldn’t come at a better time; it couldn’t be on a better day of the year for me. Because, ultimately today I am focused on the death of Jesus Christ, my savior. And, as I focus on Christ’s death; his payment to purchase me; to pay the tax so to say, I cannot help but be filled with hope. 

Humanity continues on. History continues. My dad died 24 years ago. My taxes are due today. Yet still I remember my savior. For he has paid my debt, he seized death itself. So, even though I will die, I will face it with hope and assurance, knowing that death is no longer a tax for me, but rather a down payment funded with the blood of Jesus Christ. A down payment that I will gladly pay to be reunited with my savior, my father, and those who are the beloved of God.  

Amen. 

A Beautiful Curse: Reflections on Pregnancy

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” – John 16:21

In the creation story, God curses the human race for its sin and lack of trust in Him as a Good Creator. This curse results in an increase in pain and suffering for both men and women. The specific curse for women was increased pain in childbirth. Often times when Christians speak of childbirth, we completely skip discussing the effects of the curse and jump right to the amazing joy that children bring. Often times, the consistent pain of gestation and the agony of labor are completely avoided in our conversation about the beauty of pregnancy. But, part of redemption is knowing the suffering, pain, despair, and darkness that comes before the gladness, joy, happiness, and the light. Part of the Christian’s witness to the beauty of pregnancy and childbirth is being honest about its inherent pain and suffering. When the whole of pregnancy is acknowledged, then and only then, will we see the true beauty of pregnancy and new life.

I see no better way to discuss this truth then expressing the deep admiration I have for my wife, Stephanie. Stephanie is currently seven and a half months pregnant with our twin boys, Abel James and August John. Her pregnancy has not been easy, and the labor will not be any easier. But, Stephanie amazes me every single day with her love and deep affection for our sons. And, her love for our boys is best realized in showing all the pain she has, is, and will suffer for them.

Stephanie’s pregnancy started with seventeen weeks of morning sickness. Often she would vomit more than fifteen times in a single twenty-four-hour period. Cologne, Indian food, having an empty stomach, even elevator rides, would all trigger her digestive system to revolt in disagreement. Even if there was nothing in her stomach, she would experience constant acid reflux and dry heaving. At week sixteen she hit the climax of her morning sickness when she also got a stomach bug and had to be hospitalized for two days. The stomach bug depleted her body of all its electrolytes and made her tachycardic. The boys didn’t help, because they just kept taking what they needed from their mom. For two days, she had a heart rate of over 125 bpm and could barely walk because of how week she was. But, she persevered.

After the hospitalization, Stephanie’s morning sickness did start to subside, and she had a brief respite from any major discomforts. But starting at around week twenty, her body began to prepare for the birth, and the constant pains of a changing body structure started. Abel and August’s growth has started to hurt and pain Stephanie’s body. Her abs are stretching and separating, causing consistent pain and discomfort. Every part of her body has become more sensitive, hitting into something by accident feels like getting punched. Around week twenty-six, Stephanie started to get increasingly short of breath. Abel and August are getting so big that they’re constantly pushing Stephanie’s intestines and stomach up, which presses on her diaphragm and lungs. Stephanie can actually no longer sleep on her back because she literally cannot breathe. And, her nighttime sleep, in general, has transformed into three power naps, causing increased tiredness. These are just some of the physical and anatomical changes that cause constant pain for my wife.

But, Stephanie also has emotional pain as well. When she was hospitalized, we sat in the emergency room and had two nurses try and find the babies heartbeats. These labor and delivery nurses could only find one. An ultrasound was then scheduled to check on the health of the boys. We waited for three hours, and those three hours were some of the most painful in our lives. Stephanie, more than I, felt the emotional weight of not knowing if one of our sons was alive. We cried together, read Psalms, prayed, and waited. God was good to us, and both of the boys were healthy. At our week twenty ultrasound, we found out that both the boys were very small even for twins. One was the 11th percentile (for the size of babies in the U.S.A.) and the other the 13th. Stephanie felt for the boys, wanting desperately for them to grow. They did grow for a while, but at week twenty-eight we were told that one baby was growing while the other’s growth had been stunted. Abel was at the 27th percentile while August was only the 9th. Stephanie and I were both devastated and scared. But, Stephanie is the one who literally feels the boys grow and move in her. One of the boys in hidden under her placenta and is harder to feel. This paired with knowing one was smaller caused increased emotional pain and anxiety for Stephanie. We cried together more and prayed desperately for God to grow August. And, grow August He has. All this to say, mothers do not only have physical pain during gestation, but they also experience emotional pain.

Let’s be honest. For almost all women: pregnancy is difficult; it is painful; it is stressful; it is hard work; and, in reality, pregnancy is accursed. But, what a beautiful curse it is, for it is a curse that displays fully the message of divine redemption. Gina Loehr wrote on pregnancies saying, “Women will be saved through childbearing,” St. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy. If bearing a child in one’s body is salvific, it is because the experience leads us into the redemptive mystery of the cross. As Christ offered his body and shed his blood to give us life, so too every mother offers her body and sheds her blood to give life. The new life every mother brings to the world follows the “Passion” of pregnancy and labor. Let’s not pretend the Resurrection should come without the cross.” These words ring true for a husband watching his wife experience the pain and suffering of child-bearing.

Stephanie has been such a beautiful display of Christ to me these past seven and a half months. She is literally giving of herself every single day. She is giving her body, her nutrients, her hormones, her oxygen, her blood, her literal life to our beautiful twin boys. She is giving shelter and food to these helpless human beings. Jesus once taught, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” I do not think it is far off to say that mothers, when they bear and raise children, are doing these same actions to the least of these, the most vulnerable, unborn children. For when a baby in the womb is hungry, the mother feeds it; when it is thirsty, she gives it drink; the baby is a stranger to her body, and she welcomes it; it is naked, and she covers it.

Stephanie has yet to give birth. But, her labor will be the climax of her pregnancy, the darkest night. It is in this darkest night, that we by the grace of God will see the light of our children’s faces! If gestation is represented by the passion of Christ, then labor is the cross. As Rachel Stone writes, “Birth is not passive, pointless, cruel suffering. It is active work—labor…These mothers suffered pain, perhaps even risked death, to bring forth someone new, to bring forth new life…And so when Jesus goes to the cross “for the joy set before him,” as the writer of Hebrews puts it, it’s not masochistic, nor is it passive. He puts forth strength and endurance; like childbirth, it is a commitment to struggle.” Even in Acts Chapter Two, when Peter is preaching on Christ’s death on the cross, the specific Greek word ōdinas (ὠδῖνας), used for the “agony” of Christ’s sufferings, is best translated as “birth pangs.” This paints for us a vivid image of Christ’s salvation of mankind through his death on the cross as a birth. How beautiful it is that our Lord empathizes with women by speaking of his salvation of all mankind as birth! The same way Jesus gave birth to new spiritual life in his death and resurrection, so to Stephanie will give birth to the new life of our twin boys. Birth is the last great sacrifice before the joy of new life and resurrection! As Jesus taught his disciples, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” And, this is the beautiful curse, known as child-bearing: that deep pain brings even deeper joy.

Women experience pain, and then bring new life into the world. And, we need to continually proclaim how beautiful this process is, but also how hard childbearing and birth is. Women experience continuous pain and the greatest pain in the world to give children life. And, all women and mothers deserve constant support, praise, love, and honor for the way they carry their cross. The more we understand and discuss this pain the greater we can support the needs of women. We need a culture that understands the deep pain that child-bearing brings, so we can more fully experience the joy of new life.

I write these words as both a praise to my God who gave birth to resurrection life in the person of Jesus Christ and as a thanks to my wife, Stephanie Augusta Elliott. Your pain, your sacrifice, and constant work to support Abel and August do not go unnoticed. You are a beautiful image of Christ’s sacrificial love every day. I love you, and always will!

As the Ruin Falls: Pain & Beauty; Destruction & Resurrection

Photo Credit: Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

Saturday morning my wife, Stephanie, and I with our friends and family celebrated the new life and coming birth of our twin sons, Abel James and August John Elliott. Gray clouds covered the sky, and a steady rain fell on the ground, a typical spring day in the South Puget Sound. I awoke early to bake four country loafs and slice apples for our charcuterie boards. After packing our car with food and supplies, we drove to pick up our morning coffee and then headed to the baby shower. The morning continued and we helped my wife’s family setup the event room with flowers and other decorations. People trickled in little by little: immediate family, extended family, old friends, new friends, loving pastors, and my beautiful wife, carrying my two twin boys surrounded me. Everyone was smiling and laughing. The happiness was palpable, and the party was the exact opposite of the dreary, depressing weather outside. During the baby shower, happiness overcame me, and, in that moment, my heart was overfilled with contentment and joy, similar to reaching the peak of a mountain or watching the sunset at the beach. It was a moment where one is thankful just to exist, to see and experience beauty, to love, and to be loved. It is in these moments that God’s presence feels so close, that mankind is able to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”[1]

But, what does man do with the evil that befalls him? What happens when we taste the bitterness of this world rather than the goodness of God? Where is God in these moments? For even in our happiness, mankind cannot escape the cold grasp of death. Even in celebrating the new life of my beautiful twin boys, I am unable evade the business of the grave. Today is the twenty-first anniversary of my father’s death. And, his death makes bitter even the joy of new life.

People say that time heals all wounds, but my father’s death seems to become more painful every year. The more joy I experience in my life, the more pain I feel from his death. The more goodness I experience in my life, such as graduation, marriage, and now children, the more I long for my Father to be alive to experience it with me. It is so painful to have children and to know they will never meet their grandfather. My twin boys, Abel and August, will never get to sit on Grandpa John’s lap; my twin boys will never feel my father’s strong hands hold them ever so gently; my twin boys will never see their grandpa pray by their bedside begging God to guide them in his ways; my twins will never know the love my father had for God, my mom, my siblings, and me. Even more so having children reminds me that I will never experience handing my son to my dad to hold; I will never feel the loving and firm embrace of my dad; I will never experience my dad telling me how proud he is of me as a father, a husband and a man. But, I surmise that the pain I feel is simply a product of the beauty I experienced in being my father’s son. Memories of my father’s laugh, of my father’s love, and my father’s faith are still with me to this day. The pain I feel is simply the absence of my father in my life.

It is strangely poetic that the Notre Dame cathedral caught fire today. The 856-year-old cathedral, captivated millions of admirers and pilgrims who walked through its doors in awe of its beauty. In Notre Dame, we saw a physical embodiment of beauty. And to lose that pains us. The pain of its destruction is so deeply felt exactly because the world knew its beauty and wonder. So, is the death of a human soul! To know and love someone only to see their body deteriorate over time or suddenly collapse, causes humans deep pain. Yet, we are powerless to stop this destruction.

Jesus Christ, our Savior, saw his beautiful creation dying and deteriorating. But, unlike mankind, he was not powerless to stop its destruction. So, he in fellowship with the Holy Trinity descended into humanity and assumed our nature. Christ Jesus was goodness, justice, love, and beauty encapsulated in a human. He was fully God and fully man, and we rejected him. He was the most beautiful thing that this world has ever experienced, and we killed him. ­And, mankind watched his body crumble in weakness. Jesus’ body was broken and soul crushed for humanity, like Notre Dame burning, the human embodiment of beauty was destroyed.

So, why did the triune God allow Jesus’ humanity to taste this bitterness? Why did Jesus experience this immense pain? Why was the beauty of Jesus allowed to be extinguished? Why was man permitted to eradicate the goodness of Jesus? Doesn’t this seem counter-productive to saving mankind?

Death became intertwined into the fabric of humanity after the fall of Adam and Eve. Death in a way represents our destroyed beauty, our fall from grace. Death is like the flame that just consumed Notre Dame, it is a sweltering fire that consumes beauty. And, Jesus, as God, assumed all of humanity, which means he assumed even the experience of pain and death. Jesus willingly allowed himself to experience the ugly reality of pain and death, because He wished to restore mankind’s beauty. He experienced death to bring new life. He experienced sickness to bring a remedy. He experienced sorrow to bring joy. He experienced pain to bring relief. And, that is what the resurrection shows. The true beauty of Jesus Christ is that he did not stay broken, dead in the ground. No, our Savior rose triumphant. Like a phoenix from the ashes, like the sun from the darkness of night, like a bright diamond from the darkness of the ground, our Savior was raised anew. Jesus was the firstborn of the dead, and He is a sign of the great things to come. For, Jesus is going to return and remake this world. Jesus resurrected not for his salvation alone, but for the salvation of the world. Jesus wants to heal the world; he wants to make the world beautiful again.

Many of the great moments in our lives are connected to parties. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, and baby showers are often moments of sheer happiness and beauty. In these moments, surrounded by friends and family, we love and feel loved. Our Savior, Christ Jesus, is going to throw a beautiful celebration for the world when he returns. At this party Jesus will restore all of our brokenness. All of our physical ailments will disappear, death will be no more, and all tears of sadness will be wiped away.[2] The brief momentary joy I felt at my sons’ baby shower was just that, momentary. But, that great and beautiful party when Jesus returns shall be eternal. For, when Christ returns all things will be made beautiful and indestructible, and mankind will once again be in perfect fellowship with God, who is beauty itself.

I have now come to terms that the pain of my Father’s death will never be resolved this side of eternity. Our Savior thinks it fitting that we should experience pain to grow our dependence on him. As C.S. Lewis once wrote in a poem, “For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains you give me are more precious than all other gains.”[3] When our life shatters and we experience deep pain and brokenness, it is those who seek Jesus in humility that will experience true life. For it is in Jesus that all temporal things will find their eternity. And, this is the hope that I will teach my sons: Pain is a reality of human life, but the beauty of Jesus Christ is greater than this pain.

[1] Psalm 34:8.

[2] Revelation 21.

[3] http://www.pford.stjohnsem.edu/ford/cslewis/documents/notes/Wordsworth%20SBJ%20As%20the%20ruin%20.pdf.

 

Folding the Laundry: A Meditation on my Wife’s Birthday

Today is my beautiful wife’s, Stephanie Augusta Elliott’s, birthday. The more I think about her and all of her amazing qualities and virtues, I realize that I value her birthday infinitely more than mine. For, birthdays are a celebration of an individual’s life, and I would much rather celebrate my wife’s life than my own. For, God (and my family & friends for that matter) knows who I would be without her.

Stephanie is such an amazing wife, as she loves me despite my insecurities and downfalls, my lack of empathy, my occasional lapses in judgement, and even my hatred of folding laundry. She does not simply “suffer” through my problems, she calls them out and urges me to live in the grace of God. I manage my money better with her; I am more disciplined with her; I even wax the car now because of her. She has challenged me to “grow up” in so many ways. But, alas, folding the laundry still evades me, in all honesty, I don’t want to grow up in that area.

Continuing on, Stephanie is such a diligent worker. This year alone she finished her accelerated post-baccalaureate nursing program and graduated with her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, passed her NCLEX, and accepted a nursing job. She even did side cleaning jobs to make extra money to pay for our move across the country. Stephanie empathizes so effortlessly and is extremely caring. Steph and I were youth group leaders at our church this past year, and she constantly talked with her small group girls whenever and wherever she saw them. She had them over for spa nights, movie nights, cookie party nights. Stephanie legitimately invests in those with whom she is connected. Seeing her be this person, challenges me to equally be as diligent and empathetic. And, while Steph has her faults, as all humans do, no human has intimately shown me God’s grace more than her.

St. Clement of Alexandria once stated, “For with perfect propriety Scripture has said that woman is given by God as “an help” to man. It is evident, then, in my opinion, that she will charge herself with remedying, by good sense and persuasion, each of the annoyances that originate with her husband in domestic economy.” Perhaps it is just the editing and translating of Philip Schaff and Alexander Roberts, but I love that St. Clement uses the term annoyances. In marriage, men are given wives to refine our rough edges or as St. Clement puts it “annoyances.” Woman make men who they are. Women are the sanctifying tool of God for the life of mankind. Not only do they physically and literally give life to all of mankind, women metaphorically give life to mankind as they educate, develop, and refine mankind through marriage and motherhood. This is the true beauty of marriage as an institution; this is the beauty in which the triune God created man in his image, as specifically man & woman. Man is not truly man without woman.

All this to say, I am not fully who I am without you, Stephanie Augusta. Your Christ-centered love and righteous jealousy do not merely make me a better human, but rather they are the very dispensation of the triune God’s grace for my sanctification. I look forward to the many years ahead, to the children we will raise in God’s grace, and to the hope that one day I will enjoy folding the laundry.


“The marriage, then, that is consummated according to the word, is sanctified, if the union be under subjection to God, and be conducted “with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and the body washed with pure water, and holding the confession of hope; for He is faithful that promised.” And the happiness of marriage ought never to be estimated either by wealth or beauty, but by virtue.

St. Clement of Alexandria – Chapter XX: A Good Wife

Death in the Garden: A Reflection on my Grandmother’s Death

I find myself writing on death quite frequently. Every year for the anniversary of my father’s death, I write a theological reflection and meditation on the concept and reality of human death. Death has always had a certain hold on me, and I have always had a certain contemplative fascination with it as both a spiritual concept and physical reality. Well, death has reared its ugly face again, and on Tuesday, my Grandma Shirley experienced physical death and similar to her son, my father, became present with the Lord. I imagine they are together in heaven enjoying the presence of Christ and living in his perfection. Over the past three days, memories have both lifted and drained my Spirit. Thinking on my Grandma’s life and the many loving experiences I had with her has brought much joy, as well as grief, to my heart.

As I reminisced over all the stories Grandma told me and my siblings, all of her favorite experiences from her many travels around the world, all of the meals we had together at Thanksgiving and Christmas, all of the Dunkin Donut munchkins and coffee we had around her kitchen table, one characteristic overwhelmed me. My Grandma was truly one of the most consistent, resolute humans I have ever met. For the better part of my life from toddler to twenty-two-year-old, almost every Sunday afternoon after church, my family and I visited my Grandma. Every Sunday, there would be bakery snacks in the kitchen, a coffee pot half-filled, and a crystal bowl of M&M’s for anyone with a chocolate craving. Every week we as a family would talk with Grandma about her regular brunch meetings with her friends, her weekly mass, and much more. My Grandma was structured, disciplined, resolute, and unwavering, the Matriarch of the large Elliott family.

My dad was one of ten children. So, as you can imagine, my extended family is quite large. My grandma had so many grand children and lived to see many great-grandchildren born as well. And, she was there for all of us. Grandma was amazing. Her resolute character, witty responses, and devoted nature inspired me as a child. Grandma was truly a Matriarch not only physically but morally. She led my father, my siblings, and me, and I am sure the rest of the Elliott family as well, in her beautiful example. She impacted so many through her absolute, unconditional love of her husband, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I with the rest of the Elliott family are an heir to her great legacy.

And above all, Grandma loved Jesus, loved his church, and proved this week after week by going to mass, listening to His word, partaking in the Eucharist, and giving of her time and money. Even when Grandma could not physically go due to her health, she would watch the mass on TV. Even in her last week, when she was at the hospital, she told me that she was able to watch the mass and take the Eucharist with the local parishioner. It is this resolute discipline and dedication to the church and to Jesus that impacted me so much. It is my Grandmother’s unwavering dedication to the Church through thick and thin that spurs me on to do the same.

And, as I think to my Grandma’s dedication to God and family throughout her life, I cannot help but meditate on the Triune God’s dedication and faithfulness to her in death. For is this not the gospel message that gives hope and inspires humans to have faith and love in this world? God’s word in it’s witness to the person of Jesus Christ assures humans of God’s faithfulness to those who believe in his Son even in their death. As Jesus himself proclaimed, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent…that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[1] God asks every human: come to me, eat of me, listen to me, know me, and have life. Come to my Son, Jesus through my Spirit and have life. And, if one does these things in and through the faith which God has given him, then God through His good grace will raise him on that final day, when he comes to defeat death and evil once and for all.

And the Christian message is the only message that preaches Jesus Christ as both fully God and fully man. That Jesus, as a man, did what man could not do and defeated death. And, that he defeated death, because he was God incarnated, the eternal Son. And Christianity preaches that this God-man did not conquer as a king but as a servant who submitted to death to bring man to life. For, Jesus took sin upon himself in death and thus defeated sin, death, and the devil through the power of his resurrection. Thus, death was the divine tool of man’s salvation. As the Apostle Paul writes, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”[2]

Death was originally humanity’s enemy. It was not part of our original design; it was a self-inflicted wound from our forefather, Adam. As St. Paul explains, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”[3] Death is a a wound that still hurts us to this day. The pain of loss. The pain of memories that draw you into presence of those who have passed away. My Grandma’s death hurts me, and I am sure that when I attend the funeral I will experience more pain and sorrow. Pain is not the only weapon of death, doubt and insecurity often follow as well. In human life the reality of death, of our physical existence ending, causes man to question existence itself. What is life? What happens after death? Paramount metaphysical questions enter the human mind when death enters the picture. So, death as the enemy attacks with pain, suffering, doubt, and insecurity.

Now, insert the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

God has defeated death. And, if one in faith draws to that message of truth, God will raise him on that final day. Humanity’s pain and suffering is answered by the truth that God will wipe away all tears, and that we will be reunited with our loved ones. Human doubt and insecurities are answered as well. What is life? Life is to know God through His Son. What happens after death? After death one will become present with the Savior and healed of all evil and physical infirmity. This means that death is not only the divine tool of salvation, but also becomes a tool that makes humans rely on God. Death draws us to God. [Perhaps this is why I am fascinated with it.] As Jaroslav Pelikan wrote, “God brings men not from life to life with smoothness and ease, but from life to death to life with the pain of childbirth and the pangs of death and the continuing threat of nonexistence hanging over them. Living in hope, therefore, means living by faith in the God who can reach even into the hollowness of nonexistence . . . to confer life.”

My Grandma had a hymn she quite liked. It was “In the Garden” by Charles A. Miles. Miles wrote this hymn after reading and experiencing the story of Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus in the garden after the resurrection. Miles was in complete awe of Mary Magdalene seeing an empty tomb and being filled with doubt, hurt, and pain, thinking her dead savior’s body had been stolen. Mary Magdalene was experiencing the attacks of death: pain, sorrow, and doubt. But, the story follows that in the garden outside the tomb, Mary Magdalene sees a man who she thinks to be the gardener and ask if he knows where they took Jesus’ body. The man then reveals himself to be the resurrected Jesus Christ. And, in this moment, the truth of the resurrection becomes so clear. Jesus has defeated sin, evil, sickness, fear, sorrow, and doubt, because he has defeated death itself. In the garden, Christ arose; in the garden, death was defeated. As the song goes:

He (Jesus) speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

I know for a fact that as the night was falling around my Grandma, that Jesus Christ’s sweet voice was calling out to her to come home. I know that God was faithful to her, as she was faithful to Him. She had faith that in Jesus’ Baptism, in his Word, in his Eucharist, in his Church, in his Love that she would be secure even through death because of his almighty power and mercy. That although death in her life had caused her pain, sorrow, doubt, and insecurity, that Jesus was standing next to her saying, “Death is swallowed up in my victory. Death where is your sting? Death, where is your victory?[4] I have defeated you. You have no power.” I hope to have that same resolve when I am faced with death. And, I know that if I draw near to Christ in this life, he will raise me in the next. For, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent…that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[5]


[1] John 6:29,40. ESV.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.

[3] Romans 5:12.

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:55.

[5] John 6:29,40.

Thoughts on Fatherhood from One Who is Fatherless

Today, being the sixteenth anniversary of my father’s death, I reflect and meditate on the truths of God pertaining to death and life. This is my consolation. Reflecting on the nature of God truly is the only consolation I have found in this life, in my sorrow. Asking questions of God, and meditating on how He Himself is the answer is the only source of contentment and satisfaction. The triune God is the summum bonum, the ultimate good, and until we find satisfaction in Him we will never find peace, we will never be content, we will never find happiness.

So then, let this be my meditation:


C.S. Lewis once wrote that his literary mentor, George Macdonald, believed that Fatherhood must have been at the center of the universe. Yes, fatherhood, specifically, the fatherhood of the triune God to his creatures, for we are not only called his “creatures” but his “children.”


We see this theme throughout all of Scripture, and we see it most in the relationship of God the Father and His Son. We are told by God through the incarnation of Christ that the Triune God is in Himself a family, a divine family. The triune God is a Father, who eternally begets the Son, and in their union they emanate the Spirit. This is beautiful, for God fashioned us in this very image. God made the base structure of humanity the family unit. Fatherhood and Family is at the center of the very universe. The entire structure of our world, civilizations, and economy is the family unit. Without it, we would fall apart. I believe that this is a beautiful reminder of the nature of man, that we are secondary, that without God we fall apart. The temporal family is then a means of seeing the eternal, divine Family.


But what of those who are fatherless? What of those who are motherless? What of the orphans? This is a question I have often asked in the absence of my Father. The answer to this question is beautiful, the answer is God and His work in the Church. We know that Christ is the head of the body, and that with Christ’s mind unifying His body, it acts as the hands and feet of God. The Church is used as the physical manifestation of God’s nature, for we know the Spirit indwells to testify of Christ, who being the physical manifestation of the Father, we imitate. Thus the body should testify of God’s nature through God, for God is at work in us for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). We are the family of God, being fathered by the triune God.


 This is why the Bible talks of the Church as a family unit. This is why Jesus is the husband, and the Church is the bride. This is why God is our Father, and fellow Christians are our brothers and sisters. We are His children, and He is our Father! This is why Jesus stated that only those who obey the will of the Father are His brothers, sisters, and mothers. Jesus as our co-heir lovingly led us to His Father. And, as His children God lovingly disciplines us as Hebrews 12:7-8 states, “God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” This is also why God is known in the Old Testament as a Father to the fatherless and a helper of the widow. And in the New Testament, this is why pure and undefiled religion is to visit the fatherless and the widow!


 So then, the Church is a family in itself. It is a family that has a greater bond than even the biological family. Our God truly is the Father to the fatherless and a defender of the widow. I can tell you that in my own experience, as I was raised fatherless, the Church provided fathers for me. Loving men, some were married and some did not have children and were single, came alongside of me and taught me. They mentored me, took me to baseball games, and showed me the truth of the Gospel. My mother who would sometimes be unable to provide, received help from the church. God worked through his Church; He was my Father, when I was hopelessly fatherless! He was my mother’s defender! This is what God shows us in how Paul relates with Timothy. Timothy, who did not have a Christian father, receives fathering not from his biological father but rather from Paul, his spiritual father.


So then let this be a challenge to you! Take every opportunity to help those who are fatherless and widowed, who are abandoned, who are weak. Take it from one who was fatherless, God is displayed through the familial relations, which He designed and commands us to follow. We are fallen; we experience death. God then has given us redemption! God is our Father, and by His Spirit we cry out to Him, “Abba Father!” Let us then act upon this. Let us proclaim to the world through both word and deed that our Father will father the fatherless, he will defend the widow, for He is the redemption of humanity. In human despair, God is the answer. In suffering, He is joy. And when death rears its ugly face, He is our life. Living out the Gospel requires being part of a family, an eternal family. Let us through the work of the triune God show the world that our God is Love, our God is Life, our God is the Father of the universe.


In loving memory of John Francis Elliott: Child of God, Gracious Husband, and Loving Father.

You are remembered because you attached yourself to the truth of God, which is eternal.