The Measure of a Life
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over the past eleven days. You see, on Thursday, September 23, 2021, my father, Thomas C. (“Tom”) Gobelman, passed away. While my wife and I have received an outpouring of condolences and sympathy, I share this not to garner more sympathy, but to reflect on life, death, and the meaning of it all. Our society does everything it can to avoid the issue of death because, like taxes, death is unavoidable, it comes to all people at some point in their lives. When death does come and claim a family member or a loved one, those who are left behind are, in a way, forced to reflect on our own mortality. My dad passed away eleven days ago, and his death has greatly affected me because of the close relationship he and I had, and that’s not unusual (the closer the death, the greater the effect). His passing prompted me to reflect on the measure of a life.
Again by the world’s standards, life is measured by one’s accomplishments. Dad wasn’t a famous person by any stretch of the imagination. Dad wasn’t wealthy, there was no huge “Scrooge McDuck” pile of money he left behind. Dad didn’t start a company like Google or Apple. He didn’t write the great American novel or paint the great American painting, or compose the great American song. Dad did none of these things. In fact, until I even mentioned his name, many of you wouldn’t even know who he was. Dad was born in 1932, lived during the Great Depression, joined the US Navy during the Korean War, got married in 1961, had a son and a step-daughter, a handful of grandchildren, and a handful of great-grandchildren, worked a rather mundane white-collar job in Chicago, faithfully went to church, and died in 2021 at the age of 89. In the grand scheme of things, a rather unimportant kind of life.
In the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, an aged King Solomon reflects on his own life and his pursuits of wealth, fame, pleasure, and wisdom. He sought meaning in life in all those pursuits, and in the end he found all of those pursuits empty. In Solomon’s words they are, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” All of the things we can achieve in this life, while important to a certain degree are rather meaningless on the day we die. There are no trailer hitches on a hearse and whoever dies with the most toys still dies. That’s just a fact of life “under the sun.”
But it’s not all “doom and gloom.” Because King Solomon closes Ecclesiastes with these words, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” In other words, all of the pursuits, all of the achievements one can gain during this life are nothing without a right relationship with our Creator. That’s the point King Solomon is trying to get across. The measure of a life isn’t what one can accomplish “under the sun,” but whether or not one fears the Lord and keeps His commandments.
Back to my dad, one of the things I mentioned about him was that he faithfully went to church. My dad gave his life to Jesus Christ when he was 16 years old, thanks largely to the Christian influence of his mother, my grandmother. My dad was one of the finest examples of Christian living I have ever personally seen or known. My dad wasn’t a pastor or a theologian or a scholar. He was simply a man who loved Jesus, loved his family, loved his church, and loved people. For the last 20 years of his life, he was a member of Ravenswood Baptist Church on the north side of the city of Chicago. For 20 years, his was most likely the first face you saw walking into the church. If you were a visitor, without fail you would get a hand written welcome note from him later in the week. If you needed prayer, he was there without fail. He loved teaching adult Sunday school, children’s church, and singing in the choir. He served as a deacon in his church, and it was one of the greatest honors he had was to serve the church in that capacity.
You see, the measure of a life isn’t the things and honors one accumulates, but the vacuum that is left when that life is gone. I can’t tell you how many people came up to me at dad’s church over the past few days and told how much he meant to them. These are real people, across all demographics, who were touched by a gentle, humble, god-fearing 89 year old man who always had a smile on his face and always had a kind word to say.
The measure of a life is not by the standards of the world, but by God’s standards. Dad didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk. Dad had a “life verse,” a verse in the Bible that in many ways defined his life, and it was 2 Timothy 1:12, which says, “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Dad’s faith wasn’t in a creed or a doctrine, but in a person — Jesus Christ (“I know whom I have believed”). Dad entrusted everything he had, everything he was, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He did so because he was persuaded that Christ was able to guard that deposit “against that day,” the day Jesus will return to right all wrongs and make all things new. And now dad is at home with his Lord, he has heard the words all Christians want to hear, “Well done, thou good a faithful servant.” That is the true measure of a life.