I was thinking today of people I know who are still trying to cope with the death of loved ones. Some have passed away from natural causes. Some have died in accidents. Some have died violent deaths. Some have taken their own lives.
I’m really not sure which is the most difficult to cope with, as a survivor. I’ve had to bury my mom and dad, grandparents and uncles. I’ve buried other family members. I’ve buried friends. I’ve buried strangers. I would imagine burying your child, grandchild, spouse, or parent would be the hardest – depending on the individual survivor. Certainly that’s what the psychology books say. One of the most stressful times in a person’s life is dealing with the death of a loved one.
I find they all make me uncomfortable – whether I am close to the person who died or I am merely providing comfort to those who were close to the deceased. I find they all make me wonder: why? what should I do now? could I have prevented it? how do I help? I find they all make me wish it had not happened. And its always draining – emotionally and physically.
I suppose the worst are those whose family members have no hope in Christ. These people do not know whether there IS a heaven, let alone whether their loved ones will be in it. The truth is, God exists. God loves us. God sent His Son to suffer and die to pay the price for our sins. Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Christ. He made the ultimate sacrifice so those who believe can have eternal life. Christ died to redeem those who would believe. We only have to accept the free gift of eternal life through changing and turning to God through faith in Christ. God forgives us if we do that. We only have to put our lives in God’s hands. Not that He is not sovereign or in control – but some how God provides us with opportunities to choose whether to trust Him or not. When we choose to change and turn to God through faith in Christ, we are adopted into God’s family. We become children of God at that point. We move from spiritual death to spiritual and eternal life.
But really, the point of this post is, what do you say to people who are left behind? What do you say to friends and family members? Do you hammer home the need for Christ in their lives? If the deceased did not know Christ, do you make it a huge deal that he or she will be in hell – stripping the family of any glimmer of hope they might have had for the deceased? If the deceased DID know Christ, do you make a point of it and try to scare people into faith at the funeral?
I find it difficult to know what to preach at a funeral – whether at a eulogy or at the graveside. I find it diffcult to know what to say when visiting with the family and friends who are left behind before and after a funeral. And I must admit, sometimes I have made judgements about the likely resting place of the deceased, based upon how they lived their lives. But two things I try to keep in mind: this time is not for the deceased, but for the living, and I must be led by God. Sometimes while in prayer God has changed my mind about the condition of someone’s spiritual state upon their death.
There are all kinds of “orders of service” for funerals, eulogies, graveside services, etc. There are prepared sermons and eulogies even. Those might have been helpful to someone at one point. But I find none of them are what GOD wants this particular group of survivors to hear. God wants us to say what THIS group of people needs to hear. So we must pray. We must surrender our wills to God in this matter. We must seek what GOD wants us to say, and how God wants us to say it.
I must pray and surrender to what GOD wants said rather than what I think I should say, then I am much more likely to say what God wants the people to hear. And if I can keep in mind that the time surrounding the death and enternment of someone is not about the dead, but the living, then I can remember what it felt like when dealing with someone I cared about. This helps me focus on what God wants me to say and preach to the living.
I find the one thing that helps me is to remember that God loves us. Yes, He is righteous, holy, and just. Yes, God will judge us all. But I dont know what goes on in a person in their last seconds of life. But really, how long does it take to make the final leap of faith and trust God through Christ? I’ve always thought it only takes an instant. Yes, it might take years for the proof to be given and digested and finally accepted. But ultimately, it only takes an instant in time to move from unbelief to faith.
Sometimes people make deathbed conversions. Sometimes we can’t know the true reasons why people do things. Sometimes what seems selfish may be selfless – I’m thinking of suicide in this instance. Is jumping on a grenade selfish? If we know we are likely to harm someone and we take steps to prevent it, is that not loving and responsible (even if we who are living think it was the wrong thing to do)? We can’t know the condition of their spiritual state at death. We might know how they lived. But even if we are with someone at the moment of death, we dont know what was going through their minds at death.
It is the knowledge that God is also love that lets me take peace in the fact that people can turn to God in an instant. With that knowledge, I can tell people about God’s love. I can tell people how while God WILL judge us all, ultimately it is faith in Christ that matters most. If we have that faith in life, then it will be evident in our lives, even if we fail in so many areas. Love for others exemplifies love for God, if you know Christ. But even if we do not have that faith in life, we can come to faith in Christ in an instant.
I don’t know about you, but when someone dies, generally speaking I speak of God’s love. I talk about the love we have for others. I talk about our failures and our sins. I talk about the forgiveness we find in Christ. And if I need to, I talk about how we can make a conversion in an instant, that none of us knows what someone is thinking just before and as someone else dies – so we can take hope that this person who has died turned to Christ before he died. But perhaps we might not want to wait so long ourselves before trusting in God – but we might want to make sure we are trusting in God now, rather than risking dying without knowing Him. I try to balance between compassion, kindness and the need we all have for faith in Christ. And its draining….