Thursday, 19 August 2010
"...but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God..." 2 Corinthians 6:4-7
Imagine this. You are in line at a viewing at a funeral home. Perhaps it's a high school acquaintance who tragically died too young, or perhaps it's someone in your family you were really close with. Or, maybe it's even a best friend. You wait in line, trying to fight off the tears as the time passes by and the line moves slowly. You look around, recognizing some and not others. You realize just how many people are upset at this person's death.
As you approach the casket more closely, you see his/her family beside it, greeting visitors with hugs, kisses, and many many tears. Some people are not crying, but for a lot of them, their faces show they have cried for days and have barely slept. As you get closer to the family and the casket, you find yourself trying to hold back your tears, but it's just too hard. The tears begin to flow. Finally, you approach the person's mother/father. You hug them tight and tell them how sorry you are.
As a Christian, you know their deceased loved one was not in Christ. There's not a doubt in your mind. This person wanted nothing to do with Christ. Yet you want so desperately to tell his/her family that they're "in a better place." But that's not what the Bible says. But you want to comfort this grieving family who is hurting so deeply. You're torn. What are you supposed to say? What do you do?
This is hard to talk about for me. However, I will try, as I have thought about this for months now.
The above scenario is a position that I found myself in recently. It was the second viewing I remembering going to since I became a Christian. The first viewing was for a highschool friend who I knew loved Jesus. You can still visit her facebook and myspace and you are reminded just how much she loved the Lord. Even though death is so horrible, it's so great to know this girl is in the presence of the Lord and was redeemed by his grace. There's so much comfort in that.
But the second viewing I went to, the person was not a Christian (I don't want to reveal this person's identity for privacy reasons). I'll simply call him "Joe."
I had not spoken to Joe in about a year and a half, and my husband hadn't spoken to him in about a year. I had once known Joe very well, and for over a year, we were once very good friends. I wasn't a Christian at the time, but I definitely know God was drawing me closer to himself. I was hearing the Gospel, though not accepting it. Joe read his Bible some and got very convicted at times. He wondered about who God really was and about the truth of the universe. However, Joe was not quick to call himself a Christian. There were "good" days where he said he was, but most of the time, he said he was agnostic and just did not know. He had made a few professions of faith in his life and had even been baptized around age 12 or so. But at the end of the day, he did not know where he stood. Once Joe and I parted ways, he still claimed to be agnostic.
The life that Joe lived reflected that he was not a child of God. I would hear some of the awful things he was involved in and it would break my heart. However, a friend of ours talked to him once and Joe had a lot of questions about the Lord and had made another profession in Christ. However, just like the parable of the seeds, Joe's love for the Lord soon diminished and died, and he was back to his old lifestyle.
Well, now Joe is dead.
His death shook up my husband and I very badly. As soon as I heard, I began to cry. My husband comforted me and I told him, "Joe is in hell. Joe is in hell right now. And will be forever." My husband didn't know what to say, as he was in agreement. We just held each other. Despite such deep and tragic sadness, we kept our eyes on the Lord, recognizing that God, you are still good. You are still holy. And we love you.
The reality of hell hit home for me. It's easy for us to talk about it and become desynsitized to it. I know I've done it plenty of times. I've heard so many well-meaning Christians tell nonChristians so non chalantly, "If you don't believe in Jesus then you're going to hell." But they say it with the same intensity as they would say, "Hey I'm going to the grocery store." There's no real realization of just what hell is. No true understanding of how serious the wrath of God is.
I wanted to beleive that Joe was in heaven. That Joe was saved. But the day before he died, he still claimed to be agnostic. He had not made a profession in Christ. Those who knew him best remember him with funny stories. They say he was funny, intelligent, witty, outgoing, sarcastic, and overall, just fun. But none of his friends once said that the thing they remember most about him...was that he loved Jesus.
Yet all over facebook the next few weeks, I see, "RIP Joe. God needed you!" and, "RIP Joe, you are in a better place!" and, "RIP Joe, Jesus needed another angel!" It made me mad for a split second, but that anger was replaced with deep and utter horror and sadness. Most of the people who had those statuses weren't Christians and have no idea what heaven is, who God is, or anything. But some people with those statuses were Christians. I was so appalled. They claim to be Christians, but are saying that a nonChristian is in heaven with Jesus. What in the world? Why would you put that? Why would you lie like that? It must be an attempt to comfort themselves and to comfort others. But friends, that is not what Jesus himself teaches. Nonbelievers will not be in heaven, brothers and sisters. They are, and I say this with tears in my eyes -- in hell.
As servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way, "by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God..." 2 Corinthians 6:6-7. When a nonbeliever dies, don't feel like you have to say, "I'm sorry for your loss. By the way, they're not in heaven." As the verse says, we are to show patience, kindness, and genuine love! Tell his/her parents that you are so sorry, and that you are praying for them. Most importantly, tell them the GOSPEL! Don't just give them temporary comfort but share with them who is eternally comforting, and that is Jesus Christ! I continue to talk to Joe's mother, and never once have I told her that Joe was in hell, but never once have I even hinted that I think he's in heaven. Rather, I have told her the Gospel and the hope we have in it. Show kindness and love to those who are hurting.
"By truthful speech". Really meditate on this. Truthful speech. Don't lie to these people, brothers and sisters. Do not, for the sake of someone else's comfort, lie to them and tell them something that the Bible does not teach just so they feel better. In fact, that is the meanest thing you could possibly do. If you make them think that everyone goes to heaven, and they continue in their sin and do not turn to Christ, what do you think is going to happen when they die? Love them enough to be truthful.
Now, if they were to straight up ask you, "Do you think so-and-so is in heaven?", then by all means, I wouldn't blurt out,"Absolutely not!" Be as kind and loving as possible. Share the gospel. Share the love of God with them. Just don't tell them something like, "Well God is a god of love!" and leave it at that, letting that imply that God is just kidding when he talks about hell. Friends, God is not kidding. God never lies, as James teaches. Never. It really upset me when I saw Christians with those statuses, because they are straight up lying. They are lying to the world and inaccurately presenting Jesus Christ. This is not what Christ teaches. Even if your intentions are good, a lie is a lie. Please don't just make up who you want Christ to be.
I know these people are trying to be sincere and it's because they truly want this person to be in heaven. As do I! I pray I get to heaven and see Joe, and he tells me of how God miraculously saved him before his death. That'd be great! But listen -- heaven is not heaven because of the people there. Heaven won't be more "heavenly" if Joe is there. Heaven is heaven because God is there. And that is enough. It's still hard for me to accept Joe's death. I was thinking about it the other day, and I broke down and just cried out through my tears, "God, you are still holy and you are still good!" As I wept, I could feel the Holy Spirit with me, comforting me, as if to say, "Yes, I am." No matter how hard it hurts, I cannot compromise what my Lord teaches to make myself feel better.
In conclusion, Joe's death has made me more passionate about sharing the Gospel with others. Joe's death has made me greater appreciate just what I've been saved from: God's righteous wrath. And most importantly, Joe's death has reminded me that hell is real and that I need not pretend it's no big deal. Remember, the Lord is sovereign, and the Bible teaches that God doesn't owe anyone salvation. In fact, we are ill deserved of salvation. We've earned condemnation, and thus, God isn't mean if Joe is in hell. Like all humans, Joe chose to run from Christ. We all choose, freely, to follow Satan. It's only by God's grace and regeneration of the Holy Spirit that we are brought from death to newness of life. Grace is something God is not required to give, so for me to get angry that God did not save Joe is absurd. However, despite the pain it causes me to think of Joe in hell, I can raise my hands to the Creator and say, "God, you are still holy." When a lost person dies, rejoice in the Gospel, and let it be your catalyst for sharing it with their friends and family. The greatest comfort you can give them is Christ.
Have you ever had to deal with the death of a friend or family member who was not Christian? Have you had to console someone who lost a loved one who was not Christian? What did you say in this situation? How should others handle the situation when they are inevitably faced with such circumstances?