Final Decision - Bonnie Bowma

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

Time didn’t exist at all. But the cool nothingness faded now too. Ahead appeared a dreadful, consuming darkness. It rushed toward Joseph Masterson like a tidal wave, terrifying, huge.

At once, his life spread out before him, every second, each breath, the life-changing events, the mundane, the joy, the pain. Deep sorrow overcame him at lost opportunities, at grief he’d experienced and caused, and still paralyzing dread.

I’m afraid… he cried in his spirit. The darkness drew closer. God, I’m afraid!

He began to feel the chill of eternal blackness as it sped toward him. It was harder now to remember words, yet Joseph suddenly possessed utter understanding.

Theresa had warned him about hell… The prospect was more horrible than he could have imagined. It loomed. Even now, it threatened to swallow him; and he was losing himself in its grip. There was a way out, he knew. What was it that Theresa had told him? How can I escape? Help me, God…

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”

Jesus!Jesus save me!

The hospital room grew still as Joseph’s family watched him take his last, labored breaths. It all felt surreal to Theresa Warner as she stood, listening to her father’s death rattle. 

It had been a hard three months since he fell and broke his shoulder. No one expected such a minor injury would usher in death for this vigorous man. His younger brother, Will, always said he’d live to be a hundred… he was so feisty and mean. “Your dad has vinegar in his veins,” he would say; and Theresa would laugh and nod her head.

Uncle Will had been sickly for years and had finally died from heart failure three years ago. Theresa was brokenhearted. She considered him more of a father than the man lying in front of her.

The week Joseph spent in bed with the fracture, combined with the January chill resulted in double pneumonia; and because of his strong allergies to most antibiotics, the doctors weren’t able to completely knock it out. His health deteriorated quickly.

Theresa had spent every day at the hospital since her father became ill; and there was no doubt it had worn on her. Looking in the mirror, she could tell she’d lost weight and the gray hairs seemed to be taking over. She had always been the one to come to her dad’s rescue; and over the years, he needed a lot of rescuing. Yet she knew the responsibility was hers. Her older brother, Joseph Jr., was no more capable of looking after their father than he had been his own wife and kids. He thought of himself as a free spirit. Others called him worse names. Jane divorced him four years ago and took their two children to Arkansas to live with her family. Theresa understood him. She grew up in the same house; and knew he was living by their father’s example. She loved him anyway and prayed for him daily.

Then there was Judy, the baby, ten years younger than Theresa. At 34, she was just beginning to find her niche. She was single and living in Chicago. She worked as a teller, but was training to be a stockbroker; and the whole world lay at her feet. Caring for their father was too much of a burden for someone so young, Theresa reasoned.

So here she stood, eyes swollen, breathless, waiting, praying and watching machines.
Finally death came. “I’m sorry,” the nurse said lowly.

Theresa held onto her husband, Mark, for several long minutes, crying anew before leaving to make the calls she had been dreading.

In a fog, Theresa made the arrangements with the mortuary. Many of the details had been worked out in advance. Joseph had expressed his opinions clearly about expensive and wasteful funeral, so not much had to be discussed. 

Joseph and Judy would both be arriving on Thursday; and Michelle and Austin, Joseph’s kids, would be coming in from Little Rock early Friday morning. A few people from Theresa’s church would attend, out of respect and love for Theresa; but there would not be a long line of friends lining up to say goodbye to Joseph Masterson.

“Brother Trey,” Theresa cried as she sat at the edge of an overstuffed chair across a large cherry desk from her beloved pastor, “I have prayed for so many years for my father’s salvation. But he never changed till the day he died. He was as mean when he went into a coma as he was his whole life.” 

She paused, wondering if she should say these things. Was she allowed to have feelings of anger? How could she, a Christian, say or think such terrible words only three weeks after her dad’s death? She did love her father; but he had never behaved in the ways she’d seen other dads act. 

She knew from an early age, even before her mother died, that she would have to be the responsible person in their family. It was so hard then. Judy was only three when their mother wrecked the car on an icy road. She was left with spinal injuries and no chance for recovery. It was almost a year before her weakened body succumbed, a year during which Theresa left her childhood behind.

“Theresa,” her pastor replied, leaning forward across his desk, “I understand your frustration. Maybe you weren’t able to see a change in your father. He was a hard man, who led a hard life. And maybe you were never able to lead him in the Sinner’s Prayer. But you don’t know what God did in his life and through him. Do you think God didn’t hear your anguished prayers over the years? How many times have you seen His response in a dramatic or miraculous way in other areas in your life?”


“Of course, lots. God won’t forsake you. Whatever choice you father made was his and only his. But God did hear your prayers. And the prayer of a righteous daughter avails much.”

Theresa smiled sadly. “I just don’t understand why he hated God so much… if that’s even what it was. He definitely did not like Christians. He said we are all hypocrites; and I guess he was right. I mean… I used to get mad at him; and I did plenty of screaming and yelling. I know I hurt his feelings often; but he was so stubborn and irresponsible…”

“You think because you got mad at your father you are a hypocrite?”
“No, well, yes…”

“So you believe, then, that once we become saved we are no longer human?”

“Of course not, I just mean that if I had been a bit more patient with him, my dad might not have looked down on religion so much. He may have been more open to the message.”

“Wouldn’t you say you’re elevating your own importance slightly, if you think that God’s plans are somehow thrown off by an argument or attitude you have. The Holy Spirit is at work always in people’s hearts; and your words, good or bad, will not stop someone from hearing God’s call, if he is seeking… and we’re all seeking.”

“So why isn’t everyone saved?”

“Unfortunately, pride, this world and Satan work on each of us; and for some, their hearts become too hard to respond.”

“So what good does it do to pray?”

“God asks us to pray always, about all things; and of course we need to pray for our loved ones’ salvation. God loves your father more than you do. He desperately wants him to spend eternity with him; and battles for souls are fought through prayer, just like every other battle we face. Theresa, you know this stuff.”

“I know it. It doesn’t feel like all my prayers did any good, though.”

“Your feelings cannot be trusted. God’s plans are bigger than ours. I do believe he used your father’s life in many ways. I have watched you, for instance, become more patient and compassionate and less caught up in the world over the past several months. You have experiences because of your father that allow you to reach people in a unique way.”

“So you’re saying that God used my father to save others, but didn’t save him?”

“I don’t know whether your father was saved or not. But it is certainly not unlike God to use the ungodly to reach people for himself.”

“Well, that’s something, I guess,” Theresa said sadly, rising to leave.

“Theresa. Don’t be so sure your father is lost. He heard the message of the gospel. He was an intelligent man. People prayed for his salvation.”

“I’ll see you Sunday,” she replied dejectedly, hugging him and walking out the door.

Sitting at her desk the next day, Theresa worked half-heartedly on the Sunday school lesson. She prayed, as she always did when she worked, that the lesson would be relevant and effective, and that a child would surrender himself to Jesus this week. But she felt far from God as she prayed. She had begun to wonder if He did take such a personal interest in His children’s lives as she had come to believe. She felt discouraged and powerless. 

“Forgive me God,” she cried. “I know you are sovereign. But why did you let my father die without knowing you? I can’t bear to think of his eternal suffering. I tried so hard to reach him!”

And He spoke in the stillness to her spirit. “The decision was not yours. You have done what I asked you to do.” Assimilating this new understanding left a resolved sort of peace for Theresa, though she ached for the loss of her father’s soul. With new determination, she finished the Sunday school lesson.

Sunday morning arrived bright and warm; and Theresa’s heart felt a bit lighter as she faced the young, eager faces in her class. Armed with a fresh resolve to do whatever she could to help the lost to find Christ, she enthusiastically presented her lesson. 

Joyously she watched wide-eyed little ones, whose hearts were so open, receive the gospel message; and cried as two little boys asked Jesus into their hearts. “Thank you, God,” she prayed silently, “What an awesome responsibility you have laid on my shoulders, teaching these children; and what a blessing to see your salvation. You are a mighty God.”

That night after Theresa’s demonstration of complete surrender to God’s will, her unspoken prayer was answered vividly in a dream. She watched horrified as her father faced eternity in hell. 

The black, cold abyss spread out before him, approaching and threatening to engulf him. All the while she could hear a steady, too loud, thump, thump of a beating heart. Suddenly, as the sound began to fade, she heard his desperate cry, “Jesus! Jesus save me!” And the looming darkness was swallowed up by a blinding, burning light. Theresa could hear angelic voices, singing “Glory to God in the highest!” as Jesus wrapped his arms around Joseph Masterson and carried him home.