Things To Not Do or Say When Someone Dies

Are there some things you don’t want to say after someone’s death? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just yesterday, we got a surprise as Allie and I woke up and she saw on Facebook that one of our friends back in Charlotte had died recently. We still don’t know much about it, but it was something sad. This got me to thinking about what happens when people die. People can mean well by these, but they are not good or accurate to say or do.

#1. God needed a new angel.

This one is false and really unkind, especially to children. No. When a person dies they do not become an angel. An angel is a wholly separate kind of being. Angels as Hebrews says are ministering spirits. We are not going to be just spirits. We are going to be humans.

But why is this unkind, especially to children? Imagine a child who has lost his mother. What happens when he hears “God needed a new angel.”? What kind of God are you giving these children then? A God who will take their mother away from them just because apparently He is lacking something?

#2. They are experiencing the resurrection!

This one can come in a number of varieties. When my grandmother passed away, I was one of three ministers assigned her funeral. I was to speak last and the minister at her church did a message and said, “Right now. She is experiencing the power of the resurrection!” I was just looking and thinking, “Sorry Pastor, but I’m pretty sure I can see her body down there right now.”

Another time in Tennessee when Allie and I were looking for churches, we visited one that had an elderly pastor speaking and the kind that was disappointing me since I was surely half his age and yet I knew he didn’t know what he was talking about. He talked about a friend who had died recently and said that right now, he is walking on streets of gold. Allie had to put her hand on my leg to make sure I’d remain calm.

Why are these so bad? Both of these in essence deny the resurrection! They treat the resurrection like a spiritual event and the body is not necessary. The person I think surely still exists, but they do not exist in unity with their bodies at this time. If we say that they do something physical like this, then we are treating the body as unimportant, something Jesus and Paul never did.

#3. Putting the emphasis on Heaven.

To some extent, this is what we should do, but if you treat heaven as the whole point, you miss it. The main message has always been resurrection. I saw this one when an aunt of mine passed away in Tennessee. The pastor was spending more time talking about himself, such as coming back from his vacation to do a funeral, than talking about her. I was waiting to hear something about the resurrection. Towards the end, he finally spoke about having that blessed hope that Paul spoke about in 1 Thess. 4.

I perked up. What? Is this it? Are we finally going to hear about the resurrection?!

The blessed hope that we will see our loved ones again in Heaven!

I slouched back down again.

Yeah. Heaven is real and we should celebrate it, but heaven is not total and complete until we are there as body and soul unities and that is the final victory over death. To say that we never have anything to do with this world is not Christianity. It’s Gnosticism. This world was created to be where God would dwell with His people and these bodies are the tools we were born to use to interact with the world.

If you are speaking about a believer in Christ who has died, I recommend just saying they are in the presence of Jesus. There is much debate about what happens when people die, but there is no question that their bodies are not there with them. Those bodies stay here and await the resurrection.

#4. Don’t glamourize suicide.

It’s hard to realize, but this sometimes happens. My family told me about going to a funeral for the friend of my Dad’s best friend. The husband had killed himself in an effort to remove a financial burden from the family or give life insurance or something of that sort. The pastor actually got up and said that the last act this man did was an act of love.

This man might have meant well, but it was not an act of love. Can you imagine being one of those kids hearing that? Your Dad killed himself and that killing of himself was an act of love? You experience it as the worst thing that has ever happened to you in your life!

I understand this minister got a number of complaints. Good. Such an act is a disgraceful act to the family involved. Suicide should always be shown as a tragic way to die and never the right action.

#5. Preaching Someone Into Heaven.

I am using the term Heaven due to that being the normal parlance, but we know this kind of thing. Someone dies who we have no reason to believe was a Christian and yet none of us wants to say it and everyone tries to paint the best picture of him possible. When this happens, there is a fine line to walk.

There’s a story about two really bad brothers in a town. One of them died and the surviving one told the pastor he would make a huge contribution to the church if the pastor would refer to his brother as a saint. The pastor on the day got up and said, “I want to be honest. This man in the coffin was a liar, a swindler, an adulterer, and a scoundrel overall, but compared to his brother, he was a saint!”

So if you don’t do these, then what do you say? I would simply say that the person is in the hands of God. There could always be a last minute conversion. We don’t know, but we can be skeptical. It’s not yours to decide ultimately who goes to Heaven or Hell. You certainly don’t want to say “I’m pretty sure your loved one is being tormented in Hell right now.” Say they’re in the hands of God.

#6. Pretty much anything at all.

It’s often tempting to think we should have just the right words to say when someone dies, but you know what? You don’t. You at least don’t have the words to take away the pain. Most people wouldn’t even want the pain to go. They truly want to mourn and grieve, and why shouldn’t they? They have experienced a loss.

Do what the Bible says. Mourn with those who mourn. Keep in mind we also mourn, but not like those who have no hope. We have hope, but that doesn’t discount mourning. It’s okay to be sad. Somehow we have this idea in Christianity that we should have it altogether and never be sad. Nonsense! We are still human beings. Being human does not mean always being happy. Some things should make you smile. Some things should make you laugh. Some things should make you sad. Some things should make you cry.

There’s a story that the composer Beethoven had a friend who experienced the death of someone. Beethoven went to visit. He saw a piano in the main room, played it for half an hour with beautiful music for mourning and then left. The friend said it was the most impactful visit of all. I don’t know if it’s true, but the message of the story is the same. Do something to mourn with the person. Come alongside them. Carry the pain with them. Enter into it.

There are no quick cures for grief and this is especially the case for suicide. When I meet people who had loved ones kill themselves decades earlier, it still affects them. Death is a defeated foe to be sure, but it is still a foe and nothing to take lightly. It has real effects on us today. Handle it properly.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: The Resurrection of the Body

Does the body really matter? Let’s dive into Deeper Waters and find out.

I was at a funeral and hearing the pastor really mess up the eulogy he was giving for the deceased. Unfortunately, I’ve heard this kind of talk before, yet I got some hope as we got to 1 Thess. 4 being mentioned. Surely, this is where the pastor will redeem himself. The pastor started speaking about 1 Thess. 4 and said we have the same hope as the apostle Paul.

Yes! Yes! Go on please!

“We have the hope that we will see our loved ones again in Heaven.”

And there I’m deflated again.

Am I against seeing loved ones in Heaven? Not at all. What am I against? 1 Thess. 4 is not about that. 1 Thess. 4 tells you specifically what it’s about. It’s about the Lord and His return and the resurrection of the dead that will happen then. It’s about how we do not mourn like those who have no hope and that our bodies will one day come out of that grave.

If you skip ahead to Heaven without mentioning the resurrection, then you do not have a completed victory of God.

You see, in overcoming death, Christ shows that nothing has any power over us. Death is the ultimate destroyer ripping our souls from our bodies. Those bodies are good! We often lose sight of that! God did not create us to be angels. He created us to be humans and part of being human is living with a body.

This is why the resurrection of the dead is so important and why I think that anyone who denies the future bodily resurrection has stepped into heresy. Our bodies will be resurrected the same way Christ’s was. He is the first fruits. He is the exemplar of what we have coming. If we are not raised physically, then Christ was not raised physically.

At another funeral I was at once, one preacher spoke about the deceased and said that right now, she was experiencing the resurrection. I had to look and say to myself “Sorry Pastor. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m pretty sure that her body is still in that casket.” We too often think that once someone has died and gone on to be in the presence of Jesus, then that means that things are done with them. No. They are happier than they were of course, but they still await being reunited with their bodies.

When Christ comes to redeem, He does not redeem just us. He redeems all of creation as well. He comes to release it from its bondage. He will not allow the devil to ruin creation so much that it is irredeemable. He will not let the devil have a victory even over the human body. His goal is to bring redemption for all.

Funerals unfortunately are hot beds for these kinds of mistakes, but let us not make them any more. We are not just people who are awaiting life in a Heaven to come. We are people who are waiting an embodied life in a physical creation that God has waiting for us. He did not make a mistake with giving us bodies. He has them for us for a reason. (This is also why we honor God with our bodies including sexually. What you do with your body matters.)

Celebrate and honor your body today and remember that as you live a righteous life, so your body will show that in the future.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Ode To Joy

What difference can one life make? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was going to write something today for a friend in response to a Mormon video, but I must put that one on hold for a day now. As listeners of the podcast know, and I hope you all are listening, my grandmother-in-law passed away Saturday. This is the grandmother on Mike’s said, in other words, the mother of Michael Licona, for those wondering which Mike. His daughter is my wife after all. Right now, Allie is up in Baltimore for the funeral of Grandma Joy.

If you are a fan of Mike, and many of you are, you need to consider that this woman was the main woman in his life before his wife that shaped him, and give thanks. Joy was in turn a great influence on my own wife, helping her through her own personal crises. In the midst of all her pain, she had only joy and concern for other people.

Joy had had breast cancer that was stage four. It disappeared sometime around last September for awhile, and I think this was a gift from God to allow her to have one more Thanksgiving with us all. This was the second time I had got to meet Joy. The first was at the wedding and I did not get to interact with her that much. At this Thanksgiving, Allie and I stayed at her house and got to meet her and regularly speak with her.

Joy was a delight whose Christian faith showed through and her simple laughter in everything. For instance, two of her grandsons came over every day. One was especially interested in Mike’s doing magic tricks with a deck of cards. When Mike was gone one time, I asked this grandson if he would like to play a card game. This one was either an early teenager or about to be one.

“Yeah!”

“Ever heard of 52 pick-up?”

“No!”

“Wanna play it?”

“Yeah!”

To which, I of course threw the deck in the air and watched all the cards land telling him to pick them up. Joy watched and smiled delighting in such a prank.

Joy was active the whole week being in the kitchen helping to prepare meals. She offered advice to Allie and I and I don’t remember her ever being negative about her past experiences. Joy was quite good at living out her name.

Allie and Joy would quite often talk to each other. There was a special bond there between the two of them which made the loss so much harder for Allie. I have even been told that when Joy was not really responsive to anyone, that she still cried when she heard Allie’s voice on the phone.

During the past month, we had been waiting in limbo expecting the end to come any time. We actually expected it the first week in June, but Joy was always a fighter and hung on for a long time. On Saturday, I received the call from Allie while I was out doing some shopping. On the show, I asked for prayer at least twice for the situation.

Through her Christlike actions, Joy helped shape society. Those of you who have appreciated Mike’s work should give thanks for Joy, for one could easily question whether he would have done his resurrection work if it had not been for the influence of a godly mother. Those of you who are mothers out there. Never underestimate the influence that you can have on your children.

Those of you who like my work, and I hope that’s all of you, need to have the same consideration. Because of Joy’s influence, Mike married a Christian woman and together they raised their children to be Christian. One of them is my wife today who has Joy’s Christianity in her. My wife is, aside from Jesus Christ, the greatest influence on my life. It is her that has been the greatest change in my apologetic career really giving me the confidence to go further. Joy’s actions reached far beyond herself. They reached to those who would come after her and even to those who were in no way part of her family at first.

It is said that when we are born, we cry and the world rejoices. We should live so that when we die, the world cries and we rejoice. The world has much to cry about today. Joy, meanwhile, has much to rejoice about. As of now, she is matching her name more than she ever has before. Though not in the body at the moment, she is nevertheless in the presence of Jesus.

In fact, as I drove home from the store, I kept thinking that Joy was in the presence of Jesus, and I could not help but smile. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, we do mourn, but not like those without hope. The mourning is not for Joy. Joy is far better off than we are. In her state right now where she is, the happiest she has ever been here is like stark depression in comparison.

It is definitely a time like this that I can even more appreciate the meaning of the resurrection. The study of the resurrection is not an isolated point to prove that Christianity is true. It is something that changes the course of history entirely. I do agree with the claim that apart from the resurrection of Jesus, there is no other hope for mankind.

While we will mourn for a season, especially when the funeral takes place and the reality sinks in the most, we mourn not for Joy, but for ourselves. We are at a loss for not being able to directly interact with her any more for now. There can be no tears shed for Joy. Her battle is over. Her pain is gone. She is in the presence of her Lord. There are tears for those of us left behind and a reminder of why we do what we do. We look forward to the day when the curse will be broken and God will make all things new.

Until then, there will always be an empty part in those of us who knew Joy as we await the time when God will right all the wrongs and reverse all the sufferings. Let us live our lives in a far greater light now realizing the impact that one life has made and will have throughout the centuries. Joy was impacted by those who came before her. Mike has his own impacts through his work. I in turn will have my own impact and if Allie and I have children, they will get the legacy of their great-grandmother. What we do and what happens in the future will be done in part from the work of a simple woman who just sought to honor Christ in her life and set Him first. We in apologetics do far less if we only seek to prove Christianity but do not set Christ first.

Joy’s pebble has already landed in the pond of our timeline, but the circles that go out will go far beyond what she had ever thought and may we do the same and give Christ all that we have and let him see what He will do with the circles that come forward.

May the memory of Joy be eternal and may we always carry it in our hearts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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