My most touching memories of R.C. have to do with his granddaughter Shannon. Born with multiple disabilities, Shannon had seizure disorders, could not talk, and required constant care. It would’ve shaken the faith of most grandparents, but R.C. held fast to the goodness of his sovereign God.
Shannon’s disability opened his eyes to a world of other special-needs families, and his rapport with them moved me deeply. His grandfather’s heart broke for Shannon, but he would often echo the words of Jesus in John 11:14: “This sickness . . . is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” And he was right. At Joni and Friends, we have told Shannon’s story to countless thousands, all to the end of helping others hold fast to the goodness of God in His sovereignty.
R.C.’s familiarity with Shannon’s severe disability prepared him to enter his own world of disability. Older age wasn’t easy on Dr. Sproul, and he often felt the bite of “outwardly wasting away” (2 Cor. 4:16). But just as his insights once enlivened my spirit and elevated my faith in the furnace of affliction, those same treasured doctrines bolstered his spirit and faith. And his incredible sense of humor remained—the last time I saw him, we challenged each other to a bit of wheelchair racing.
And now as I muse on the homegoing of my friend, I can’t help but belt out all four stanzas of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Especially that last line: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever!” I so want to be there when R.C. shakes the hand—no, rather, gives a bear hug and hearty slaps on the back—of Martin Luther.
Yes, Dr. Sproul will be remembered as a remarkable Christian statesman, standard-bearer for the Reformed faith, and advocate for the gospel once delivered to the saints. But I will miss my happy friend and the times we would spontaneously sing a hymn together in the hallway of some convention center or compete to see “who knows the most stanzas” to this hymn or that. I will miss the times when, in his older years, he would back away from me and shout, “Jezebel!” whenever I complimented him on how youthful he looked.
Our ministry at Joni and Friends is all about conveying the kindness of God in a horribly broken world of deep suffering. Dr. R.C. Sproul helped lay a foundation for our work, not only in my personal life, but in our outreach. For when crib deaths occur, when spina bifida or autism or Alzheimer’s encroaches, when people groan under the weight of significant disabilities and wonder if they’ve been forsaken, we can tell them that God has not taken His hands off the wheel for a nanosecond. R.C. Sproul, even to his last days, would hold forth that powerful line from Psalm 103:19: “His kingdom rules over all.” Yes, God considers these awful things tragedies and He takes no delight in misery, but He is determined to steer each affliction and to use suffering for His own good and glorious ends.
And those ends are happy. God is heaven-bent on sharing His joy, peace, and power with us. But there’s a catch. A caveat I learned early on from listening to R.C.’s tapes on my little cassette player: God shares His joy on His terms, and those terms call us, in some measure, to suffer as His beloved Son did while on earth. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
So, I say a heartfelt thanks to R.C. Never would he have imagined how God would use His teaching ministry to touch the life of this quadriplegic and countless others like me. R.C. showed me, way back in the beginning, that of all the things I might waste here on earth, I must not waste my disability. Earth provides my one and only chance to give Jesus a “sacrifice of praise,” demonstrating to the heavenly hosts that He is supremely worthy of my loyalty and love (Heb.13:15).
And once I get to heaven, R.C. and I will have all of eternity to sing praise to the God who permits what He hates in order to accomplish what He loves. Thank you for championing that blessed message, Dr. Sproul. I’ll catch up with you at the foot of the throne, where we will know—and sing—all the stanzas.