Today is my father’s 61st birthday. He passed away on November 4, 2010 from post-surgery complications. It’s been a difficult two years since my father’s passing, though not without many gifts that the Lord has blessed me with (my continuing marriage to Ashlee, our baby boy Ralphie, church planting in Rock Hill).
I sadly, though fondly, reflect on my most cherished memories with my father. Our common loves were sports, pro-wrestling, Blues Brothers, Three Stooges, and our own world of humor. My best memories of dad are those Sundays spent tailgating and cheering at Buccaneer games, front court seats for USF basketball, watching Three Stooges marathons, going to wrestling events (including Wrestlemania 24 and Royal Rumble 95′), going to sports bars, etc.
Yet, we never clicked when it came to my true passion in life, spirituality. I grew up going to church with my mother and sister. I became a Christian in July of 1999. My father preferred staying home on Sundays. He didn’t loathe Christianity or spiritual things. He just wasn’t interested and didn’t think religion was relevant. Still, it meant that much more when he came to church whenever I was preaching.
While Christianity has much to say about husbandry and fatherhood that is modeled after God and after Jesus, Christianity also has a teaching that (as far as I can tell), is unique to itself and isn’t taught by other religions. This teaching is known as common grace.
Common grace is the notion that while Christians know and receive the special grace of the gospel found in Jesus, all of God’s creatures experience (to a degree) common grace. Jesus himself speaks of common grace, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:45) Jesus teaches that a parent naturally knows what it means to care for children (Matt 7:9-10). The Apostle Paul demonstrates that gentiles are lawful like the Jews are (Rom 2:14).
Yet, we know that common grace is counteracted by common curse. Humanity and nature are fallen, broken, and need put back together. One doesn’t need to be a Christian to realize this is true.
As a pastor and Bible-believing Christian, this explains why my father, a non-spiritual gentile, is a model for godly fatherhood and is one of the best dads a son could have. He was faithful to my mother throughout their marriage, he never let his kids down, he was a faithful provider for the household, he cared for his mother in her dying days, he was a servant to all at his company (USAA), and he supported me in my pursuit of ministry goals though he himself was not a spiritual person.
It amazes me that my heavenly Father gave me a faithful earthly father, who wasn’t spiritual, when I know of so many cases where a ‘Christian’ husband and father is cruel, abusive, irresponsible, and uses the Bible as a battering ram. I believe that if my father had embraced the gospel, he would have viewed Jesus as a loving Savior and Friend rather than as a harsh taskmaster.
Yet, did my father ever embrace the gospel? I honestly do not know. As a Bible-believing Christian, I believe that one is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But, as one of my favorite pastors, Bob Hovey, told me, “Daniel, I’ve know thousands of people who were Christians when they died. I have never known a non-Christian who has died.” What Bob means is that none of us have certainty as to an individual’s last moments before they die or of the regenerative work of the Spirit in their hearts.
What I know regarding my father is that he was ‘made holy’ or ‘set apart’ because of my mother (1 Cor 7:14). What I know regarding my father is that he was prayed over by pastors, elders, and children in his final, coma-like days to receive Christ by grace through faith. What I know regarding my father is that it is my heavenly Father who gives faith as a gift and is not conjured up by ourselves (Eph 2:8-9). What I do know regarding my father is that it is the Spirit alone who gives new life, not our own will or good works (John 1:12-13; 3:5-8).
I don’t know if my father received special grace in addition to the abundance of common grace he had. I don’t need to know. I trust in the goodness and mercy of my heavenly Father, and this is why I rejoice and am thankful for my father, Ralph Franklin Wells. I hope to be just as good a father to my little Ralphie. I pray that Ralphie is a better father than myself or his grandfather.