My dad, Glenn Tanner Sr., passed from this life and into the presence of Jesus, his Lord and Savior, on the early morning of October 4th, 2023. This was after a three-and-a-half-year battle with stage-four lung cancer. I was able to sit with him, my mom, my brother, and some of my aunts and uncles, as we awaited his final breath, over the period of a few days.
About a week and a half prior to this, my grandfather (and last living grand parent), Eugene Tanner, passed away as well. By the grace of God, I officiated my grandfather’s funeral with my own dad present, and then about ten days later, officiated my dad’s funeral in the same pulpit of the same church. While I preached my dad’s funeral sermon, my eye kept being drawn to the same spot he had sat only a few days prior for his own dad’s funeral. It was an inestimable privilege to preach both these sermons, while simultaneously being one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
Perhaps this was unusual—to officiate my grandfather’s and then father’s funeral in a such a short span—but the situation allowed me to do two important things: It permitted me ample time to both meditate on death, reflecting on the Bible’s teachings, and it allowed me to share the truth of the gospel and the good news of eternal life through Jesus with all who reached out, were present, or attended the funerals.
What I want to do here, then, is share these reflections on some practical and comforting truths Christians can learn about life, suffering, and death from Scripture. Similarly, I want to try and share what the passing of our own loved ones teaches us about the life to come. To do this, I will focus on 2 Corinthians 4:16–18, which is the same text I preached at my dad’s funeral.
Christians, Never Lose Heart in Trials Because We Have the Life of Christ.
This is one of Paul’s major points when he wrote 2 Corinthians 4:16—Christians must not, cannot, and, indeed, do not lose heart when trials come. As he writes in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
My dad, Glenn, suffered a great deal over the past few years as he battled cancer. In fact, as family shared and swapped stories at the funeral, I was reminded again and again of the difficulties he encountered upon this earth. Like all of us, he had his fair share of trials.
Some of his suffering was, admittedly, self-inflicted, like when he almost lost his leg because he climbed a building in Brooklyn to catch a pigeon. He lost footing and fell four stories from the top and, what could have been his early demise, was, by the grace of God, prevented when he got his leg hung up on some piping as he fell. I’m told that, even then, my dad was tough as nails. Not even a teenager yet, he walked home with his leg practically hanging off before being taken to the hospital. The scar was extremely noticeable on his leg and, as a child, I was fascinated by both the scar and the story he’d tell.
He was a hard worker and had even more scars to prove it. There were back injuries, neck injuries, and knee injuries, leading to what amounted to an early forced retirement; there were losses of family and friends; yes, there were great trials and tribulations.
But, his life wasn’t awful. He had my mom as a loving wife, my brother and I as his sons, two daughter in laws, and, as of now, five grandchildren. He had his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. He had lots of friends, many of whom had already preceded him in death. He had, from years of labor, some time—however short it may have been—to enjoy the fruit of his labors.
Yes, there was beauty even amid the suffering. But, the most important blessing of all was one he received in his twenties when the Lord saved his soul. While my dad was by no means a learned theologian, he loved the Lord and he loved the various churches where he would become a member over the years. He helped establish our church plant, Christ Keystone Church, as a founding member. He donated time, money, and energy to churches. When the church experienced troubles, he was there to help.
His rough exterior never really disappeared, but those who knew better than to try and judge a book by its cover met a man who usually far exceeded the graciousness, lovingness, kindness, and compassion they had experienced from others. While I don’t think he would ever have written a theology book or preached a sermon even if he had another sixty years to live, he did something far more important: He modeled Christ-likeness in his own imperfect, yet beautiful, way, even in great suffering.
So, the number one question I’ve received after all of it has been: Why the suffering? Why did he go through all of it? The honest answer is this: I don’t know. None of us do, and we never will. We’re not meant to. But, this text affirms a significant truth for all who watch their loved ones suffer, or who suffer themselves: The suffering has a purpose. My dad, now, is in Heaven with Jesus, experiencing infinitely greater blessings than anything we can imagine here. It outweighs the suffering here. But the suffering here prepared him for the blessings in Heaven.
But I’ve also been asked: How was Glenn so strong over the past few years? Why didn’t he complain? Why was he so hopeful and confident, right up until the end? What happened when Glenn took his final breath here? Where is he now? What happened to him? What will happen to us?
Well, my dad was a believer in 2 Corinthians 4:16. When his cancer diagnosis came, he didn’t lose heart. He found out what treatments were available, and he pressed ahead. When chemo made him sick, when radiation complicated his health, when his body didn’t work like he wanted, when he was forced into multiple surgeries; he didn’t lose heart. He didn’t lose hope.
When the news came that every possible avenue was exhausted and the treatments were over, he didn’t lose heart. He pulled me aside, on more than one occasion, and said, “I’m going to be alright. You’re going to be alright. You’ll figure things out. You just need to keep going. Keep preaching. Keep following Jesus. Don’t give up.”
Why? Where’d the hope come from? The answer, of course, is that his failing body being destroyed by cancer had no bearing on his soul, saved and made alive by Jesus. Day by day, he was being molded, made, and shaped into the image of Jesus. This is the great hope of all believers. Our outward bodies waste away, but our inward self is renewed eternally by Christ.
Christians Are Not Exempt from Present Suffering, but They Are Promised Future Glory.
One of the most important truths for any Christian to understand is that, in salvation, God does not promise us a trouble-free life. On the contrary, there will be tribulation. The good news is, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
No suffering or trial seems easy when it’s happening, and afflictions hardly seem light or momentary when they occur. But the Bible is not belittling our problems or trials. Rather, the Word of God is telling us that, for the Christian, the future glory that is ours in Christ far outweighs and exceeds whatever suffering we go through here. In my dad’s case, he battled cancer for years. That’s not nothing. But, in light of eternity, what’s three-and-a-half years? What’s sixty-one years, the span of his earthly life, in light of eternity? At the time of this writing, I’m not even half as old as he was when he left this earth to be with Jesus. That’s even less when compared to eternity. When you compare the length of our lives to the measure of eternity, you begin to realize how short our lives are and how important it is to prepare for what comes next.
So, how do you prepare for eternity? Simple: Believe in Jesus.
My dad, as I said, was not a learned theologian, and he was rough around the edges. But he had the uncanny ability to proclaim the gospel to people most wouldn’t be able to get close to. He had a heart for addicts, the abused, and the poor. He would look at other men and women, also rough and battle scarred, and would say things like, “Don’t be dumb. Trust in Jesus. Why wouldn’t you believe in him? It’s stupid not to.” This may not seem like much, and some may even grimace at his choice of wording, but it was surprisingly effective.
My dad knew that when one believes in Jesus, an amazing thing happens. A sinner is not merely forgiven of their sins, not only granted eternal life, and not just filled with the Holy Spirit, but in God’s gracious act of regeneration, they are reborn, made anew, and promised that they will forever be with the Lord. All their earthly suffering will be swallowed up in an eternal weight of glory, wherein they will never suffer again.
Christians Are Promised to Eternally Be with Jesus.
The reason we endure trials with hope, and the reason our suffering can be swallowed up by an eternal weight of glory, is because the weight of glory being described is an eternity in the presence of Jesus. Paul explains, in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
If something is transient, that means it’s passing away. It’s here now, but will one day be gone. But, these unseen things—our souls, the future glory of Heaven and the new earth remade by God, as well as our future resurrection—these are the eternal things. This means, in a very real sense, everything we do every day matters for eternity.
So, when Christians die, they go to be with Jesus. When Jesus returns to this earth, we who have died will come back with him and will be resurrected. Those still living will be transformed in an instant. Together, we will march alongside him. When he makes all things new, we rule and reign with him on earth. The only requirement to be part of this, like my dad, is to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus. If you will, the promises are clear: in Christ, we are made alive and, ultimately, our perishable and mortal bodies will put on imperishable, immortal bodies, when death is swallowed up by victory (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20–58).
These transient things and temporary sufferings are being swallowed up by an eternal weight of glory. Let us not only believe in Jesus, then, but let us eagerly long for the day when the victory is made complete. Let us anticipate the moment when, “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16–17). At that time, the final enemy, death, will be defeated. Sin will be no more, suffering will end, and we will be at peace in the presence of our Lord forever.
So, in my dad’s own peculiar way of sharing the gospel: Don’t be dumb. Repent of your sins and believe in Jesus.