Funeral Talk

A seminary professor wrote an insightful article a few years back on the proper and necessary discourse that takes place at a Christian funeral. The article was entitled “Five Things You Should NOT Say at Funerals.” Yes, he lists five things, but I will only post one for now. Here it is.

“Second: ‘Margaret has now entered into eternal life.’ There is no Biblical support for a statement like this–this is not, in fact, a Christian thing to say. Standing on its own, such an utterance can also have the double effect of both diminishing the significance of Holy Baptism and effectively eliminating the creedal hope of ‘resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.’ As John 5:24ff. tells us, eternal life has already begun for all who hear Jesus’ words and believe the Father who sent Him. Whatever else might be said about the condition of the believer’s soul when death tears it away from the believer’s body, this event cannot and must not be called ‘entrance into eteranl life.’ To say such a thing is to imply that the body is not destined to participate in eteranl life!” (Jeff Gibbs, “Five Things You Should NOT Say at Funerals” in Concordia Journal/Ocboter 2003, p. 363-64).


7 thoughts on “Funeral Talk

  1. I respect the professor who said this, but frankly, somebody must tell him to get a grip.

    What else is dear Margaret enjoying, right now?

    Not a soul sleep.
    Not a lack of awareness of heaven

    What then?

  2. Since I include only a part of the professor’s commentary in the post, we are surely not receiving his full explanation. Maybe the following will answer Defensor’s “What then?”

    From the article: “The blessed condition of the dead believers is rest, paradise, a being ‘with the Lord’–but it will not always be that way. Our dogmatic theologians have rightly called the condition of the soul apart from the body the ‘inerim state.’ It is a ‘between’ kind of existence. It is not the existence that will characterize eternal life. Things will change on the Last Day also for the dead–they will be raised and in that condition, ‘we will always be with the Lord’ (1Thess. 4:17).”

  3. If the alternative is to say “Margaret is now toasting her toes,” then I say lie like hell and say she’s entered into eternal rest.

    The question of rest vs. heaven is meaningless, as it applies only to creatures in time, not in eternity. I certainly wouldn’t presume to criticize anybody’s terminology at a funeral anyway. There’s such a thing as being too precise.

  4. That’s not the alternative, Joel. The alternative is enhancing the doctrine of the resurrection of the body by saying that Margaret’s soul is with Jesus, or she is in paradise. The point of the article is that saying she has entered eternal life suggests that she is now where she will always be. Not only that, but it denigrates the real point at which she entered eternal life: baptism and belief. We put our hope in the resurrection of the body, not in the place of rest prior to the resurrection.
    Also, I certainly would not take her family aside and tell them not to say certain things. What I would do is preach on the hope of the resurrection, rather than her state at the moment.
    I think another danger is that we completely neglect the teaching of a new heaven _and_ a new earth. We make heaven off somewhere in the sky, when this earth will also be recreated for and with us.


  5. “We put our hope in the resurrection of the body, not in the place of rest prior to the resurrection. ”

    That’s kind of my point, Tim, in that “prior to” is meaningless when talking in eternal terms. She is simultaneously at rest and in paradise, because all times (as a not-tame Lion said once) are now.

    It all depends on what your definition of “is” is. 🙂

  6. I’m not so sure. While God is, of course, outside the limits of time, that does not mean that it is the same for people who have died. So, while it may not make sense to talk about “prior to the resurrection” when speaking from God’s perspective (not that we can really do that), it is true for us and for those who have died in the faith.
    In the sense that eternity began for our hypothetical dead grandma when she was granted faith, I suppose you are right; however, God created us in time, and, who knows? we may still experience time after the resurrection. And it is not possible for humans to speak without time reference, even though such terms are inaccurate or incomplete when speaking of eternity.
    Thanks for the comments.


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