My relationship with my dad was a good one as I was growing up.

He loved me very much, always told me I was his favourite son (I’m the only son) and always affirmed me. He worked hard for the family but also made sure to spend time with us. We were very close as a result.

But when I was 17, he was diagnosed with cancer. He was strong and upbeat for the most part. And we prayed day and night through many months of his suffering.

I’ll never forget that one night I carried my dad around the house – he was all skin and bones by then — when I realised his time might actually be up. Beyond desperate, I even asked God to let me trade places with him.

Let me be the one to suffer.

But there was no healing, and my dad eventually passed away in the hospital. I remember looking out of the hospital windows into the night sky when it happened, as if I was looking for God: Show Yourself!

Dad had held onto his faith as he stepped into paradise, while I threw mine away as I fell into hatred. I hated God for allowing his death to happen. I really hated Him. I was mired in furious disbelief at how a good God could stand idly by as a good man – a great father – succumbed to illness.

In my heart, I told Him: “Since You took away my father, I don’t need you as my Father God.” What was He good for anyway, if He’d failed to show up when I needed Him most?
And what compounded my bitterness and anger was knowing that throughout the time I was begging God for healing, my best friend was having her prayer requests answered just like that.

What was God good for anyway, if He’d failed to show up when I needed Him most?

Gold dust to encourage her cell group? Done. But healing for a good man who’s served God and man faithfully? Silence.

In anger, I spent years away from the faith, mixing with the wrong company and getting involved in the wrong things, until the initial excitement began to taper off and the familiar emptiness and rage returned.

The short version of this story is that my hopeless landed me back on a search for some shred of meaning. I found myself back in church one day, looking for hope — but back then I didn’t want to call it God.

That was around 5 years ago.

It took years to unpack the hurt and process it with good people. Years to forgive – for a heart of stone to become flesh again. But like the smaller waves that come after bigger ones, the great grief of my life waned over time.

But with the residual bitterness in my heart, I settled for an uneasy acceptance of God’s sovereignty. There hadn’t been proper resolution from my anger towards God; I’d still turned from Him as Father. “Father”, to me, was a ripped-out chapter in my book, and I settled for the experience that remained.

God was certainly sovereign in my life. I mean, He was still God. But it wasn’t fearful reverence I had in my heart, but a kind of indifference and disbelief that He loved me like a father loves his son.

All the things I had from my early father: Love, affirmation, guidance … I still couldn’t bring myself to receive that from God.

“Father”, to me, was a ripped-out chapter in my book, and I settled for the experience that remained.

But it was at a retreat where God revealed to me that my father’s faith wasn’t mine. A wise man I know once said, God has no grandchildren. And I’d spent my whole life as God’s grandchild. So when I lost my earthly father, I experienced true fatherlessness for the first time. Because I didn’t know God.

At the retreat there was a time for ministry during the worship session of the last day. We were worshipping when the presence of God swept through the congregation. I hadn’t expected anything from the retreat, but suddenly I found myself on my knees and in tears.

Then I felt a voice speak into my heart: “I love you, My son.”

In that moment it was like a knot inside me was untied, and I knew I was truly free from the grief I had buried deep within — free to live as a child of God.

There are days I still miss my father, but now I truly know that God is sovereign in every single decision — a rock-solid conviction wrapped in the love of the Father.

Though my earthly father has left for just a little while, I’ve gained a heavenly One, and He is more than enough for me.

About the author

Gabriel Ong

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.