By Jefferson David Tant
The day began a little earlier than usual. I woke soon after five, and since sleep had fled, I got up and accomplished a few things in preparation for my trip to Birmingham. There were many things to gather checkbook, will, deed, title, burial policy. Today it was time to go back to Birmingham to begin settling the affairs of my father’s estate. Alone in the car, with some 200 miles ahead of me, there was much time to reflect and remember while watching the road through the tears. At this writing, it has been 25 days since my beloved father took his final journey. The last chapter of the book of his life has been finished, and on the last page, the words stand out in bold relief the end.
I knew the time was coming, but I wonder if we are ever fully prepared. My father had lived well past his allotted “threescore years and ten,” and “by reason of strength” had gone eight years beyond the fourscore that Moses mentioned in the 90th Psalm. But I could not re-ally comprehend life without my father, my counselor, my teacher, my friend, my helper. It is a reality that you cannot fathom without experiencing it.
Some of the day was difficult. There was the stop at the post office to return the keys and give a permanent forwarding address (except they don’t forward mail to heaven). The clerks at the small Gardendale Post Office all knew my father, as he came every day to get his mail, and often stopped to talk with them. They expressed their sympathy, and the tears came again. Next to Norman Love’s piano store. He was rebuilding an old Nickelodeon, a reminder of days gone by when life was simpler. Norman offered a Dr. Pepper, cookies, and some chairs so we could sit and visit a while, as my father often did at his store. He truly loved my father, and told me that he had heard my father preach more than any other preacher. Norman is an elder in the church where my parents had been for over twenty years, and he and his Helen, along with so many others in the church there, were great helpers to my parents in recent years. He said that something was said or done at every service that called to remembrance my parents.
The bank was the next stopping place. The manager spoke as I entered: “May I help you?” “Yes, I need to take care of some business concerning the estate of my father, Yater Tant.” “Please come in my office and sit down. We miss your father. He was in here often and we all knew him.” More footprints that he had left in the sands of time. Then to the cemetery, where the sod has been replaced over the spot where his earthly tabernacle was returned to that from whence it came. In time, there will be no evidence that this spot had ever been disturbed. There will only be a small marker to note the fact that he had once lived. But in truth, he is not dead. He has gone home to await the coming of his loved ones. Solomon so aptly de-scribed the infirmities of age that eventually overtake us, “when the almond tree shall flourish, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets . . . Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:5, 7).
Lloyd Barker met me at the lawyers office. Lloyd and Gwen have been so good to my parents treating them as their own parents. They are buying my parents’ house, so we had to discuss the arrangements with Bill Noble, and there was the matter of tending to The Last Will and Testament of Fanning Yater Tant.
Supper was with Rhodes and Cindy Davis, a wonderful young couple whom I have known for many years, even before their marriage. Cindy’s father was W.C. Hinton. I went to school with W.C. and Nancy so long ago, and the Hintons were responsible for our moving to Atlanta thirty-five years ago to take their place at the Snapfinger Road church when they went to take the gospel to Japan. Cindy and I have been friends for a long time, but now we share an even stronger bond. She lost her father eight years ago. She only had her father for twenty years. I was fortunate to have mine for sixty-two years, but tears know no age discrimination. I asked Cindy, “When do the tears stop?” As I suspected, in a sense they never do. There are moments when a thought goes through the mind, or some visible reminder is before you, when the tears come unbidden, even as they did while we were talking. A few days ago, Editha Puckett Kern called to encourage me. We have been friends since we met as teenagers in 1950. Her father taught me Bible at Florida College. Franklin Puckett and my father were close friends. They had spent a week together just days before he was unexpectedly carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom in January 1975. I asked Editha the same question. After twenty-two years, the tears still come.
There was the conversation with Homer Hailey through thousands of miles of telephone wires. At 93, he has now buried two wives and a step-son. There have been many tears in his life, but they are not finished. He and my father have been friends for sixty years, and he tells me, “He was a great friend.” And then there is silence, for we are both weeping.
Today Frank and Joyce Jamerson came to our home. Frank will be preaching for us next week. Tears have also been their companion, as their beloved Jill was taken from them in 1993. She was only 19, so godly and so full of life. And then soon after, Joyce’s sister-in-law, Carol Coffield, was taken in moment of time. In both cases, the silent scourge came without warning.
So, sooner or later, death will touch us all. If you have not experienced the death of one who was close to your heart, just be patient. It will come inevitably. And the heart will break, and the tears will wash your face.
As a preacher, I am often in the presence of those who are bereaved. I have given comfort and encouragement as best I could. I tried to comfort my wife when her father and mother died in the Lord in 1982 and 1983. But I have never truly known how one feels in such a situation. Now I know. Now I will be better able to empathize with them.
But why do we have tears? Why did God give us tears, and why must we undergo the situations in life that bring them? In contemplating this, I believe there are several reasons for them.
1. “Weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15). We are a family, and we are to embrace one another as a family. Families give strength, comfort and encouragement, and as we experience the tears in our own lives, that prepares us to lift up others who weep, even as our Heavenly Father gives comfort. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). The hundreds of calls, cards and letters that have come to us have meant more than we can say.
2. God has given us our emotions, and we need to be able to express them in the right way. Tears have a healing quality about them, and I have found them to pro-vide a cleansing of my spirit. Our Lord wept on more than one occasion. He was not ashamed to do so. Our culture does not accept the tears of men as being “manly,” but there was no greater man who ever lived than Jesus Christ, and if there was purpose for his tears, then we should not be ashamed of our tears. The epistles of Paul most certainly contained a few splotches where the tears fell as he was writing from his heart (2 Cor. 2:4; Phil. 3:18). And his brethren, who loved him greatly, “all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more” (Acts 20:37). Paul knew that he must soon meet his appointment.
3. “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Eccl. 7:2-4). In reality, who would rather go to a funeral than a party? Well, parties can be good, and they are fun. But they don’t teach us anything. The house of mourning can teach us much. We will all be there one day, not just as a spectator, but as the principle person. That will be my body lying in that casket. The preacher may speak kind words, and may even try to “preach me right into heaven.” But my eternal destiny will have already been sealed. “As a man lives, so shall he die.” We know not when our summons shall come, whether in the bloom of youth or in the quietness of age, but “it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
I am not sure that I have ever seen one make a decision to obey God at a party. I cannot count those who have made the decision to serve God at a funeral. When one’s own mortality is so vividly presented, it has a sobering effect upon the soul. Solomon knew what he was talking about. I wonder about parents who seek to shield their children from death and who never take their children to funerals. They think it would be too “traumatic,” or some-thing. In truth, presence at a funeral may be one of the most valuable lessons a child could ever learn.
What thoughts will your family and loved ones have as they sit at your funeral? What a blessed hope that I have of seeing my father again. His grandchildren also walk in the light and have that same hope, and are raising their own children to share in that hope. While I have suffered a loss, I have not suffered the crushing loss of an eternal separation that some have suffered. What a great comfort we have in the words of Paul who encouraged us “concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him …. He continues to tell us that when the Lord comes with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, that we shall “be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:15-18).
What is the legacy that you will leave your parents, if you should die in your youth; or your children, if your years are many? Will you leave property, wealth, fame? If that is all, you will have lived a life in vain. “For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?” (Matt. 16:26). There is no greater legacy that my father could have left than the knowledge that he died in the Lord. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works do follow with them” (Rev. 14:13).
We, too, shall pass that way, and it is we who determine the realm in which we dwell when that moment comes the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Satan.
4. Tears are a reminder of how beautiful heaven must be. The Psalmist declares that even if our years are many, “yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Ps. 90:10). I have known of people who wanted to live on this earth forever. Now, I have no longing to die tomorrow and end this life. I have been blessed, and have had a good life. But if I believe God’s Word, there is so much more awaiting me, more than I can begin to imagine. In spite of my good life, there have been moments of intense pain, grief, and anguish. And some seem to know such for most of their days. But in that home of the soul, none such can invade. John the Revelator de-scribed the incredible scenes that he saw that holy city a coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. “And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God; and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain; the first things are passed away” (Rev. 21:1-4). Every tear that we shed should remind us that there will come a day when pain and sorrow shall pass away. What a glorious reminder our tears should be.
5. The tears that we shed at the death of a loved one should also remind us of the fleeting nature of our opportunities. I will ever be thankful that, for the last months of my father’s earthly journey, he and my mother were with us. Day by day I was able to tell him that I loved him. The last communication from my father’s lips were to my wife. He mouthed the words “I love you.” And as best I can recall, my last words to my father were, “I love you, Papa.” I was a grown man before I learned to speak those words to my father. There was no doubt that I loved him, and he loved me, but neither he nor I had learned how to express our love for one another in words. But we learned. I am thankful for that. Too often we know there are words of love, words of encouragement, words of apology, words of forgiveness that we need to speak to another, but we put if off, thinking there will be time and opportunities later. But our Lord reminds us that we should “redeem the time” (Eph. 5:16), and again tells us that our life is as fleeting as a vapor (Jas. 4:13-15). Whatever we need to do, we need to do it now. Tomorrow may never come, and how much guilt we carry with us for deeds that remain undone, and words that remain unspoken.
6. Our tears also tell us that Christ really was like us. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus. He wept over the coming fate of Jerusalem. He really felt as we feel. He understands us. “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Note that he can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Even if others forsake us in times of trial, he will be with us to comfort and strengthen us, to feel with us. What a great blessing this is, and how bereft are those in the world who know not this comfort. In-deed, Paul relied on Christ when others forsook him. “At my first defense no one took my part, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their account. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me …” (2 Tim. 4:16, 17). Paul was not alone. Christ had been where he was, and knew how he felt.
7. And finally our tears are a part of making heaven more real to us. We who are the children of God naturally believe in heaven. Christ has said he has gone there to prepare a place for us (John 14:1-3). I have no doubt that there is such a place, and cannot remember ever having lacked a desire to go there. But when someone so dear to you has gone on before, that only serves to heighten the desire. I would like to go to London one day. I know it is there, and I believe I would enjoy being there. But if my Flora were there, waiting for me to come, would that not just intensify my desire and my efforts?
At my father’s age, most of his friends were on the other side. And there are his parents, Jefferson Davis and Nannie Yater Tant, and other siblings. In a way, there was more calling him there than there was to keep him here. What a glad reunion! And now they wait for the coming of the last of their family circle, my aunt Mozelle Priestley.
Now back to the Davis home. Supper was finished, and it was time to take the road home. The sun had long since dipped below the horizon, and Rhodes and I walked out into the yard to view the comet Hale-Bopp. What a sight in the heavens! This stellar visitor was last in our environs some 2,000 years ago. Did our Lord look into the heavens one night and recognize this part of the universe that he had created? Did the disciples look up from a hillside in Galilee and wonder at the awesome power of the Creator? It seems that at night I am more aware of God. The star-studded vault of the heavens is a vivid reminder of the vastness of his creation and his infinite power. As I drove home, I thought of my earthly father, who is now out there beyond this physical realm with my heavenly Father, and who is now at rest, freed from his final weeks of suffering, freed from his concern about the care of his dear wife of 65 years. He had wanted her to go first, so he could care for her with her Alzheimer’s disease. He devoted his life to her care for the past few years, and did the best he knew how, but he has passed on that care to us. Most of the time she knows he is gone, and her tears join with our tears. Very likely she will see him before I do, and when she does, she will be whole again, and God will wipe away her tears.
When do the tears stop? Not until they have completed their task. I weep, but not as those who have no hope. They are good tears. I cannot imagine the despair that tears the hearts of those who have lost loved ones, but who have no hope. I don’t know if anything could compare with that. If you are reading this, and are not in a covenant relation-ship with God, I pray that you will do what is necessary before another day passes.
So live that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapering of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
Thanatopsis, by William Cullen Bryant
My father is gone and there is an empty space in my heart that will never be filled in this life. But I look forward to seeing him again, and not him only, but also the face of my Savior, the one who died and rose again from the dead and provided the way for this reunion to take place.
In the distant past, Job asked the question, “If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee …” (Job 14:14-15). Do we exist beyond the grave? Yes, a thousand times yes! “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Ps. 90:1-2).
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
Robert Louis Stevenson
(Written in memory of my father, Fanning Yater Tant, preacher of the gospel of Christ and servant of the Most High God, who was born December 30, 1908, and who was transported to a higher life March 3, in the Year of our Lord 1997. This is written as a reminder to me, his son; to Flora Hartsell Tant, his favorite daughter-in-law; to his grandchildren Jeff D. Tant, IV and Cynthia Teague Tant; Bill and Susan Tant Moore; Donald and Sharon Tant Jacobs; Kevin and Shannon Tant Stinson; Shawna Kathleen Tant; and to his great-grandchildren, Shannon Moore, Davis Tant, Zachary Moore, Jasmine Jacobs, Aubrey Tant, Taylor Tant, Jacob Stinson, and Rachael Moore.)
Guardian of Truth XLI: 24 p. 6-9
December 18, 1997