Remembrance of the Dead

In a previous post, I mentioned that I would be open to receiving and answering questions from the web community. Someone has responded with the following query:

Would you please address biblical principles that can be applied to remembrance in the death of a loved one?

Anonymous

This is an excellent question for a number of reasons. First, we believe that the Bible speaks to every issue in life. Though it does not speak directly to every question, it answers every question implicitly since it is a book that reveals all that we need to know about life and death. This is because Christ is Lord of both (Romans 8:38; Revelation 1:18)

Second, our culture is increasingly tearing away from her Christian foundations. Though I am not convinced the Western world was ever strictly or wholly Christian in her faith and religious expressions, the culture was, until recently, largely influenced and sustained by a Christian worldview. Now, as that disintegrates, we cannot expect that most of what people will do in any circumstance is informed by the scriptures. I also believe that many practices concerning the remembrance of the dead have taken on anti-Christian or pagan tones which we need to be aware of when we are addressing these issues.

In response to the question I wish to reply with the following:

First of all the Bible directly addresses the issue of remembering the dead in the following passages: Leviticus 19:28, 21:1-4,11 & Deuteronomy 14:1. In these passages we see that Israel is not forbidden from mourning or honoring the dead so much as doing so in a fashion that compromises their holy relationship to God (Deuteronomy 14:2). The prohibition was largely related to the pagan practices of nations around them, so that God’s people would not mimic their behaviour and thus open themselves to the corruption of idolatry. But certainly the principle that our bodies are created by God, that is made in God’s image, also informs us that our mourning is not to bring harm to ourselves, nor are we to mourn as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Cutting and abuse of the body is, after all, a form of coping; coping with grief and sorrow. This is the essential issue before us: what we do as a reflection of our hope in Christ, so that we do not merely come to grips with the death of loved ones, but learn to trust in God’s sovereign and loving purposes in a fallen world.

Are we then forbidden from remembering the dead since we have hope in Christ? No, and in fact I do not think that is possible. We cannot help remember those who have passed on, and certainly as the day of their death draws near we will unavoidably recall their lives and even mourn again. And for this we are thankful that God’s Word tells us that there is a time to mourn, and a proper way to mourn. (Ecclesiastes 3:4 & 12:5). And certainly in the scriptures there are various commemorations of the forefathers, as we are called to reflect upon the lives of Abraham, Moses, David etc.

At the same time there are remembrances forbidden to Christians. Anything that compromises our witness to the truth of God’s Word is disallowed. Certainly the practice of trying to speak to the dead is a false and soul destroying attempt. (Deuteronomy 18:11) This is because the dead have passed on; they were appointed to die and by ‘speaking’ to them we strive to overcome what God has made final (Hebrews 9:27).

Thus we should also not harbor any thought within us that the dead belong to us. Paul reminds the Philippians that he wished “to depart to be with Christ” (1:23). When we die we go to the Lord, for it is the same as when we live: we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:7-8). Practices such as setting aside a room, a place to sit, or even (in some cases) memorial services for the dead may indicate a heart that has not let go; that wishes the loved one back to the extent that they become bitter towards God. Of course we need to be sensitive to those who practice such things and gently explain our position to a wounded soul, but it is incumbent upon as Christians not to countenance them.

In essence, there is nothing innocent about remembrance of the dead because even the very death of a loved one is a reminder of the fall and the curse of the fall. (Genesis 2:17) Ultimately then we remember that Christ lives, and thus all those who are in Christ live. When we remember the dead let us always do so in a manner that proclaims His glory, His victory, and our thankfulness for His life giving sacrifice. (1 Corinthians 15:54-58)

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One thought on “Remembrance of the Dead

  1. The remark ” practices such as setting aside a room [ etc ]..reveal a heart that has not let go….wishes the loved one back ” does not necessarily reveal what may be in the heart of many who have lost a loved one. I find that in doing memorial services / gravesides / funerals/ many are “relieved” their loved one has gone. Many remarks are made to the contrary, especially in the case of the elderly that ‘ their suffering ‘ has ended. That being said in the case of unbelievers the suffering has begun [continue?]. Services for those who are departed do not go without the word of God [ in my case ] whether the family likes it or not. They have a choice if they want me to do a service for their loved one but must expect scripture and prayer. You are correct in the fact that when younger persons die families would love them back, however many times the remark is made ” I so miss them’. Is this the same? To end, I do wonder if one could ‘seize the moment’….an opportunity to bring the grieving the word of God? Is there any definite decision about cremation versus burial ? many [ believers included ] are on different sides of the fence. Thank you !

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