On August 1, 2007, I turned on my television and saw the bridge over the Mississippi collapsed, I e-mailed my family and let them know that I was okay. I had driven over that bridge several hundred times. It was an odd time of community mourning. For several days the news focused on the rescue efforts, then the investigations. After a week or so, a radio call-in program had a show discussing the grieving process.
One interesting call was from a woman who didn’t have so much of a question as a statement. She commented that at funerals, she often hears a lot of bad theology. Some people may not discern good theology from bad, it’s just all bad. They didn’t get specific, but I’m sure she was talking about the type of talk by Christians that involve details of the experience the deceased is having, how they are setting up housekeeping, the process of being admitted to heaven, discussions they are having with deceased relatives, and of course how their pains are all gone and that they are happier.
None of this is supported Biblically. It is more Eastern in its origins. Christianity has Eastern influences, but they were split from the Western during the Great Schism in the 11th century. There are no descriptions of the accommodations in the afterlife. God and Jesus apparently have chairs, so the former can sit at the right hand of the latter, but anything else is purely in our imaginations.
The guest who was taking questions on the radio show said that he was familiar with this type of talk. He was a pastor or something, someone who is expected to respond to and engage a grieving person. I found his answer interesting. He said he agreed that it is not healthy, but if the grieving person finds if comforting, then it should be allowed, at least at the funeral, and possibly for months to come. If after a time, it seems the person is not dealing with their loss, then these theological issues could be discussed.
At the time, the images I had of the people who were being talked about were of older people who had attended a Christian church regularly. The rule could be applied just as well to someone who had never been to church. It’s a good idea to have some idea of the beliefs of the person who died and of the close family and friends when attending a funeral or other gatherings related to it. If your beliefs are different, imposing your theology on them is bad enough without it being bad theology. An atheist, who has no doubt spent much of their life defending their beliefs, and possibly knows the Bible better than you do, does not want to explain their beliefs when their good friend has just died.
This may seem more obvious if you imagine someone from a different country with a different religion coming to your best friend’s funeral with symbols from their tradition, attempting to engage you in a discussion about their version of what happens when someone dies. Something to think about.