Offering Condolences

What is our eternal destination? While there have been some prominent church leaders proposing their own interpretation of the Bible on this topic, I always assumed that most Christians agreed on the basics—heaven and hell are real, and only perfect people can live in heaven. Since no one is perfect, we have to rely on Jesus’ perfection on our behalf. Otherwise, we consign ourselves to hell. Pretty orthodox—or at least I thought so.

With the recent death of my dad, lots of people are expressing their condolences. I really appreciate all the kindness we’re receiving—everyone has been so wonderful! What I find surprising, however, is how many people just assume that my dad went to heaven.

Perhaps because I’m a believer, people assume my dad was too. (He wasn’t, at least as far as I know—more about that in my next post.) It’s an honest mistake, and I know I’ll be more aware of my own assumptions in the future. But then there are comments that leave me wondering how much some of these self-proclaimed Christians actually know about their faith! For example…

“Just think, your dad is in heaven with His Lord now.”
“Well, we certainly prayed that he would finally come to know Jesus before he died!”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s in heaven. He was a good man.”

Apparently, this view is quite common—I’ve heard it from any number of people—but it isn’t supported by scripture. My dad was a good man, at least from a human standpoint. But how good is good enough? He certainly wasn’t perfect! If simply being a good person can get you into heaven, why did Jesus have to die for us? Being good is important, but basing our salvation on our goodness is legalism. A perfect God requires perfection, and the only person who was perfect is Jesus. Either we know Him or we don’t. Either we are covered by his righteousness, or we die in our sins.

‘I’m sure your dad is saved. After all, he’s part of your family, and Acts 16 says that if one family member is saved, everyone is!.”

Really? That would certainly be wonderful, but is it true? I looked up the verse in question. Found in Acts 16:16-38, it’s the story about Paul and Silas being miraculously released from prison and the subsequent conversion of the jailer and his entire family. Verse 31 says,

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Taken out of context, one would assume that this person was right—that since I believe and have been saved, that implies that my parents are saved as well. Unfortunately, there’s the rest of the paragraph:

The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. (Acts 16:34)

Yes, the jailor’s entire household was saved—but they had all come to believe in God! That’s not always the case, and certainly wasn’t true with my family.

Furthermore, this belief goes against the rest of scripture. In fact, Jesus quoted Micah 7:6

 … I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:35)

We all know examples of families divided over matters of faith. We can’t submit to God on behalf of another person.

“You know that God gives everyone another chance to convert after they die.”

That too sounds really nice, but I don’t remember reading any scripture that would support this view. Rather, Hebrews 9:27 says,

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, …

The person who told me this was the “spiritual support” volunteer at the hospital where my dad was being evaluated; I’ve since learned that she was just expressing her Catholic beliefs. I don’t want to get into a discussion about Catholics vs. Protestants, at least not here. What concerned me, however, was that, by saying we all have another chance after death, she was eliminating the urgency of the situation, perhaps stopping friends and family from sharing the Gospel one more time, and robbing people of a last chance to meet Jesus while they are still alive!

It’s appropriate to offer condolences to someone who has lost someone they love, and I am abundantly blessed in this regard. A simple “I’m so sorry” and a hug is just fine.

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