My friendship with Rev. Bekkering goes back to the mid-1960s when we worked together at a local grocery store. Interestingly, that is also where we both met our spouses. Rev. Bekkering and I attended Calvin College together, as well as the Protestant Reformed Seminary. Then we served together in the ministry of our churches for nearly four decades. Rev. Bekkering served churches in Randolph, WI; Houston, TX; Jenison, MI (Faith); Pella, IA, and finally as missionary in Ghana, Africa. For the most part our contact with each other was limited to our work on the broader ecclesiastical assemblies. For a few years we pastored churches in close proximity to each other. But we always maintained a cherished friendship.
Rev. Bekkering exhibited the spiritual characteristics set forth in the Beatitudes. What stands out especially was his virtue of meekness. Rev. Bekkering was gentle in his dealings with others, returning good for evil, often giving up what was rightfully his for the sake of the kingdom. When he found himself under attack, he emphasized the need to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16). Rev. Bekkering was also a peacemaker. He was not a fighter by nature. When he should have stood up to people and faced them down, he was willing to suffer abuse for the sake of peace. And he was merciful. He had a pastor’s heart who loved the people of God and reached out to those in need.
The Reformed faith gave Rev. Bekkering an awe of God that he did not have when he was younger. He confided in me once that his Arminian perspective as a young men led him to give his life over to Christ several times, but each time he would backslide. What could a God who could not save him do to him when he turned back to the world? He lacked the true fear of God. But once he came to know the Reformed faith and experienced the saving grace of a sovereign God, Rev. Bekkering came to stand in awe of the God he once belittled. And with godly fear he served His God with deep gratitude.
Rev. Bekkering had an uncanny ability to remember a person’s name. If he met you only once, he would remember you by name five years later. I remember sitting across from him at a program after he was well into his Alzheimer’s, and afterwards he knew the names of more people than I did.
The passage that I was asked to use for Rev. Bekkering’s funeral was very appropriate to put his life and death into proper perspective. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Cor. 4:17-18).
Affliction is that which presses in upon us so that we have no room to stand or breathe. For Christians, this affliction often has come in the form of persecution for Christ’s sake. But affliction also comes in the form of the hardships, pains, struggles, and the disappointments of life that are common to all men because we live in a sinful world under God’s curse.
Rev. Bekkering experienced his share of affliction.
The work of the ministry is demanding. It requires long hours that leaves too little time for family life. Then there were classical appointments that kept him away from his church and family for almost three weeks at a time in order to care for a vacant congregation hundreds of miles away. I recall Rev. Bekkering in tears as he confided to me once about his concern of neglecting his family for the work of the ministry.
Every minister of the gospel is subject to criticism from the congregations he serves. Sometimes this can be sharp and hurtful. Sometimes it is undeserved and unfair. This weighs heavily not only on the minister but also on his wife and family. The Bekkerings were not immune to this.
And then Alzheimer’s struck, bringing an early end to Rev. Bekkering’s ministry. Only those that have a loved one who suffers from this disease know how devastating it really is. Inch by inch the family loses a loved one to memory loss and confusion, until at last all ability to communicate is gone.
But the Word of God says our present afflictions are only light and for a moment. They really are not all that heavy to carry. And they really do not last all that long.
Yet this is not always our experience. And we may question the reality of this with Rev. Bekkering, as we consider the weight he often had to carry in the ministry and then the Alzheimer’s that incapacitated him, leaving him bedridden for several years.
But now we must compare our present affliction to the eternal weight of glory that is to come. This glory is the glory of heaven. It is the glory Christ earned at the cross for His people. It is the glory that they receive at death and ultimately at the resurrection of the body. This is a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. The glory that awaits us in Christ is of exceeding weight. It is a weight that is so great that it cannot be measured. It belongs to that which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man to conceive. It will far exceed our wildest imagination. Think of the Queen of Sheba who, upon seeing all of Solomon’s wealth and glory, exclaimed that she had not believed the reports she had heard of Solomon, but that the half had not been told her. This will be the reaction of the saints as they enter into glory. That is due to the fact that this glory is the glory of living in intimate fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. We begin to enjoy that now in Jesus Christ. Then we will enjoy that without the hindrance of sin and do so in the presence of Jesus Christ, whose glory we shall see.
And this glory is eternal. This is not the case with our present existence. The Lord gives us 70 years and if we are strong 80 years. In our present day of medical marvels that is often extended into the 90s. But then we are taken away. But the glory that awaits us in Christ will never end—it is eternal. The last stanza of the hymn “Amazing Grace” sets this before us:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.
The point is that when we compare our present affliction to the glory that awaits us, our present affliction is only light and momentary. All the affliction we could possibly endure in this life is light compared to the glory we will experience in heaven. This is the experience of Rev. Bekkering, whose mind is now clear and who sees and knows things we do not. And what is a lifetime of affliction compared to the eternal glory that awaits us?! This also is Rev. Bekkering’s experience as he begins his life in eternity.
But notice too that our present affliction works for us this eternal weight of glory. Often we conclude that the struggles of life work against us. However, we are assured that they work for us. Often we do not understand how this can be. And so we are reminded of the need to live by faith and not by sight (). Yet, the reality is that God in His inscrutable wisdom and love is molding us and preparing us for glory. God has reserved for us a place in glory, which Christ is preparing for us ( ). But in this life He also prepares us for the place. This is really the purpose of this life. The few years we have in this life are not the goal that God has for us in His wise counsel. It is time to prepare us for eternal glory. And God uses many things to accomplish this purpose. He uses the preaching of the gospel, the training of parents, as well as the help and encouragement of fellow believers. But He also uses the pain and suffering He sends in this life. And when we are brought through death to the glory that is ours in Jesus Christ, we will see how this is true. And we will not only admire the great wisdom of our God, but also confess that we would gladly suffer the afflictions of the past a thousand times over in order to attain the glory of heaven. This is, no doubt, the experience of Rev. Bekkering as he basks in the glory of Jesus Christ.
We come to experience the reality of this in this life while we look not at the things that are seen but the things that are not seen. If we look only on the things that are seen, we focus on the hardships, the losses, and the tears of this life. And then the afflictions of life become an unending burden, too heavy to carry. But if we look at the things that are not seen and eternal, we focus on the glory that awaits us and the promise of God to work all things for our glory. Then, the afflictions of life become much lighter and of short duration.
We are reminded of Jacob, who served his uncle Laban for seven years to marry Rachel. “And they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her” (). If this is true for a man whose focus was on an earthly marriage, how much more for those who are focused on their heavenly marriage with Jesus Christ in glory. The present affliction necessary to attain that glory will not be all that heavy and will seem to be but a few days.
Let us look with the eye of faith to that which is not seen.
Our prayer is that the Lord is His grace and mercy will sustain Mrs. Bekkering and her family in this time of loss.