Tuesday, October 19, 2010

RIP, really?

Most of you know by now that TV “Mom” Barbara Billingsley died this past Saturday. I don’t know much about Miss Billingsley other than what I garnered as a small child by watching the re-runs of “Leave it to Beaver.” 

Tributes, biographies, and memorials have been produced extoling her life and her many accomplishments. She seems to have been loved and appreciated by many people as a result of that early situation comedy.

I have heard all of my life that, “They go in threes.” Each time an actor, singer, or highly profiled individual dies I find myself scanning the news to see who else might have died within a few days of the report. I certainly don’t wish nor take joy in the deaths of one, or two, or even three famous people. I am simply curious.

One of the things said about anyone who passes is, “May they rest in peace.” We have quite possibly unintentionally immortalized that short but sentimental phrase. It is said when speaking of a past loved one and when we hear of the death of an individual whether we actually knew them or not. We have even abbreviated this phrase to RIP. It is almost universally recognized even in this form.

You have seen it I know. Whether it was on a tombstone, in a newspaper clipping, in a cartoon, or even in an editorial, we express this sentiment. I think this phrase, rest in peace, becomes even more verbalized when a particularly troubled, or “haunted” individual dies. This sentiment is offered as if it is a reward for the suffering, hardship, or heart-ache one experienced in while living.

What troubles me the most is to hear so many Christians use this phrase. I hear it spoken over or about so many individuals and situations that it troubles me. It is offered or at least expressed over some of the least likely candidates whom will actually experience or enjoy eternal peace.

Now, I know the cards and letters (email) will pour in wondering if at best I have lost my mind or at worst, am I a horrible monster waiting to be slain. I can assure you that I am neither. I have not lost my mind nor am I a horrible monster.

First, let me assure you that I don’t know anything about the spiritual life and eternal residence of anyone including Miss Barbara Billingsley. This post is not in reference to her nor is in reference to anyone specifically.

Second, let me assure you that I don’t know the hearts of any individual nor do I know who is written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

Third, I am like many of you when it comes to the spiritual condition of some folks. I will be as surprised as you by some whom we meet in heaven and if it is possible, we may be shocked by those whom we don’t find. (I am the most surprised that I was granted eternal life.)

So, you say, what is your point? Well, I am glad you asked. I think we need to be careful what we say, even at the most vulnerable times such as the loss of an individual. Even while comforting those who are grieving we need to think and keep watch on our words Yes, even when we are using words such as, “rest in peace.”

Why? Truth is still truth. We need to be very cognizant of biblical truth. What does the scripture say?

“…the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. There is no peace says my God, for the wicked.” (Isaiah 57:20-21, ESV)

It might make us feel good to say those words. It might make the bereaved feel somewhat comforted. The truth of the matter is that there is no peace, no resting in peace for those who die apart from the grace and salvation of the living God.

We, especially as believers need to be reminded constantly that there is no peace and no hope for those outside of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded so that we faithfully, fervently, and frequently share the gospel with every individual that we possibly can.

Granted, there is nothing we can do for those who have passed on, particularly those who did not know Christ. I don’t think we need to be setting up opinion polls and surveys as who made heaven and who did not. I don’t think we need to needlessly and cruelly afflict those who are grieving. I just want us to think about what we say, even in moments of tender and compassionate comforting of those who lost loved ones.

The reality of heaven and hell of salvation and damnation needs to be constantly before us. If it isn’t we become complacent.

No big deal here, just something I thought of as I read and hear a proliferation of RIP.


welcome to my world of poetry said...

I did not know of the lady concerned but may she R.I.P..


Eddie Eddings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eddie Eddings said...

This brings up another related subject. Have you ever noticed that at most funerals (in America) the deceased is almost always counted as one of the true believers? I mean, no matter what they did in this life, they, all of a sudden, become a "Christian" when they die? One of my step-fathers was an known atheist. He led my mother into atheism (she is now a believer) and was a hard worker and I loved him. (I wasn't a Christian at the time) But, at his funeral, a Catholic priest who never met my step-dad gave the eulogy like he was a great Christian example to follow. Everyone in the place knew the priest didn't know what he was talking about, but that didn't stop him from him saying that he was in Heaven. I was able to witness to Nick Pavazzi (my step-father) after my mother divorced him. My wife and I visited him and his live-in girlfriend several times to explain the Gospel. As far as I know, he never became a believer. Of course, I wasn't there when he died. So I really don't know for sure.
Point is, a minister can still preach the Gospel and not have to declare the man in Heaven or Hell. Just don't lie about it!

Ma ~ said...

I am sorry Eddie, I know it is hard...my dad is an "atheist". It does seem like many people assume that death is the entrance into Heaven.

Seams Inspired said...

Interesting post, Gregg. Definitely food for thought. Lately, when I hear someone has died, I don't think RIP. Instead, I find myself thinking, "I hope he/she was saved."

Persis said...

You make a good point, Gregg. As a society we don't want to deal with the reality of heaven and hell.

My pastor said that one of the hardest things for him is to perform a funeral service when it is unclear whether the deceased was a believer. Namely, preaching someone into the kingdom at their funeral for the sake of comforting the family is not telling the truth the gospel.

Anonymous said...

I've done hundreds of funerals, most of them for unbelievers. I ALWAYS share the gospel in the context of saying, "If your loved one could say one more thing to you, it would be, 'Be prepared for eternity.' Let me tell you how that is done."

Luke 16 reveals to us that dead unbelievers want their family and friends in heaven, not in hell. This gives me great freedom in communicating to those at the funeral what the loved one would indeed say, if given one more chance.

Greg Smith said...

Often, emotions trump theology when the death is of someone close to us. But, the RIP wish comes too late... dying without Christ is eternally irremediable. It is not meant to sound cruel, it is simply acknowledging the truth.

For me, funerals are for the living and are important opportunities to present the Gospel.

God bless you in your passion for the supremacy of Christ.

Gregg said...

Yvonne - she was an actress in an American sitcom called "Leave it To Beaver." She was love by many.

E E - I know what you mean and you are right. It seems that once you die you get a fee pass and many a "pastor" has preached a person past those pearly gates whose life reflected no resemblance to Christ at all.

Ma - You said it very well. People think death is a portal into heaven for everyone.

Larri - I am with you. The first thought that strikes my heart is, did they know Christ?

Persis - Thank you and I agree with your pastor. You are also correct, we as a society do not deal with hell or death very well.

Anonymous - great comment, thank you!

Greg Smith - Yes, I agree, funerals are for the living. The dead are unalterable. Thank you for stopping by.

Arlee Bird said...

June and Ward Cleaver were the icons of typical stable parents of the 1950s. Beaver was a truly classic show.

I have never used the term "rest in peace", but I guess the point is that during a sensitive time like when people are grieving, those trying to console them want to be careful not to create more grief no matter what the truth may be.

Tossing It Out


Eddie is right. Ministers/priests often give false assurance at funerals services and tell all in attendance that their loved one is R.I.P. when they should probably say nothing about the persons eternal destiny one way or another especially if the diseased lived a sinful lifestyle.

I like what Gregg Smith said, "funerals are for the living and are important opportunities to present the Gospel".

Cathy M. said...

Very thought provoking post with great comments too. Very somber mood... so...

Hey, did you hear about the two wickedest brothers in town? The older one died, and the younger brother told the preacher he'd pay him $1000.00 if he'd refer to his brother as a saint when he delivered the eulogy.

The preacher stood up at the funeral and said, "Everyone here knows this man was a thoroughly wicked old reprobate; but, compared to his brother over there, he was a saint!" Amen.