One of my favourite verses in the Bible is from Job 19v5 ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’
The reason is personal as it is on the headstone of my Great Uncle who was killed in the First World War and it would have been put there by his father (my Great Grandfather). It might not come as a surprise to you that he died long before I was born but over the years I learned quite a lot about the sort of man he was.
Without a doubt, my Great Grandfather was first and foremost a man of God and his faith in Christ was of paramount importance in his life. This is despite his life having more than its fair share of grief and pain. He was born around 1863 into a mining family and at the age of seven lost his father in a mining accident; this made him the de facto head of the house at such a young age. When the time came he followed in his father’s footsteps and took a job underground and also becoming a leader in the chapel his father had helped found.
He married and in time was the father of nine children (one of whom died in infancy). Sadly his wife developed cancer and died before she was fifty, leaving him to bring up the remaining eight on his own. In 1918 he lost his eldest son in the war and not long after the war ended he made the trip to France to visit the grave. What is most remarkable is that in that day and age to make such a trip would have seemed for him like going to the Moon for us today. As a result of that visit we have one photo of him standing by the simple wooden cross that marked the grave and the grief and sadness is written on his face. Let’s face it; we believe that the natural order of things is that parents do not stand at the graves of their children, despite tomorrow being promised to nobody.
Having picked that verse from the book of Job for me says two things, firstly it would appear from that text that my Great Uncle knew Jesus as his saviour and secondly that verse was also true for his father. However, following the war, my Great Grandfather was sadly to lose two more of his now grown-up children, both to TB. This for me makes the choice of this verse from Job even more poignant as here are two men who had suffered loss, but refused to abandon their faith in Him instead it had the opposite effect and for my Great Grandfather, this was to be borne out when another of his sons fell ill.
My Grandfather (who was the youngest) was witness to this when an elder brother contracted lead poisoning. So badly had it infected him that he had to be restrained hand and foot because of his distressed state whilst his wife and young son were brought into the room to say goodbye to him. Back then when you got lead poisoning you lost your mind and died in agony. It was only when they left the room did my Grandfather witness his father kneel at the end of the bed and begin to pray aloud in Welsh. What he witnessed was a miracle, as he saw his father pray in all earnestness to his Heavenly Father to preserve the life of another of his children. He described it ‘As though the power of the Almighty were flowing through my father and into my brother.’ What was seen there was the power of God Himself healing that man and I recall that particular uncle living well into his 80s.
It is also worthy of note that my Great Grandfather’s faith was as it should be – a permanent fixture in his life and not something put on as mere religion. Again this was demonstrated in his work as a miner – which has always been a dangerous job and the mine where he was to work suffered an accident where several miners were killed. Although this happened before he was born, what came out of it was remarkable when miners after a request were granted permission by the pit owners to hold a prayer meeting before each shift. There was even a dedicated chapel underground which my Great Grandfather was actively involved with during his time there and the pre-shift prayer meetings continued until closure in 1955. You may think that inconsequential, but as a result of those meetings and men committing their days to work to God from the outset, there were never any more serious accidents in the mine.
For me, this is not about lionising an ancestor as I am pretty certain he would never have wanted that as his passion was for the proclamation of the gospel of Christ above all else. This was a man whose life demonstrated that passionate commitment despite the griefs that he suffered in his life. He was human just like us and I imagine there were times when that grief became difficult, but he hung on despite everything that life threw at him as he knew that above all else that ‘his redeemer liveth’.