Dale Johnson: Today I’m joined by Lance Quinn who is pastor at Bethany Bible in Thousand Oaks, California. He’s also transitioning from that role as pastor, which he’s done for many years, into the executive vice president’s role at the Expositors Seminary. I love Lance. Lance is a dear friend who is also a board member with ACBC. I love conversations like this, sitting down and having wisdom — to be honest, we really almost didn’t get to the podcast today because we were enjoying conversation together so much. But I think this is a really important topic for us to discuss today, especially in the COVID era when we do have what we would consider to be unexpected, certainly not outside of the knowledge of the Lord, but from a human perspective, some unexpected whittling that’s happening where spouses are dying. How do we deal with questions like that? Lance is in a unique position where he recently lost his wife Beth and I wanted Lance to be able to express and explain from experience what that’s like, but then drive us to the Word as his heart has been driven to the Word to deal with the deep loss and grief that a person walks through. And then so many questions that a person has when they experienced the loss of a spouse, a loss of a partner.
So, Lance I’m so grateful you’re here. I’m thankful that you’re willing to talk about issues like this that are deep and difficult. But I think we’re in a position today where I think the things that you’re going to say from God’s Word are going to be super helpful to a lot of people around the country and even the world. So Lance I want you to start off, if you can, just describing your scenario, a little bit about your experience, your dear wife Beth, and now that she’s with the Lord. There was a long process that you guys walked through of sickness, illness, and eventually in her passing. Could you just describe what that’s like to some degree for our listeners?
Lance Quinn: Well Dale, it’s great to be with you. Yes, we as a family were certainly, like so many other families, dealing with disease and impending death back in December of 2017, actually. I was on a trip to preach in the Baltimore, Maryland area and I received one of those calls that you never want to receive. And that was from my wife saying, she wasn’t feeling well. She was completely healthy, no assumptions of any problems at all, and she woke up and she knew something was wrong. And so she was taken to the emergency room by a couple of my daughters and they discovered a large mass in the left lobe of her lung that had already metastasized to her brain. And they saw at least seven tumors and so it was very serious. And she called me and told me what I just said and of course, that changes the trajectory of your whole life. For two years and four months, we went through every ounce of surgeries and chemotherapy which were all very wonderful ways of extending life, but this nonsmoker lung cancer was of course a beast. You know, the curse of mankind, the fall — and so that 2 years and 4 months allowed us to, with our family, continue to trust the Lord. We have eight children together and we were married for 33 and a half years. And just as COVID was hitting in March of 2020, the cancer had spread rapidly and Beth died on March 30th of that year. And so it’s been a long time, but the Lord has shown both me and my family a hundred lessons about how to help others when death comes to your family.
Dale Johnson: I think when you walk through something like that, Lance, your awareness of other people going through those things is tremendous. You begin to see and notice, you know, what people are walking through because you’ve intimately experienced those very same things. Lance, if you can, describe for us — I think a little bit of in your situation, you sort of knew that the end was coming — how you walked through that with your wife. You’re shepherding your children at the same time. You’re trying to shepherd your grandchildren at the same time. You’re trying to, as a husband, process this yourself. And the realities that the Bible talks about — we see that the Bible explains our experiences better than anything else in the world. But at the same time, you’re wrestling with all these seemingly responsibilities that you’re trying to process yourself.
How do you walk through something like that as a godly man, also trying to pastor, encouraging your wife, but with the reality that death is imminent?
Lance Quinn: That’s a great question, Dale. I would say for me and for our family, we had a wonderful support from our church. As a pastor, I needed to continue pastoring, of course, but the congregation was so loving, so gracious. They really really came alongside us and because of that, it makes this sad journey so much more palatable. Not only the local church but very, very wonderful friends from across the country that I’ve been able to cultivate, you know, through many decades of ministry. I think if it were not for God’s people, it would have been a horrendous challenge of epic proportions. But because of the body of Christ, because of the prayers of the saints, and then not only in our local church but through our local church and my own teaching ministry — I mean, of course, what you have in Psalm 119:68a, God is good and does good. You know you focus upon the character of God, you want to do everything you can to assure not only those you’re teaching and those you’re modeling in front of, but you want to be able with your own children and extended family to be able to affirm the goodness of God. This is no mistake. This is within the purview, certainly, of the grand providence of God. What is the scheme? What is the trajectory of your life? And of course, for two years and four months, the Lord gave us time. Beth was lucid in her mind until those last weeks and so we reflected on our marriage, we reflected on our children and our grandchildren. I never saw someone who so more acutely began to live out in front of my own eyes every day how to die well.
Beth, though the outer man was decaying, the inner man was being renewed day by day and I watched it in real time. It was real. It was raw. It was heartbreaking. It was soul-searching. But it was also the lovely picture of those who are dying in the Lord. Who have a hope the world knows not of.
Dale Johnson: You know, Lance, I think it’s a shame that we don’t talk about that reality more, that death is a reality for all of us. It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment. For us to be able to openly speak, think about how we finish the race well, and even to hear you describe that is just a tremendous encouragement and I want you to know that I’m not talking to a man who’s describing these things theoretically, or from some high-minded position, but a man who walked through those deep soul-searching times.
I want you to talk, if you can Lance, for just a moment about when that long-awaited day that you knew was coming when it came — so I want you to talk about the succeeding days that followed, the weeks, the months, and there are questions that I could only imagine that come up now as a man who’d been married for almost 34 years and routine changes. Lots of things change. Talk about those moments for just a second, if you can, and some of the real questions that arise and maybe how you found hope from the beauty of God’s Word during those difficult days.
Lance Quinn: It was a challenge. There’s no question about it. In transparency, there were good days and then very, very difficult days. When you are watching your one-flesh relationship, your own dear spouse, died every day, little by little, it changes you, but it also challenges you. When you look at yourself in the mirror each morning as you’re getting ready for the day, and you look at your own life, you even look at your own face in the mirror, and you’re saying to yourself, I too am dying daily.
So the question is, since we’re all going to die, how are you preparing yourself for death? I remember Jonathan Edwards and the resolutions that he came up with in his young life. And one of those was this, resolved to live in such a way as I wish I had when I come to die. And that has reverberated in my heart and mind through this whole experience with my dear Beth because you want to — not as you are looking backwards — you want to look forward and you want to say, what’s it going to be like when I come to die? And you want to look at the trajectory of your life in such a way that you’re serving the Lord, you’re loving the Lord, you’re representing the Lord to a watching world, to your family. So that even though it can be shocking, when you hear those words, I have terminal cancer, you can still say, this has not slipped the mind and heart of God one bit. There’s no maverick molecule in the universe. And when the Lord gives you, as a believer, the precedence for faithfulness and trust because you know his character and you know his love, you can deal with these things. And of course, we were able to do it by God’s grace.
Dale Johnson: And the beauty of that is that the Lord continues to prove himself in sustaining life, in sustaining vitality, even. And while things move further past that very significant date where Beth passes — and things will never be completely the same again, that’s certainly true and we can be okay with that — but the reality is, you continue to ask those questions that watching her die taught you. How do I live well? As you turn that corner to begin to think even more deeply about, Okay, the Lord has given me life. I need to live life. How do I do that well? There are a lot of crossroads in that discussion and in that path that you’re walking even right now — questions at that so many people are asking. I mean, you’re quite a ways removed from Beth’s passing now and as you look toward other things in life — You’re transitioning positions, you’re thinking about the last season of your life, how to spend it well for the sake of the glory of Christ, and a lot of other questions come into mind, things like remarriage. Should I do this? Should I pursue something like that? Is that something that’s dishonorable to the wife of my youth? How do I approach something like this? We need to talk through that, Lance because you’re not past that moment. You’re in the middle of some of those questions even now. And I think you found some really good guiding principles from the Scripture that I think you can help a lot of people think through.
Lance Quinn: Well it is a great question, Dale. There are those who have been widowed, male and female, who do eventually begin to ask this question. And I think for myself, particularly as a male, the Genesis 2 passage where it says, it is not good for man to be alone, I will make him a helper suitable for him — that’s something to think through. And yet, though the Scripture in no way is contradictory to itself, you have the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 telling the Corinthians saying, I wish you were as I am. Undoubtedly either Paul was widowed himself — perhaps never married, but I think probably having been married and potentially widowed. He’s saying to those in Corinth, serve the Lord and I wish you were as I am, but then he backs away from that and says, but if you are burning with passion, if you desire a mate, he says you’ve not sinned. And then he goes on in 1 Corinthians 7 to talk about the idea that if you marry you can only marry in the Lord. So the option is given, but one thing that he says is, if you are unmarried and you remain unmarried, you have the opportunity to serve the Lord with undistractedness. But not everybody can be called to that or desires that.
So, the option is there and what you need to do is go into the very soul searching of your own heart and ask yourself the question, is it good for me to remain alone for the sake of the kingdom? And if it is, serve the Lord with gladness. Serve the Lord with single-mindedness. But if you believe you cannot and that you want that companionship and the fellowship of that spouse in your life, not only to meet your needs but also for whom you can minister and meet their needs, then marry only in the Lord and if you do so, serve the Lord as best you can as husband and wife in a way that speaks of all of the lessons that you’ve learned in your widowhood. And now perhaps if the Lord gives you another opportunity, you can learn and grow with another person in ways, perhaps, that you had not grown before.
So, it’s a tough question, but it’s an opportunity for you to really think through this and to determine. I’m in the process of trying to determine it myself and I’m going to continue to ask the Lord to give me direction and guidance and help and when I do those things will become, I believe, clearer to me as I continue to study the Word of God and pray to the Lord and ask Him for guidance.
Dale Johnson: As I hear you talk about that, some people make the mistake, I think, in that 1 Corinthians 7 passage, of thinking one direction or another is a command. It’s not. We’re seeing that there seems to be option that’s given based on wisdom that Paul is providing.
Lance, what I want you to do as we close this time out together talking about a very sensitive and difficult subject — we’re in a very unique season right now with a pandemic that has swept across the world and particularly our country, and has had different spikes and we’ve seen spouses lost. We’ve seen people that we’re close to who are walking through something like that. What are some final words of wisdom that you give to people who find themselves in that situation? People who, you know, started the new year thinking life was going to be normal. They’re young and vibrant. Their marriages off to a great start. Maybe they have some young kids and they found themselves facing what you’re facing with the loss of a spouse. How do you give them some encouragement, some piece of hope in the midst of situation they find themselves in?
Lance Quinn: Well if you’re listening to this podcast and you are in that situation, you’re either looking at the impending loss of a spouse or perhaps you’ve already lost such a one. Let me encourage you. God is good and he does good. And trusting God in the midst of a kind of world upheaval, a personal world upheaval, is the very place that God wants you to trust him the most. Because, in those times when you look around and you see what appears to be nothing but devastation, the loss of loved ones, the loss of a spouse, or the loss of a child, or the loss of a dear loved one, perhaps in your church or maybe even your extended family, this is the time to grip and regrip on the truth that God is good and he does good. I mentioned that passage Psalm 119:68. The first part of it says that very thing. Of course, we are not like the world who has no hope — that death beyond the grave for them is nothing to look forward to — but for believers, especially believers who die in the Lord, even as the world calls it, prematurely, you and I can have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and your own and my own resurrection on top of it.
So, here’s the truth. The truth is, this life is not all there is. We have the hope of heaven. We have the hope of glory. We have the hope of a resurrected body being joined to our souls at the last day. So don’t think of discontinuity. Think of continuity — the continuity of living this life to the fullest and trusting God — and then a time in the future where our body will be rejoined perfectly, a glorified body, to our souls and we will be as Paul told the Thessalonians, forever with the Lord. So, believing person, Christian man or woman, those who’ve lost loved ones, believe and trust in Christ. Counsel one another. Encourage one another. That’s one of the things that Paul told the Thessalonians as well on a couple of occasions. He told them about eschatology, the future of things, and then he says this, comfort one another with these words. It’s designed for comfort. Trust God, believe in Him, and ask Him to comfort your weary soul as you make yourself ready for heaven’s Glory.
Dale Johnson: Lance has been so helpful. Thank you, brother, so much for joining us and being honest to talk about the difficulties. But even in those the depths of difficulties, how life-giving we see the Scriptures, and what I pray — I can only imagine for our listeners as people hear the words that you’re describing, the breath of fresh air, the cooling water that they’re going to experience in their own life, just refreshing to hear that there’s hope in the depths of despair and difficulty. Thank you, brother, for sharing. I really appreciate that. And using the comfort that you’ve received from the Lord to comfort others.