In the period of just forty-eight hours, I lost two people I cared for deeply.
The first was Noura, one of my friends from Saudi Arabia. I met her a year and a half ago, and we spent much time together running errands, eating meals, and going to events. During this time, I shared the good news of Jesus Christ often with my non-religious Muslim friend (as she would describe herself). She showed interest at times and even visited church with me, but she never put her faith in Christ. She often said, “Maybe one day I will believe these things.” Sadly, she never did. Noura has already stood in front of the judgement seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10–11).
It bothers me when someone who is clearly not a Christian dies and is said to be, “in a better place,” or simply in heaven with God — the one they did not care about while on earth. It bothers me because that’s the only way many know how to cope with death. It’s not that I want to shove my theology down the throats of the person’s mourning family and friends. It bothers me for two reasons:
Every human has sinned, and sin demands a punishment (Romans 3:23, 6:23). Christ died to take the wrath of God that we deserve because of our sin (Romans 5:8). If we think that every human who dies goes to “a better place,” then Jesus Christ died a brutal death on a cross for nothing (Galatians 1:3–5).
More souls are going to hell every day because they think they will automatically go to “a better place” when they die, even if they did not put their faith in Jesus Christ (John 5:24). This creates more compassion within me to spread the truth so that some will believe and have their souls ripped from hell in which they are going (1 Timothy 4:16).
The second person who died over those two difficult days in November was a Christian. Mike spent his life in relationship with Jesus Christ, and he was constantly meeting and getting to know more and more people so that he could share Jesus with them. He, too, has already stood before the judgement seat of Christ. The dramatic difference is that Mike stood there covered by the blood of Christ, poured out for his sins (Romans 5:9).
Daniel 12 shows the two destinations: some to everlasting shame, some to everlasting life. Just because I loved Noura very much, I cannot deceive myself to thinking that she is now experiencing eternal life — as hard as that is (and it is very hard). Instead, I picture her soul suffering in everlasting torment. It’s a horrible picture, one which keeps me from sleeping many nights. I cannot change what I believe to be true from the mouth of my God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2) because of my personal or emotional connection to the person or circumstance.
The sad thing is that Romans 1 says that everyone, however worldly, however Buddhist, however nonreligious, knows in his conscience that there is a God. Funerals awaken this knowledge more than anything. Paul says that many will suppress the truth and deceive themselves, only returning again and again, and in deeper ways, to their sin (Romans 1:18–21). As a result, they either refuse to believe that God is real, or they simply reject who he is for the sake of continuing in the sin they love.
Why Should God Let You into Heaven?
Did Noura stand before Christ and tell him about all the good things she had done? Maybe. But apart from Christ, all of our good deeds are like filthy rags before him (Isaiah 64:6). Did she remind him of how she went to church with me? Maybe. But many will call out to him about what they have done in his name, and he will say, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:23). Did she explain how she was interested in the gospel and maybe even believed it to be true? Maybe. But the demons believe, and are not saved (James 2:18–19).
Did Mike stand before Christ and tell him about all the good things he had done? Probably not. But if he did, they, too, could never be considered righteous by a holy God. Mike wasn’t banking on his own works, but Another’s. Mike was judged based on the works of Jesus Christ — the perfect, sinless one (2 Corinthians 5:21) who died in Mike’s place, who was punished for Mike’s sins and my sins. Now, Mike does not have to pay the penalty for sin. It’s already been paid for him (Ephesians 1:13–14).
Questions to Ask After a Funeral
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ,
- Do you have a compassionate burden for the lost knowing that many die daily having not put their faith in Christ?
- Have you ever lost an unbelieving loved one with whom you’ve shared the gospel? Does this give you more urgency to keep sharing knowing that some that you share with are chosen by God and will believe (1 Timothy 2:4)?
- Does your heart break for unreached people groups, such as those in Saudi Arabia? Did you know that the gospel is for all nations/people groups and that God commands us to take the good news to them (Matthew 28:18–20)?
If you are an unbeliever or wonder whether you’re a Christian,
- Are you telling yourself, “One day I will believe these things”?
- Are you going to church and doing good things, but aren’t putting sin to death sin and depending wholly on your Father in heaven (Romans 8:13–15)? Are you truly saved?
- Do you ever think about eternity without assuming that everyone goes to heaven? What might that mean for you?
May we, as believers, pray for boldness to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples that some may be saved from eternal destruction into marvelous life and light. The next funeral may be tomorrow. It may even be yours. Repent from your sins, believe in the gospel, and enter into untouchable and everlasting joy.
Don’t Waste Death | This article was written before a funeral for DeAndre — a father, brother, uncle, and cousin. His death was a reminder: Death shouldn’t be wasted.
Three Sightings of the Glory of Jesus: A Funeral Meditation | There isn’t anything greater than to see the Son of God in all his divine beauty and radiance and greatness, and be supremely and increasingly happy in him forever.
Do You Conduct Funerals for Non-Christians? | A pastor writes and asks John Piper: “Have you personally conducted funerals for non-Christians? If so how, is that funeral tailored differently from a funeral for a believer?”