It was the early 1990s, and I, as a green, inexperienced preacher, was asked to do a funeral for a man from the community with no real religious roots. It was my first funeral for a non-Christian and I went, armed with the knowledge gained from Wendell Winkler’s Preacher And His Work class, prepared to preach to the living neither giving false hope nor crushing the hearts of people I was trying to reach. I remember standing nervously in the back of this old denominational church building out in the country. A group of men gathered there, who I later learned were the pall bearers, were talking caustically about someone. One said he had made a pass at his wife. Another said he had stolen two of his cows the previous week. He was a good-for-nothing snake in the grass. Honestly, I was now listening very closely. I was shocked when one said, “If he hadn’t died, I might have killed him.” They were talking about the deceased, the man whose funeral I was about to preach. Needless to say, I felt no pressure to “preach him into heaven.” Five minutes before the funeral, I wrestled with whether or not my words were too plain or off-putting. Five minutes after it, one of those pallbearers told me, “Preacher, you gave him a better funeral than he deserved.”
If you are prone to read obituaries or as you reflect on every funeral you have attended, everyone speaks of every dead person as if they are the most wonderful, saintly individual who has ever lived. Some, considering the circumstances of the deceased’s lifestyle, brashly speak of them being in heaven even if the one never made mention of or made preparation to go there. It is a significantly disgusting thing to hear people blithely pronouncing people saved in death who were disobedient to God’s saving plan in life.
A few months ago, the children of Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick defied this common trend upon her death. They literally celebrated her passing by publishing a “scathing” obituary in their local Nevada newspaper. The obituary, published in September, 2013, begins, “”On behalf of her children who she abrasively exposed to her evil and violent life, we celebrate her passing from this earth and hope she lives in the after-life reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty and shame that she delivered on her children” (via Newsmax.com). The article gives details of her horrific abuse of the six children, which abuse she regularly inflicted before she lost custody of them to a Nevada Children’s Home. While they gave no speculation about her eternal destiny, neither did they sugar-coat or white-wash her life.
Who knows what will be said about us when we die? However naughty or nice it is matters little next to what our Lord knows and sees. He will “judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:1). He will be the “righteous Judge” (2 Tim. 4:8; Acts 17:31). He will tell it like it is concerning each of us as we are gathered with all the nations (Mat. 25:31ff). Heaven keeps, if you will, a perfect, accurate obituary on file for each of us when we die. The Bible calls it “the Book of Life” and the dead will be “judged according to their works, by the things which [are] written in the books” (Rev. 20:12b). Let us live so we are not ashamed for that record to be revealed.