Seeing a friend in a casket is a sad and sobering experience. Feelings especially true when the friend died suddenly, without warning and yet young. “Viewing” provides “closure,” the experts say, and the practice provides an occasion to express support and sympathy to members of your friend’s family. But it’s not fun, and only in cases when the deceased has left a life of suffering do we consider this time a relief.
People sometimes misinterpret the Christian theology of death. Some of them think Christians are pretty sanguine when it comes to death. Not usually. Christians are as bothered by death as anyone else.
God never told us we had to like death, only that we need not fear it. Death is still a separation, even from a person we know is now with the Lord. Death is still a transition. It’s an absence. It removes from our daily lives people we care about. So we feel the loss and we don’t like it.
Nor do we have to like death. It’s OK to grieve.
But Christians have hope, so we do not and should not grieve as those who have no hope. We know the end of the story and we know the Author of the story. We don’t just believe. We know God is still in charge, is not surprised by death, and is still a God of love. We know Christ has already defeated sin and its result—death—on the cross and in his resurrection. Our hope built upon certainty.
Christians do sometimes deal with death differently, so maybe that’s where the idea came from that we’re not bothered by death. For example, while there’s nothing wrong with wearing black to a funeral it isn’t really a Christian M.O. I know that’s what’s always shown in movies, especially funerals in New York City, but wearing black is more about tradition than Christianity. Christians mourn, but they recognize that it’s one thing to mourn and another thing to be morose. Sometimes Christians want to wear their hope in brightly colored clothing. It’s possible to do so while respecting the deceased. But again, there’s nothing wrong with wearing black either. It’s our knowledge and attitude that count for more.
Christians also sometimes conduct funerals that come off like celebrations. This is especially true when the deceased friend or family member has lived a long, full, and godly life. His or her time has come. He or she is spiritually and emotionally ready to meet the Lord, ready to go, ready to renew bonds with loved ones gone before. Such funerals are promotions. I recently attended a funeral for an 80-something friend that was all of that. Remembering him and his life was “fun,” if you can use that word at a funeral. He would have been much pleased, and we know he’s in heaven.
The most difficult experience is the funeral of a friend who, as far as you know, never placed his or her faith in Christ. How do you remain hopeful in this instance? You literally mourn his or her loss and you pray for, focus on, and invest in the loved ones left behind. Would to God that he awakens them and grants them a peace that passes understanding.
So, No, I don’t like seeing a friend in a casket.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
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