Around this time last year, I was at my grandfather’s funeral. It was one of those bitter sweet events of life. Burying a man who was faithful to the Lord, faithful to his wife, and raised four godly children, brings an over whelming peace to an otherwise miserable day. But that doesn’t stop the sadness. He was the great patriarch, beloved by all of his family and really every person that knew him. I sat in that little church building in Livingston, California and thought to myself that no matter what arrangements were made, they would never be good enough for what I thought he deserved. I think that is why you hear the phrase “its what Daddy would have wanted” at a funeral more than anywhere else. People find comfort in doing what they think their loved one would want.
It seems that after a death there is an increased desire to honor a loved ones wishes in all aspects of life. While that is good in some cases, it must be balanced with reality. Instead of saying “it’s what Daddy would have wanted”, we should be saying “this is what Daddy want’s”. Because the soul of man never dies.
When our loved ones pass from this life they do not go into a state of sleep. James 2:26 says that the soul separates from the body at death. At that point the soul of man enters into eternity (Ecc 12:7). While there is disagreement on whether they enter into heaven or hell at that moment, or whether they go to a place of waiting for Jesus to come back to judge the earth, the bible is clear that the soul lives on.
There is an account that Jesus gives of two men dying and entering eternity in Luke 16:19ff. One was a rich man. He had a wonderful life, but when he dies, he goes to a place of torment. The other was a miserably poor man by the name of Lazarus. When Lazarus dies it says that he was “carried away by angels into Abrahams bosom” (16:22) or paradise. The story isn’t to teach that everyone who is rich is going to be lost and that everyone who is poor is going to be saved, but rather that God is a righteous judge and judges according to his righteous standard (Rom 1:16, John 7:24). I think about this story at every funeral I attend, and I think about it every time I hear someone say “it’s what they would have wanted”.
Imagine the different funerals of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man had possessions (16:18), probably had lots of friends, he had a family that he cared about (16:28). I picture an extravagant affair that highlighted his stature in the community. In that time professional mourners could even be hired to step it up a little bit. I would look to the John Lewis or John McCain arrangements as a modern-day example.
The rich man probably had person after person getting up and giving their favorite memory of him. They probably all had their spin on “what he would have wanted”. At the reading of his will, they probably said, “he wanted so-and-so to have this, and so-and so to have that”. They certainly wanted to honor this rich man’s wishes.
Then I wonder the funeral of Lazarus. Did he even have one? There was no way it was anything extravagant. He was a poor beggar so he was probably buried in a beggar’s cemetery similar to the field used to bury strangers (Matt 27:7-8). You can imagine he didn’t have a family or really any friends because they certainly would have helped him get back on his feet. He had no one in life so its safe to assume he didn’t really have much of a funeral.
Jesus remembers the funerals differently. “It came to pass that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels to Abrahams Bosom. And the rich man died and he was buried” (16:22). That pathetic funeral for Lazarus on earth was a glorified event in heaven. All the pomp of that funeral for the rich man did nothing for his eternity. In a way, God didn’t even recognize it.
The point of this is not to throw out the wishes of the dead. I believe they are good to honor. I just think it is more important for us to honor the “revised wishes” of the dead. Everything that the rich man wanted changed the moment he got into eternity. He didn’t care about his casket, he didn’t care about the pall-bearers, he didn’t care about who got what. He cared first, for just a drop of water because he was “in anguish in this flame” (16:24). But that is impossible, because torment is eternal (Rev 14:11).
His second wish was for his loved ones (16:27-31). He would do anything to go back and tell them to obey the gospel (2 Thes 1:8). To repent of their sins (Luke 13:3, 16:30), to be immersed in water to wash away their sins (Acts 22:16), and then stay faithful servants in the church of Christ (Rev 2:7). He begged for a miracle, for Lazarus to come back and preach to his family. But he was denied. He was told, “‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”, meaning, the Gospel is for all people and it is enough.
I think about that often in funerals. Especially when I know that person never obeyed the gospel and was never added to the Lord’s church. I listen to family members who are deeply concerned with honoring Daddy’s wishes and I want to tell them that Daddy’s wishes have changed. Now his greatest wish is for you to become a New Testament Christian.
Perhaps the only comfort one could find in Hell is knowing that their family isn’t there.