As my father’s health began to decline, I knew I would never forgive myself if I did not discuss with him his relationship with God, and whether he knew for sure if he were going to Heaven. After all, to my memory, Steve Pompar had never discussed salvation with any of his children. He had taken us to church as young children, and had been a Catholic priest for ten years before getting married and having a family, but I felt that I could not assume anything, not when my father’s home for eternity was at stake. I remembered that a friend of my brother’s whom he went to school with had had a father who was a minister for years. Yet the father accepted salvation from Christ only a few years ago.
In fact, I racked my brain trying to remember my father discussing God with me at all. One of the very few times I came up with was when I discussed my decision to home school my children with him. I explained that since God could not be mentioned in public school, and they couldn’t touch the students, how could teachers maintain discipline, and if they couldn’t maintain discipline, how could the students learn? Much to my surprise, my father agreed, saying, “Well, after all, without God, how is there any morality anywhere?”
Then there was the time was when he heard the hymn, “Rock of Ages” being sung on the television, when I was a teenager. He complained that it was being sung way too slow. When he had heard it in the Midwest, when he was going to seminary, it had been sung as a march, triumphantly, he said, not like a funeral dirge. The words were good news, not bad. Then he intoned, “Thou must save, and thou alone…”
God brought this to my mind many years later as I began the letter to my father. I used the words from the song as a springboard for my discussion. They are:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee
Let the water and the blood
From thy wounded side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure
Save from wrath and make me pure
Not the labors of my hand
Can fulfill thy law’s commands
Could my zeal no respite know
Could my tears forever flow
This for sin could not atone
Thou must save, and thou alone
When I draw my final breath
When my eyes are closed in death
And I rise to worlds unknown
And behold Thee on Thy throne
Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee
The words, “cleft for me” refer to the story in the Bible in which Moses asked God to show him His glory. God granted him his request, but hid Moses in the cleft of a rock to protect him, because Man may not see God’s face, and live, because Man is sinful and God is holy. So Moses could only see the God’s back after His glory passed by. The passage is from Exodus 33:18-23.
In the same way, Jesus, who is the Rock of Ages, clefts for us and hides us in His righteousness, because he paid the price of death on a cross for our sins. However, we must do our part by accepting that gift.
I wrote about this to my father, starting with referring to this hymn which he had so liked. He wrote back, assuring me that he had “made his peace with God”, and that just as the final verse of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was his favorite, so the final verse of “Rock of Ages” was his favorite.
Of course, when I got this, I immediately had to look up the final verse of the other song he mentioned, and here it is:
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat
Oh, be swift my soul to answer Him,
Be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on
When I read that, my heart was at rest for my father. I knew he was ready to meet God in Heaven, and that he was totally trusting in Jesus’ atonement.
But a few weeks later, I started asking myself, why would my father never have discussed something so important with his children? I recalled what my father had said to me years ago, when I first started teaching, and complained to him that I was trying to help my student but all I seemed to get in return was their resentment. “Tell me about it,” he replied heatedly. “I tried to help people for ten years, and finally all I wanted was to be left alone.” I think that statement held the key to my dilemma. I believe my father finally reached the conclusion that people have to find Christ on their own. You can’t make people believe in Him. He presents himself to them, one way or another. They can decide to believe in Him or not. You don’t send someone to Hell by not telling them about Christ. As a friend of mine said, “You can’t make anyone more unsaved than they already are.” Personally, I believe me have a responsibility to tell them the Good News. But I certainly understand my father’s viewpoint as well.
Another person who had a father of about the same age also explained to me by saying that people of that generation (my father lived from 1914 to 1995) did not freely discuss their relationship with God. It was considered something very intimate, very private. I believe this was the case with my father.
A few months before he died, my father had to go to the hospital for a medical emergency. I happened to be visiting at the time and went to the hospital to see him one last time before I left to go home. I was terrified that this may be the last time to talk to him. I told myself that this may be it, my last chance to tell him what I had wanted to tell him for years. When I saw him lying in his hospital bed, and got choked up and somehow could not say what I wanted to, which was “I love you Daddy.” Instead it came out, “Thanks for being my daddy.” Why, I’m not sure.
Afterwards, when I was berating myself for not saying what I had intended, it dawned on me that I could not remember a single time when my father had said those, words, “ I love you,” either. Yet I knew my father loved me. Therefore I chose to believe that my father knew from what I had said that I did indeed love him.
As I said, Steve was an insatiable reader, and more so when he retired. He finished all the books in our local town library, and probably all the books in our entire county that were worth reading in his eyes, which was probably most if not all of them. He finally had to start going to the library in a neighboring county to find books he had not yet read.
During the several months that Steve was alive, the nature of his reading changed. First he read about how foundations for houses are built. Then he read about various types of houses, plumbing systems, electrical systems, roofs, windows, and so forth.
As he explained this to my husband, he added, “I am building my house.” When my husband related this to me, I wondered what he meant. Certainly he did not mean a literal house. Perhaps he meant his personal ideal of what a house should be, like when I leafed through a clothing catalog and picked out items I would purchase if price were no object.
My husband noted that at a subsequent visit, he was reading about porcelain china. “Was this at all related to his house that he was building?” he asked. “I’m picking out the china set for my dishes,” Steve answered with a smile. This was when we were there for his last Christmas.
Steve passed away the day after Christmas. I am sure that it was a sheer act of his will to make it through one more Christmas, to spend with his family. I think he was ready to go earlier, but he hung on for us.
Another book that Steve had been reading the last year of his life was the Bible, especially the book of Psalms. His favorites were Psalm 23 and Psalm 51. He told me that Psalm 51 used to be referred to as “the hanging psalm” because in the Old West this is what preacher read to condemned men before they died. It is the one that David wrote when he confessed his sin with Bathsheba and asked God to forgive and cleanse him.
We read both psalms at his funeral.
Afterwards, when discussing my father’s books that he had been reading, my spouse and I realized that Steve had been thinking of his mansion in Heaven when he was building his house.
As John 14:2 says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”