ASK BOB: “What should we say at the funeral of an unbeliever?”

Occasionally people ask my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question which I have reprinted below, followed by my response.

QUESTION

Bob,  
I have a dear friend and lover of Christ. Her husband passed away unexpectedly this morning. I know of her struggles to bring him to Christ, which were unsuccessful. I am at a loss for comforting words since I am aware of his skepticism. I want to be loving towards my friend, but I don’t want to give her false hope or be that person that says whatever is normal to say. I also believe she would feel my attempts at sympathy are fake. I love them both and their children. I want to be comforting but real. Thanks for your guidance!!

MY ANSWER

I appreciate your desire to bring comfort to your friend and yet remain true to your convictions.  As a minister, I have been in that situation many times and have conducted a number of funerals for family members who never accepted Christ.  I tried not to violate what I had been teaching from the Bible for years even though I very much wanted to say, “There will be a reunion someday” or, “He’s in a better place,” etc.

Like you, I knew those expressions would not only be fake and hypocritical and would not really bring comfort.  I would not only undermine my own credibility but, more importantly, I would have to answer to God one day for not being consistent with His Word.

I think the best thing we can do is be present and express genuine sympathy. What we say doesn’t matter nearly so much as the fact that we come alongside those who grieve and we “weep with those who weep.” We can say, “I’m praying for you,” or, “I know the Holy Spirit will lift you up, and you’ll get through this.”

Since your friend is a Christian maybe the best thing you can do is quote a brief passage of Scripture: “God’s Word says, “Blessed are those who mourn, they will be comforted.”  Or, “I know you’re really hurting but remember, ‘Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning,’”

If your friend asks you directly, “Do you think there’s a possibility my husband could be saved?” I’d be careful not to play the role of God in your answer.  I’d say, “I really hope so! I do know God is a just judge and He loved your husband even more than you do.  Let’s leave that up to God and be thankful for His mercy.  Right now, I’m most concerned about you. What can I do to help you?”

The Bible says, “There is a time to grieve and a time to weep.”  I’m confident if you are by your friend’s side and you grieve with her and love her, that will be more helpful than any attempt to provide an uncertain hope of a future reunion.

Bob

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