Does the sudden passing of a celebrity sometimes get your attention, make you think about the afterlife? Do the comments of people in the entertainment business give you much hope about where they will be or where you will be in the afterlife?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #42 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
A car crash August 5, 2022, in Los Angeles and the horrific fire that resulted caused the death August 11 of actress Anne Heche at age 53. She lapsed into a coma while being rescued by emergency first responders and never regained consciousness, later being declared legally dead due severe anoxic brain injury from smoke inhalation and other thermal injuries.
The tragedy was magnified when preliminary blood tests revealed the presence of drugs in Heche's system. In other words, her erratic high-speed driving, collision with another garage, and finally, a blast off the road some 30 feet into a house, may not have occurred if she had not been under the influence.
My point here is not to pile on Anne Heche for using cocaine and maybe fentanyl, though I know this was not good, justifiable, or safe. She apparently had emotional struggles and, sadly, may have turned to drugs to help ease this pain.
My point here is rather to think about what her 20-year-old son said in response to his mother’s passing.
Homer Laffoon posted this: “My brother Atlas and I lost our Mom. After six days of almost unbelievable emotional swings, I am left with a deep, wordless sadness. Hopefully my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom."
In no way am I making fun or otherwise throwing rocks at this young man’s comment out of his grief. In fact, I find his sentiments particularly sad.
Not only did he lose his mother, he possesses only a vague sense of where she might be or if there is anything out there at all. He simply says he hopes she is free of pain, and he “imagines” her eternal freedom. But he does not know. He expressed no real confidence. I feel for him and his brother.
It brings to mind a few personal experiences. While I was in graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, a coworker in the campus research lab where we were employed, had gone north to Michigan with his wife for a winter ski outing. Tragically, on the way home they hit an ice patch and he was killed in a head-on collision. His wife survived but was hurt badly. Several of my colleagues and I attended the funeral in a Greek Orthodox Church. This proved to be without question the most uncomfortable experience I had had up to then and perhaps since, and for a few colleagues too who commented later. The service was nothing but utter anguish, no words of solace or hope, no sense of peace or meeting again someday, nothing from the priest about where my friend might be in the afterlife. Frankly, my colleagues and I could not wait to get out of there. It was dreadful.
A few years later, my family lived next to an older couple. This church-going family suddenly lost their son to drugs and a wild lifestyle. I remember standing on the gentleman’s patio expressing my condolences when he told me about how the chimes on his back porch had rung that morning and he felt this was his son sending a message that he was alright. Out of compassion for his grief, I did not disagree outright with what I thought was a faulty, pagan grasp for emotional peace, but I did talk to him about what the Scripture says about the afterlife. What amazed me was not only the man’s superstitious statement but that it came from a man that was a relatively faithful attendee at a nearby Presbyterian Church.
In later years still, in West Michigan where I live now, I attended the funeral of the son of a notable businessman I knew. The son was 40-something and had committed suicide with a belt in his own garage. His wife found him. The funeral was held in what the leading self-avowed theologically liberal church in the area, Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids. While in its early days this church had been a beacon for biblical truth, certain pastors led it away from the Word and by the time this funeral took place, there was little evidence in the program that anyone acting in an official capacity believed the Bible.
Most notably, a friend of the deceased offered a short eulogy. The man was deeply broken up and, understandably, barely got through his comments. Primarily, and I think distressingly, he said that his friend had loved hawks and that that day on the way to the funeral the speaker had seen a hawk flying high above. He said he knew that this was his deceased friend telling him he was OK.
Again, like the back porch chimes, this sentimental thought is gut-wrenching in its grief and tearful leap of faith to pagan ideas, trying to find some sense of peace in the face of tragic, avoidable death. The pastor who took the podium thereafter never once offered words of hope to the family and did not share a Christian perspective on what was taking place, only an impotent pep talk.
Like for Anne Heche’s son Homer, I feel profoundly for these people. Their heartsore pain is real. I do not make light of them. Indeed, I am moved by the hopelessness of their positions. Their forlorn, groundless commentary offers them little more than the typical response oft-heard in media about people “sending our thoughts and prayers,” a religious-sounding phrase that usually doesn’t mean much other than that people are trying to express respect.
Contrast this with the passing of my father at age 86 in April 2018. In the providence of God, I was able to get home a couple of days before from a trip to the Middle East with SAT-7, so I was with my mother in Ohio when she came out to the living room saying, “I think Dad has passed.” We both then entered their bedroom where I quickly came to the same conclusion as Mom, Dad was no longer with us. I later observed at Dad’s funeral, if each of us could choose how we depart this earth, wouldn’t most of us like the idea of peacefully falling asleep in our own bedroom?
I will be forever grateful to the Lord that I was there, for Mom but also for me. We were grieved, of course, because there was a loss. Dad was no longer with us. But I cannot imagine that experience without the confidence of knowing Dad knew the Lord and therefore we knew exactly where Dad was.
In the Old King James version, the Scripture’s promise about the homegoing of one of his saints, says, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
I like to remember this biblical theology. While there is hurt because there is a separation, still, we do not grieve as others grieve. We know that our loved one is not “gone,” but simply “absent,” now more alive than ever, now not just “resting in peace” but “rejoicing in peace.”
So, while Mom and our family miss Dad, we know he is well, and we will see him again one day. This is a fantastic Christian certainty—no ambiguity—just truth and an incredible source of peace and joy.
But when celebrities pass, you sometimes hear vacuous statements like what certain entertainers observed when Frank Sinatra died, that “heaven will be rockin’ tonight,” supposedly as Frank joined with other members of the infamous Rat Pack. It sounds like bravado, and it is. But it masks their fear and uncertainty.
People like to believe that life begins by chance. It’s evolutionary, without God or at least without his involvement, thus in life they acknowledge no responsibility, no accountability. So in this view they can do what’s right in their own eyes. Then sooner than they’d wish, they face their own mortality. Life comes to an end.
These same people who believe life begins by chance do not want to think that life ends by chance. No, that would mean their life had no meaning, that they have no meaning. As human beings, they understandably want to believe they possess significance. So, they create a variety of perspectives on the afterlife, most of which are grounded upon works-based assumptions that they have earned their way to heaven or some expression of “eternal freedom.”
But none of this is what the Word of God says. The Bible says, in the beginning God created, which includes human beings. It says we possess eternal significance because of our divine creation. It says we are blessed by God, given talents and time by God, and are accountable to him for how we use them. It also says that we, all of us, are born in sin, that we are not righteous, and that we cannot earn our salvation, which is offered to us by a loving, forgiving God by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and in the resurrection (Rom. 3:21-28, Gal. 2:16). Sin condemns us and salvation cannot be earned. It is a free gift for all that embrace it (Rom. 6:23, Eph. 2:8-9). This is the Gospel, the Good News (John 3:16, 5:24; Rom. 8:1).
Finally, the Bible makes it clear that we can have an assurance of the afterlife.
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13).
For those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior, the Word says that someday Jesus will return for the Resurrection of those saints that have passed, then the Rapture of the living saints. “And so we will be with the Lordforever. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
I do not know where Anne Heche is today, but I know her spirit lives. Her childhood was troubled, but she had a religious mother, so I pray that somewhere in Anne’s life she accepted Christ as her Savior. Have you?
Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com.
And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
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