What Can A Pastor Say?

Q. My son’s friend has had to face the sad reality of death recently, through his mother’s miscarriage and also, yesterday, with the death of his grandmother. I do feel very sad for him and I wish I could say something comforting to him, to help him with his bereavement period. It would not be difficult to tell him that, though his sister/brother was miscarried, he/she is in Heaven. But as far as his grandmother is concerned, if my son’s friend was to tell me he didn’t think she was a Christian, what could I say to him? In other words, what do born-again pastors say at the funeral service, when they don’t know if the person who just died was a Christian?

A. First of all, I believe funeral services are for the living, not the dead. Second, I don’t think anything can be gained by publicly condemning the deceased in front of a grieving family. But neither is it acceptable to misrepresent God’s Word even in the name of kindness.

As a pastor, I took the view that no one really knows what goes on in the mind of a dying person as they reach the end of their life. I believe God’s grace is such that if a person confessed to the Lord and asked for His forgiveness with his or her very last breath, that would be sufficient for salvation. After all God doesn’t want for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) and Jesus said that everyone who asks receives (Matt. 7:7-8).

The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard demonstrates this point for me (Matt. 20:1-16). In the parable all the workers received the same wage, whether they worked all day long or for just one hour. This represents believers asking for the Lord’s forgiveness at all different times in their life and all receiving the same promise of salvation.

Armed with that knowledge, I could truthfully say that anyone who asks for salvation receives it no matter when in life they ask. God hears them even if no one else does. Then I could issue a challenge to the living that since they might not know when their last breath will come, they should resolve the matter of their own eternal destiny as soon as possible. And because of the “last breath” principle, I could so this without passing judgment on the deceased in the process.

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