March 26 • 05:15 PM

Eppinga's columns illuminate experience

July 29, 2009
How irrational of me to have thought all 40 years of Jake Eppinga's weekly columns would fit in a paperback! Of course, now that I've read it, I realize it was just 40 columns considered by someone to be favorites. A couple of them were labeled as family favorites. I don't know who picked the others—perhaps he chose them before he died.

My personal favorite was the last: Of Death and Grace. In this little reverie he says: "I am dying. Of cancer. This past Christmas was my last. Spring always has been my favorite season. At this writing, I hope to see the spring of 2008. Since childhood, I have loved baseball. Today my marvelous palliative-care physician told me there is a chance that I will watch my dear Detroit Tigers on television on opening day. But that I will not see the World Series."*

He then quotes Samuel Johnson as saying that the process of dying focuses one's thinking, and proceeds to share some of his thoughts on death. He admits that he doesn't want to die, that he's scared of several things, including dying. "As a Christian," he muses, "I do not fear death; still, I fear dying. How much will dying hurt?" For good measure, he added, "On a chart of 1 to 10, my pain threshold is a


He talks of being scared the money will run out before his life does. He is scared of what will become of his beloved wife who can no longer hear or walk or remember. It bothers him that others now have to care for him when it has always been his role to take care of others. It bothers him that while it has also always been his role to counsel others when they asked hard questions like "Why do bad things happen to good people?," now he is asking the hard questions, and answering them with three admissions. 1. "I don't know." 2. "A tiny glimpse into it would be the fear I had of going to the dentist when I was a boy. My dad would say it was just something I had to do, but that he loved me and everything would be alright. I just had to trust him even though it was beyond my understanding." 3. "As important as is the question about why God allows bad things to happen to good people, it is not the most important question in life. The most important question in life--in all the, 'Why does God allow a good thing to happen to bad people?' My Father gave his only son for me—a very good thing indeed."

Then he added, "During a lifetime of ministry, I have heard the last words of many of my parishioners. One does not forget such things. The person whose last words I've been reflecting most on these past weeks is William Henry Jellema, professor of philosophy...whose last words were—simple but not simplistic—It's grace, Jake; it's all grace."

Eppinga then says: "Of all the words I have shared with you over all the decades in these pages, dear reader, the ones I would leave with you are..." May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen."

When framed between a quote in the beginning of the book from Lewis Carroll's The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, and a matching one by his daughter at the end, that says it all.

"The time has come," the Walrus said, to talk of many things:

"Of shoes—and ships—and sealing wax—of cabbages—and kings—

"And why the sea is boiling hot—and whether pigs have wings."

—Lewis Carroll

"The time has come," our Savior said, "To show you many things:

"The face of your Almighty God—and Jesus Christ, your King—

"And that the streets are paved with gold—and angels do have wings."

—Deanna Eppinga De Vries "For Dad: WELCOME TO HEAVEN," 2008

*Jake Eppinga died March 1, 2009; Tigers played their first game on March 31.

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