One of the hardest things to do as a pastor is to offer “hope” to families when a loved one has apparently died without having a relationship with Jesus. I say apparently because I try to be very careful about trying to make such a determination. I am one of those who believes that the Bible urges us to judge one another’s fruit (our behaviors as they compare to what Scripture teaches) but also warns us heavily about trying to determine the reality of someone’s relationship with Christ.
Losing the "Lost"
But when a family readily admits that their loved one had nothing to do with faith or Christ, it’s hard to offer them much hope. No, it’s not hard…it’s impossible. I believe with all my heart that every bit of hope we have beyond the grave rests in the final and complete work that Jesus did on the Cross and by coming out of the tomb. Those two events combined are what all our hopes rest on…all of them.
Last night I was asked a question that relates to this subject. The question went something like this:
What would your advice be to someone who has lost one of the most important people in their life when that person didn’t believe in God and no one in your family knows Christ?
See what I mean about tough? Can I be honest and tell you this is one of those areas where I’m really at a loss for answers? I’ve said before that, based on my own experience, I don’t know how anyone can go through a difficult trial without some kind of faith. I’m also aware that, for some people, trials are the very thing that causes someone to lose their faith. (Remember my blog a few days ago about bad things happening to good people?)
This answer may seem harsh (if someone has a nicer suggestion, I’m open) but I would submit that there is nothing you can offer to families regarding the person who has died…but there is everything you can offer the living. If nothing else, the loss of a loved one should put a greater sense of urgency in our hearts for those who remain. It should stoke our fires. It should give greater passion to our prayers and greater insistence to our pleas. Watching someone (anyone) die without Jesus should energize us for the task of sharing with others this message of grace and mercy and hope.
It should also force us to live our lives with a little bit more purity. At the risk of sounding trite, your life may be the only Jesus that your friends and family ever see. For many people that means the greatest stumbling block to their faith is not their lack of confidence in Christ but the lack of consistency in your imitation of Him.
Losing someone is never easy. An understatement. Losing someone who is–as church people like to say–“lost” without Jesus is infinitely harder. Rather than getting down about what we cannot change, however, I think it should inspire us to love more deeply a world that waits to hear about the hope we have.
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 1 Peter 3:15 NIV