Funerals are a place where we pastors can be guilty of lying…a lot.
Maybe I’m just speaking for myself. So this is my confession: how to do I lie at funerals? I almost always talk about the person who passed away as definitely being in heaven. As if there is no question about their eternal destiny.
Should I say that the person who passed away is in heaven? Do I really know this? No, I don’t. I am not the judge. Only God knows for sure. So why do I say that the person is in heaven?
I know why I say it. Oftentimes the family has beat me to it. After the person draws their last breath, almost immediately family members start saying their loved one is in heaven. So it can be very daunting and even offensive for me to say at that moment, or anytime in the coming days, “Well, I know your loved one just died, but you don’t really know for certain that they’re in heaven. So let’s talk about that.”
I don’t do that. Instead I just go along with it. But should I? Am I promoting a lie?
For many of them, based on the life the deceased lived, it is almost certain that their loved one was a true disciple of Jesus, and we can say with confidence that they are in heaven. Some of them when they were living may have been very vocal about their faith in Christ, some were obviously committed disciples of Jesus. But for others we are not so certain. We wrestle with how much theological hairsplitting we should get into with a grieving family.
My thought is that in their moment of crisis and tragedy, I’m not going to make things worse by trying to suggest that maybe their loved one is not in heaven. Instead I have a strong desire to comfort them as they mourn. I want to help them walk through sadness in a healthy way. So I choose not to quibble with them about whether their loved one is in heaven or hell.
I’d like to believe that my choice to avoid the discussion is not actually lying. Instead I look at it as withholding the conversation for a different time. In fact, that different time is usually during the funeral, though indirectly. I don’t address the family of the deceased, in the middle of the funeral, asking them pointed questions about their loved one’s eternal destiny. But I do share with the entire audience about what the Bible teaches about eternal matters. From there the family can decide for themselves if they want to engage a further discussion. And you know, while it has been rare, a few courageous ones have had that discussion with me. They usually ask “I loved my relative, but I don’t know if they are in heaven or hell.”
So, what happens when we die? Is it possible that we can know now what our eternal destiny will be? It sure would be nice!
This week in our study of Luke, Jesus tells us a parable set in eternity. Check it out at Luke 16:19-31. Perhaps this parable will help us? Or maybe not? If you haven’t clicked on the link and read the parable, let me warn you, Jesus teaches some rather bizarre details about heaven and hell. Is he serious?
Join us at Faith Church this coming Sunday, as we’ll talk about this further!