I’ve been around a lot of death. As a pastor, church members die pretty regularly. As a healthcare chaplain, my patients died weekly. Funerals can be a little tricky at times, balancing kind sentiments with truthfulness. I’m always fascinated by whether people seem ready or scared, and whether they want to die unexpectedly in their sleep or know they are going to die soon. Likewise it’s interesting to observe family members whether they would rather have gotten to say goodbye to their loved one but then have to watch them slowly decline, or if they would rather it have happened without warning. The truth is, there is no perfect way to die. What’s good for you might not be for your family and even if you got your perfect scenario, when the moment comes it still hurts loved-ones just as much. Death comes for everyone. There is an appointed time for everyone to face their maker. So how should true, born-again Christians talk about death? Being at a lot of funerals, I’ve heard a ton of clichés. As Christians, we have real hope in death, but there are a lot of pitfalls in funerals. Here are a few:
1) They’re in a better place
I don’t have as much problem with this phrase if you are dealing with someone that is clearly a Christian, but even then, people obviously aren’t sad that their loved one is in heaven, but that they don’t get to be with them anymore. However, doing funerals for people you are pretty sure are unsaved is certainly not fun and adds a giant complication to the phrase “they’re in a better place.” Obviously you can’t be unequivocally sure, but if they don’t claim it and/or don’t have any evidence of it, then it seems pretty likely they aren’t in a better place. To say that they are helps no one and confuses everyone. The only way to heaven is through trusting Christ as your Savior. On the flip side, I would never personally say that so-and-so is in Hell now and he would do anything to come back to warn you. Instead I say things like, “I am so thankful that God always keeps His promises.” Then I share the good news of salvation shared throughout Scripture. No lying. Not attacking. Just truth.
2) God needed another angel
Humans don’t become angels. Don’t be a heretic. We don’t get halos or wings. It just confuses people. Now I get the sentiment, and to be honest I don’t like that either. Heaven is perfect, and no additional human being added makes it any better (or worse.) This phrase can lead to resentment of God because it describes a greedy CEO or toddler. God needs nothing. He has everything in Himself.
3) If they were here now they wouldn’t want us crying & this is a time for celebration
The Bible in no way belittles crying around the death of a loved one. There is a time for tears. Heck even Jesus cried over Lazarus and He was going to raise him from the dead in a few minutes. I can be happy for the deceased person who is now in heaven, and also be sad that I lost someone I cared about. Celebrate your birthday or getting a promotion or winning first prize at the County Fair for something weird and gross. Likewise mourning is the appropriate response for losing a loved one. Shaming people who are sad or acting like it’s not the right response can make people feel worse, like their faith is lacking or something. People grieve differently, but helping people process should be our goal.
4) It will get better in time
Unless it doesn’t. There are some loses that you just don’t get over. Not all deaths are equal. The loss of an aging parent is totally different than the loss of a young child. I’d rather people say, “you’ll never get over this… but you will survive it.” It validates their feelings and yet gives them hope at the same time. People in general know that time does heal wounds, but many people take that phrase and assume it means that they will forget about this person they dearly loved and they don’t want to forget them. Just don’t say clichés. Saying nothing would be better. Just a firm shoulder squeeze is like a 45-minute conversation between two guys if there is the right amount of eye contact.
5) God never gives you more than you can handle
Except for when He does. There are times He definitely gives us more than we can handle so that we HAVE to rely on Him. What people are misquoting is that He promises that sin will never be the way to overcome a trial. There is no scenario in which God is trying to tempt you with sin to see if you can make it through. And similarly God does work things together for His good, but He does not promise some kind of individual “good” we might want in the moment. Rather He provides a “good” that will be beneficial for His Kingdom. God puts himself on display so that through our weaknesses He reveals His strengths.
Our goal as Christians should be to comfort and not to patronize. Be sincere in your words and don’t just copy and paste what you think people will want to hear. It comes off as contrived or at worse actually ends up hurting people more. So put these and other clichés 6-feet under – where they belong.
Now, I’m off to a funeral…