04 February 2012

Post Funeral Thoughts

Today I attended a funeral. A few things struck me.

First of all, I expected very few people to attend the service. On the contrary, the church car park was quite full; two big buses were in use for transporting people and there were many cars. The church itself was well filled. The reason I expected very few people is because very few people were there for the person who died during his illness. It was a hustle getting people to be by the ailing man's side so as to relieve his wife a while. However to my surprise, there were lots of people.

There were lots of people crying too. I prefer to stand directly outside the exit to watch people stream out from the church after the funeral service. The reality that someone has died really sinks for me as I see people walk out passed the casket consumed with grief even more than seeing the corpse in the casket. So many people were visibly grieved and yet so few showed up when the deceased needed them the most. If you ask any of those people who were walking out, “I can see from your grief, that you really cared for the deceased, didn’t you?” The answer would likely be a yes, and they probably would be telling the truth. The inevitable follow up question would then be, “But why weren’t you there?”

I was further struck by two individuals in the service, the one who lead the proceedings, who happened to be the deceased’s cell group leader and the man who shared from the word. Both of them testified to the exemplary commitment of the deceased to the church and to God. They both made it pretty clear that the deceased was a Christian.

What puzzled me was that I had spent some hours with the deceased about a week before his demise. We spoke at length, exchanging questions. One of the questions I asked him was whether, if he died, he would go to heaven. He replied with a definite ‘no’. “I have sinned too much,” he said. I resolved to tell both the cell group leader and preacher man about it after the service.

After the service, I noticed that both of them were riding in the same car which meant I’d be able to kill two birds with one stone. I went up to them and told them, that the deceased told me that he didn’t think he would go to heaven because of how he had led his life. No accusations, no question, just a statement. Both of them were surprised of course. I went on to asked whether any of them had talked with the deceased concerning his salvation in that last week of his life.

The preacher was the first to respond. I was disappointed. He told me, visibly in defense mode, that the deceased was not in a right frame of mind and that was why he said what he said. He further went on to say that before his illness or before it had advanced, the deceased said he was a Christian and that was what they held on to.

In that moment I wanted to tell the preacher that I had spent hours having intelligible conversation with the man who he thought to be beside himself mentally. I wanted to tell him that the deceased was able to remember me along with my entire family as well as what many of them were doing in life. I wanted to tell him that the deceased on that day, a week before his passing, was lots of things but ‘mentally ill’ was not one of them. But I did not.

The cell group leader, however, replied with a question. He asked me where I was from and who I was to the deceased. I replied and he went on to ask whether, I, having heard the deceased say that he did not think he was going to heaven, proceeded to share the way of salvation with him. For me that was refreshing. He did not jump to defend himself but showed immediate concern for the eternal welfare of the deceased.

The message I was trying to communicate to these men was that assumptions concerning a person, let alone dying person's eternal welfare, must be avoided. If someone claims to be a Christian we should be glad. However, we should also realize that Christianity is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. The question that must soon follow in both our hearts and out loud to that individual must be, “Is it genuine?” Some may say that would be rude or perhaps too forward. Maybe too pessimistic. Well, if the person realizes that they were deceived and weren't really Christian, they'll be eternally grateful for your pessimism because an encounter with an optimist may have resulted in eternal damnation for them. Better to error on the side of caution.

The bible is clear in Matthew just how many people will arrive on the Day of Judgment falsely convinced of their salvation-- many. The possibility that the person who claims to be saved is in fact not, is therefore very high. If you care at all for that person, your next task would be to ensure that the person claiming to be saved actually is. Tapping them on the back and moving on does not demonstrate care. It is dangerous. Something that I hope the men I talked to today realized.