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What Should You Say at an Unbeliever’s Funeral?

Russell Moore - Signposts

Published on 06/30/2017

In this episode of Signposts, I talk about what to say at the funeral of an unbeliever. You can find the full transcript and links to subscribe below. What Should You Say at an Unbeliever's Funeral? -- TranscriptThe other day I had someone ask me about a funeral that she was going to. She said "This is a funeral for an unbeliever, and I'm trying to think through what to say." I think that's a really good question, and an important question for all of us, because we've been in this situation. Almost everybody has been in this situation, if you haven't then you will be in the situation. So when she says "what I should say," really that could be a number of things. It could be the question of what should you say when you're just there and you're going through the the line talking to family members, in which case I think the response to that is simply to grieve with the family members and say "I'm really sorry about the loss of your mother/dad/brother" or whomever it is and grieve with them. I mean the Scripture tells us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Jesus gives us the example of being grieved to the core at the death of Lazarus, and this was someone who obviously was a believer. But death itself is something Jesus sees as an enemy, and something that ought to provoke tears and grief. And so a simple "I'm here for you and with you," "I grieve with you," "I'll be praying for you," -- all of those things are appropriate at a funeral.The question becomes more complex when you're dealing with someone who has to give a eulogy or someone who is a minister who's actually preaching the funeral. I have a great deal of sympathy here, because the very first funeral that I ever did was for someone that I didn't know who was a complete unbeliever. Not just an unbeliever, but someone who apparently had lived a pretty awful life, because the family members were standing in the background, and the pallbearers were standing in the back as we're about to go in for the funeral. And one of them looked over at the grieving family and said "Well bless their hearts, they're better off because he was the meanest man I ever knew." I thought "You know what, if at the end of your life, your pallbearers say that you're the meanest guy they ever knew, you have lived a rough life." And so here I had to preach this funeral. There was another time where the daughter of a woman who had died said to me "You know, I'm trying to think through what to say in the eulogy and I really can't think of anything kind to say about my mother except the fact that she kept the bird feeder stocked in her backyard. She cared for the birds." I said "There's nothing?" "No." She could find nothing. So I understand a little bit of the tension that happens there. On the other hand, I've been to many funerals where someone that I knew to have been an unbeliever is there, and the the pastor will stand up and talk about how aunt Flossie is in the presence of Jesus now and has graduated on up into glory. And obviously what the pastor is intending to do is to comfort the family with the idea of Heaven for the loved one. The problem though is it becomes really clear to people that what you're doing is simply using Heaven as a means to an end. So you don't really believe what it is that you've been saying about "No one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ," about the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ, and repentance for sin. Because once someone's dead, that's all over with. That sort of pious lying about the life of a person, really does--in my view--great damage to the gospel.That doesn't mean though that we go in the exact opposite direction. I was at a funeral one time where the person had died and they had multiple pastors. The first pastor stood up and said, "This is someone who's in heaven right now and rejoicing with Jesus." The second guy was an Independent Fundamentalist sort o...

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