Recently after attending a funeral service, my mind tried to wrap itself around what I had just experienced. I had just witnessed what is to my remembrance, the first ever God-less funeral I’ve ever attended. As you might imagine, in my role as a pastor I have both conducted or attended hundreds of funerals. But until Friday I’d never attended a God-less one. When I say God-less, I’m not using it as an antonym to “godly.’ I’m using it in the sense that, other than one brief moment when a speaker looked at the casket and said to the corpse of his best friend lying within, “Go with God”, God was never mentioned – not in the one generic prayer, not in the music selections, not in the remarks of several close friends, and not in the remarks of the woman who emceed the service.
Not only was the service God-less, it was also hope-less. Again, I’m not using hope-less in the sense of opposite of hopeful, but in the sense of being absent of any mention of hope regarding life in the future without their loved one. There was no mention of heaven at all, and as a result, no mention of the hope that heaven can bring to the grieving process.
Over the past several days I’ve thought a lot about that funeral service, not in a condemning way, but in a curious way. I’m curious as to how an individual, his/her family, and close network of friends can arrive at the point in their lives where a funeral service absent God and hope is the preferred approach in celebrating the life and grieving the death of a loved one and friend. After pondering that question, I’ve concluded that one or more of the following might have been in play:
- They may have concluded that there is no God. If there’s no God, then there’s no benefit or hope to be gained from Him at the time of someone’s death. But to reach this conclusion, a person must ignore all the evidences in life and nature which point to God’s existence. Speaking to this point, the Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:19-20, “…that which is known about God is evident within them [mankind]; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made [created], so that they are without excuse.” Follow the evidence and it points to God. God will see to it.
- They may have concluded that though God exists, His role in their everyday lives – even the death of a loved one –was not sufficient to warrant His presence and inclusion in the funeral process. But to reach this conclusion and to act upon it, a person must ignore the sobering words found in James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”
- They may have concluded that death ends it all. That when you’re dead you’re done. That there’s no such thing as life after death. That hope, therefore, is not necessary. If that’s the case, the best way to grieve is to celebrate to the fullest the life the person lived, and also to safeguard what memories of them you have. But to reach this conclusion, a person must ignore the awareness of eternity that has been placed within every person’s heart. Speaking of all mankind, Ecclesiastes 3:11 says of God that “He has also set eternity in their heart….” Thus we are wired to know that we were created to live forever – that life does not stop at death’s door.
- And saddest of all, they may have come to the conclusion at some point in their lives that having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through faith in His death, burial, and resurrection is not necessary, and/or even desirable. But to reach and hold to that conclusion means one has to ignore the compelling words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
In closing, let me share with you an important life principle: Death hurts, but genuine hope helps. Genuine hope is found in the guaranteed promise of eternal life after death in heaven as a gift from God.
Jerry Long, Minister of Pastoral Care