Patrick McGoldrick died at at 10:05 PM the day after Christmas. I attended college with Patrick and and his wonderful wife, Dena. Patrick was a soccer player, I played basketball, and Dena cheered for both of our teams.
During our respective off seasons, Patrick and I would play pickup basketball together. I loved playing basketball with Patrick, mainly because he competed like he lived: with contagious joy. I don’t have a single memory of Patrick where he didn’t have a smile on his face. That’s not to say that he was never upset or discouraged. It is to say, though, that his life was characterized by joy.
Patrick was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) a little over a year ago. As soon as I received word about his diagnosis, I began to follow his blog, Patrick’s Story. One of the unspoken questions in my mind as I read his posts was: “What does a horrific disease like ALS do to a Christian’s joy?” Can the joy that our Triune God provides us withstand the unforgiving and unrelenting assault of ALS?
Sometimes we Christians act as if we shouldn’t grieve over loss as deeply as non-Christians do, as if the loss of our health or a loved one shouldn’t bother us as much as it bothers those who don’t know Jesus. “After all,” we sometimes say, “Christians do not grieve as those who are without hope.”
But I believe that Christians should actually grieve more deeply over the loss of God’s good gifts to us (life, health, family, friends, etc) than non-Christians do. Just look at how Jesus conducts himself at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus. The Apostle John makes it abundantly clear to us that Jesus is very angry, not at the unbelief of Mary and her companions, but at what was the cause of all their grief: the death of Lazarus itself. As Herman Ridderbos writes, “The emotion [that Jesus shows at Lazarus' tomb] is the revulsion of everything that is in him against the power of death.” The one who from all eternity knew the joy and good gifts of the eternal Father infinitely better than them all grieved over the loss of his dear friend more deeply than them all. Jesus’ show of emotion at Lazarus’ tomb teaches us that true joy and profound grief are not mutually exclusive; rather, the greater our enjoyment of the joy and good gifts of the Father, the deeper our grief will be over the loss of those good gifts.
As I read Patrick’s blog over the last year, I was immensely encouraged by the fact that Patrick did not sugarcoat what he was struggling with both physically and spiritually. He struggled as one who loved God’s good gift of life and lamented its loss (see here, here, here and here). The way Patrick suffered (and the way his wife Dena and two children suffered) testified to the fact that the Gospel frees us to weep in hope, to rejoice in weeping, and to praise the God/man who will one day make all things new, even though our bodies are now in bondage to decay (Romans 8:21, 23). It was the Gospel that enabled Patrick both to grieve his loss and to say in the final weeks of his life, “My short life in Christ is infinitely greater than a long life without Christ…”
Patrick was able to grieve the way he did because of the one who not only grieved for us but also with us. About Jesus’ grief over the death of Lazarus, Herman Ridderbos beautifully writes:
“Jesus’ deep inner agitation is not limited to what, in his confrontation with death, applies to himself, but also expresses itself in his solidarity with the grief of those who once more go to the tomb to weep over the loss of their dear brother and friend. He weeps with those who are weeping. When ‘the Jews’ see him as a member of the procession, weeping as he goes, they do not misunderstand him when they say, ‘See how he loved him!’ Jesus allows himself to be caught up in the general grief over Lazarus’s death, and there he experiences and participates in the grief of all whose loved ones have gone to the grave. That does not militate against the purpose of his coming to Bethany. As the Son of God he does not come to redeem the world from imaginary grief or to make grief over death imaginary. Therefore he joins the mourning procession for the friend whom he is to raise from the dead, and he weeps . . . Nowhere else in the Gospel does the true nature of the entry of God’s glory into flesh, of God’s identification with the true man Jesus of Nazareth, come more vividly to expression than in Jesus’ going—described thus—to the tomb of Lazarus” (emphasize mine).
It is a great honor for me to have known Patrick and Dena. In his life and in his death, Patrick reminded me afresh that the Gospel is indeed for real life. Because of the Gospel, not even ALS can steal a Christian’s joy.
On October 12, 2012, Patrick McGoldrick received the Outstanding Faithful Service Award by Baptist Bible College & Seminary — the school from which both Patrick and I graduated. Patrick was interviewed by the school, and the video below was prepared by them and shown to the crowd at the service. Patrick’s best friend, Matt Frey, spoke for him. Also, take a few minutes to read the moving reflection that Matt Frey wrote about Patrick.
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