In the last decade, I have conducted dozens of funerals. These services have been for people who died of old age, cancer, accidents, suicide, drug overdose…the list goes on. To say I have learned a lot from this ministry would be an understatement.
One thing I have learned is that everyone grieves differently. Not everybody reacts the same when their loved one dies. But a common thread I do so see is that everyone searches for ways to cope with loss, and this comes in various forms.
One way that people cope with the loss of a loved one is imagining them in Heaven. I’ve heard people say, “he’s at the bar in the sky.” This was said by the friend of a man who committed suicide after battling alcoholism. Another person said, “He’s in Heaven fishing, and we will know when he gets the big one because then we will get that big rain we need and the water will be his tears.” Still another person believed their deceased loved one was responsible for the wind and sunshine we all experienced at the graveside the day of their funeral.
You might be tempted to think that when people make such comments they are just trying to cope with their loss. In all fairness, that is how I led out this article. But I have to admit, when I hear people make comments such as the ones I just mentioned, I have to take them seriously, because they make such claims with much sincerity. That man truly believed his buddy was in the bar in the sky. The woman was convinced her friend was fishing in Heaven. And I have heard countless people claim that their loved somehow controlled the weather.
Now, before you stone me for critiquing people’s coping mechanisms at their time of greatest sorrow, let’s just examine what is being asserted here. First of all, these are truth claims that no one but God can make. The eternal destiny of every human being is determined by Jesus Christ. He alone sends people to Heaven or Hell upon their death, and He alone retains knowledge of their location. Secondly, these claims assert that deceased human beings continue enjoying their sin long after death. That is most certainly not true. Again, there are only two destinations after death—Heaven or Hell. Heaven is being in the presence of God where will be free from sin to enjoy and worship Christ forever. Hell is a place of torment where the party does not continue but where eternal judgment and suffering begin. Third, human beings do not interact with the physical world once they die. They certainly don’t gain omniscience after they pass. Only God can control the weather.
All this is to say, we don’t get to make up our own truth. It may be comforting to imagine our loved ones doing these things, but only the Bible can inform us of eternal realities. Truth is, no one can say for certain where any human being resides after death. That knowledge belongs to God alone. We can be hopeful that our loved ones are believers in Christ, but to claim we have perfect knowledge of their existence is absurd.
The most important issue is that we understand this: when we die, we will all stand before the living God—who alone is the judge of Heaven and Earth—and in that moment, He is either going to send us to Heaven or Hell for all eternity. And the determining factor will be whether or not we’ve trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Thanks for reading!
Brandon Sutton (Pastor2334@gmail.com) is the Lead Pastor of Blue Ridge CU Church and New Life Church. Check out both at Blueridgecuchurch.com and Newlifeshelbyville.org.