Recalling a Gut-Wrenching Discussion With My Unsaved Dad

Posted on June 2, 2022

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By David Ettinger

Still Haunts Me
The year was 1987, and I was back in New York (from my New Mexico home) for my brother’s wedding. The wedding was over, and my father and I were alone in his apartment.

It was late March, and two life-changing events occurred the previous fall: My mother had lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 53; a few weeks later, I gave my life Christ.

conversation

Both deeply affected my father. The first for obvious reasons: he and my mother had been married 33 years and together had raised four children.

The second was more disturbing: My family is Jewish and I was the first to become a Christian (I’m still the only one). My father was struggling with both of these distressing realities.

While the two of us spoke sports that day, he suddenly changed the topic and asked me a question which referenced both the distressing realities. He said, “David, I want to ask you something. Where do you think your mother is right now?”

My father asked that question because he was familiar with Christian beliefs regarding the afterlife. He wanted to know my thoughts on the matter, specifically, what I believed was the eternal state of my mother.

It is a moment that still haunts me.

My Reply
By this time, I had only been a believer for about 5 months and did not possess anywhere near the knowledge I would acquire as my Christian walk advanced. Nor was I skilled at expressing myself.

graveyard

However, I had two things in my favor. The first is that the Lord was with me. The second is that I had been going through a 60-Bible-verse memorization program by the Navigators, a Christian ministry.

In God’s sovereignty, the most recent verse I had memorized spoke precisely to my father’s question. The verse is 1 John 5:11-12: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

I explained to my father what this meant, basically, that when people die, they go on to eternity, either with God in glory, or without him “somewhere else”; that eternal destination is determined by accepting or rejecting Jesus Christ as Savior.

My father understood. He replied, “So what you are telling me is that you believe your mother is in Hell.” I replied, “It all depends on what she believed at the time she died.”

My father simply said, “Okay.”

Though just one word, I could clearly interpret his facial expression. To him, “Okay” was another way of saying: “There is no way your mother believed what you just said, therefore, according to you – her own son – she is in Hell.”

Better Equipped
Of course, it is my greatest hope that in the days or moments leading up to her passing, my mother did give her life to Christ, though I have little reason to believe this occurred.

Regarding my father, there was nothing else I could say, especially at the time. His “Okay” closed the door to further discussion, and indeed we never discussed “religion” again.

Six months later, almost a year to the day following my mother’s passing, my father died after his long battle with heart disease. He was 58.

clouds

Upon receiving the news, I thought immediately of the conversation we had in New York, and wondered if any of it had penetrated. There is no way I can possibly know at this time (though one day I will). All I know is that I had spoken the truth to my father, and was absolutely convicted of the truth I spoke.

I had no regrets in speaking the truth to my father, but I know that had this discussion occurred about 5 years later, I could have made much more of it than I did in 1987. I wish I was better equipped at the time, but that simply was not the case.

Speaking the Truth
A few weeks later, I spoke to my ex-wife about my father and expressed my concerns regarding his spiritual state. She responded, “Don’t worry, David. God would never send such a good man as your father to Hell.”

Sadly, this is the soul-killing and false thinking Christians must address. An individual’s goodness has nothing to do with eternal destination. Salvation is in Christ alone, and people go to Heaven or Hell based on their acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ.

There is no other way. John 3:36 makes this clear: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”

For those who have died, it is too late, but not for you and me and those we love. We must not fear speaking of “the afterlife.” This must be the key to our message.

Christians must be bold in proclaiming Christ as Savior, that He is a loving God who frees humanity from the penalty of sin, which is eternity in Hell. And we must be clear that He is the only way; humanity’s so-called goodness won’t cut it.

May God give all believers boldness and compassion to share this message of truth with those in our lives who have not surrendered to Christ!