I was performing a funeral some years ago (one of the many I’ve done over the years)…and something interesting happened beforehand. I don’t know if this is true for most pastors, but I had often been asked to perform funerals for people whom I’d never met. Often, it was because the individual was not a church-goer of any sort and had no affiliation with a minister. Usually, a family member or a friend of a friend that knew me would suggest my services. Well, such was the case this time, and the family member, whom I’d also never met, pulled me aside to inform me of the person’s spiritual condition. They let me know in no uncertain terms that this person “loved the Lord,” and then they gave me a very stern gaze…and said, “You understand what I’m telling you?” As he leaned in…I knew he was trying to intimidate me…I realized that this man either wanted me to make sure the man was in Heaven (which no preacher or priest can do), or to lie about the man…
Usually people aren’t that direct or aggressive in relation to this subject. In this case, this family member felt strongly that I should say lots of things about how this gentleman was “singing with the angels.” Isn’t it interesting how people aren’t nearly as concerned with the eternal destinies of those they care about until after the person has died? Perhaps interesting is the wrong word…tragic is the better word I suppose.
Over the years I encountered many such situations wherein people wanted to make sure that I knew that their loved one…even though there was no evidence to support the claim…”loved the Lord.”
This is another very dangerous lie that Christians tell to each other, to ourselves…and to outsiders.
Lie #2: “They’re in a better place now.”
Let me start by saying that this is a hard subject to deal with and I don’t want my words to come off without compassion. When our loved ones pass away, we are looking for comfort. We want to believe that they are now more comfortable…more innocent…more perfect. We want to see them again. All of these things are indicative of the way God made us. He did not originally make us with the potential for death. It was only after our progenitors, Adam and Eve, rebelled against this God-designed order that death became part of the equation. (Interesting to note, He allowed us to die so that we would not live eternally in the fallen, broken condition in which we now live.) This is the main reason that we cannot bear losing someone. This is also the same reason that, for the most part, humans will hold on to life until we simply cannot hold on any longer. So…when our loved ones die…we must satisfy the pain. We look for any shred of hope we can find…and we quite often find it in a lie.
Is this really a harmful lie since they are already gone? Is there any harm in lying to ourselves in order to cope? I believe there is. First of all, one of the things we do, almost without fail, as part of our grieving process, is to guard their memory. We don’t want to ever forget them. I think this helps us to still feel close to them…helps us to ease the pain of the separation. However, the part that we usually don’t think about is that we aren’t always really remembering them. We are remembering our fondest version of them. In many cases, we are remembering a modified person…one that really didn’t exist. In trying to keep their memory alive, we have done an injustice to them. We aren’t remembering the person that we loved. We are fooling ourselves. I want to mention that my heart goes out to all who have lost loved ones. I know the pain. There’s no way to say it other than simply, “IT SUCKS!”
The main reason this is such a harmful lie is that in the end it communicates that everyone goes to Heaven. The reality is this: not everyone does. If everyone does, then we become complacent about telling people what God’s plan for the redemption of mankind is. The Gospel is robbed of its power. Sin no longer matters…and what’s more is that we are violating what our loved one actually would have wanted… Think about that for a moment. In reality, with the intention of preserving someone’s memory, we allow our desire and/or need to ease the pain to supersede whom they really were. If they didn’t actually exhibit a love for God, His Son, or His church, then we should not try to paint a picture that they did. We do their memory greater honor by allowing it to be honest and real.
Another reason that this is a harmful lie is that it negates a strong truth the Bible speaks of often. It negates the truth of a place that is alternative to Heaven. It negates the biblical reality of hell. In the opening chapter of his book, Erasing Hell, Frances Chan points out that the only setting in which it seems like everyone goes to Heaven is at a funeral. All of a sudden, the lives that people lived and the values they held fade quite a bit and the “real them” comes out in the testimonies and eulogies. Meanwhile, many of us that knew the true nature of the person being remembered are internally rolling our eyes…saying, “Oh please! That’s not reality at all!” Again, we do this in order to totally abandon the idea that they may not be in the presence of the Lord…
If we continue to stick our heads in the sand about the reality that not everyone goes to Heaven, we will become less and less concerned about those that have never heard the truth of the Gospel. Meanwhile…people are passing into eternity every day…and those that had the opportunity to share God’s plan for reconciliation with them never took it…because…after all…doesn’t everyone go to Heaven anyway?
“Head-in-the-sand” mentality only hinders the beneficial and healthy grieving process as well as spiritual growth. There is great benefit to ourselves and the world around us when we face the truth of Scripture.
Up next, “We’re not supposed to judge…”
Image taken from: http://www.altpress.com/news/entry/citizen_to_release_new_album_everybody_is_going_to_heaven_in_june