A God Who Saves
“I don’t believe in that religion stuff!” my father-in-law scoffed, dismissing all mention of God with a wave of his broad, work-toughened hands.
Pop, at the age of eighty-eight, was a proud, self-reliant German-born American. He insisted that he had seen too much suffering to ever believe that there could be a living, loving God. Pop had barely survived the aftermath of World War I as a child in his native Hamburg. In an attempt to escape from his memories of disease and starvation, and certain that he would “strike it rich,” Pop immigrated to the United States in October, 1929. Two weeks later, the stock market crashed. Pop, along with the rest of the world, was confronted with the Great Depression.
Despite many hardships in the decade that followed, Pop poured all of his German stubbornness into becoming a model American citizen. When World War II broke out, Pop gladly served as a first lieutenant in the United States Army. The brutality of the war affected Pop so deeply that he rarely shared his memories of the buddies he had lost or the atrocities he had witnessed. Hardened and cynical, he scorned the very idea that there could be a God. According to Pop, anyone who actually believed in God was a fool. After the war, Pop devoted himself to the American dream and watched in disbelief as his wife and children, one by one, turned to the God he denied.
“You’ll get over it,” Pop assured his youngest son, my husband, one day as we departed for church. We didn’t get over it. We prayed for Pop instead. For more than twenty years, we prayed. But the trials of old age did nothing to soften Pop’s heart. His temper shortened all the more, and we despaired during his last weeks of life, certain that nothing could ever touch his heart. Many had tried. Our spirits sank all the more when Pop suffered a stroke and began to relive his past aloud. He was oblivious to us then, and we began to mourn. No one could possibly reach Pop now, we reasoned. No one.
For twenty-four hours, Pop lived in his memories, flowing backward through his life until he literally became as a child again. Then, he began to sing in broken English and German, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so ….”
We were incredulous, and skeptical. But over the course of the next five days—the last of his life—Pop was transformed. Despite the debilitating effects of his illness, he radiated a pure sweetness that we had never seen before. And he actually said to us, “I love you.”
Most wonderful of all, he joyfully affirmed his love of God over and over again.
Indeed, only One could reach him.