Death, Trump Cards, and Honesty: Thoughts from a Funeral Director (Caleb Wilde)

TrumpCard via Creative Commons

I shouldn’t be surprised at how adverse we evangelicals are to thinking about death, but I have to admit that I am. Here are five major reasons I think evangelicals don’t like confronting it in an honest manner:

For one, we love to spiritualize everything, so that we’re more comfortable and confident in a world we can’t see than the one we live in at present. We put more thought, more energy and more “action” into the spiritual than we do the present. And nothing underscores the over spiritualization of everything like death. In fact, we act as though it doesn’t exist all together. We act as though death is fake … a mere false reality because we know the soul lives on. Since we see it as fake, it’s not wonder we’re willing to offer up rather cheap explanations.

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Second, heaven too easily acts as a trump card for anything related to suffering, death and doubt. We’re so quick to use clichés like, “You can rest your mind because he’s in a better place.” Or, “Don’t worry about her; she’s in the arms of Jesus.” The implication being … why the hell are you sad when you know “so and so” is in heaven?” And while this relates to the first reason of spiritualization, it’s slightly different because not only do we see death as a fake out, but we use heaven as a cop out. Jesus sees death as an enemy and we … we like to think it’s a mirage.

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Thirdly, we like to act the way we imagine God. We imagine him as impassible, immovable and immutable; and so when it comes to death, we’re too often emotionless, untouched and we act like we’re unchanged. I wonder how we’d change if we imagined a God who wept? I wonder how we’d approach death if we could believe that Jesus wept?

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Fourthly, evangelicalism is a Western phenomena. That’s not bad. We just have to realize that it’s situated in a Western context and has been molded by Western questions. And because death is the great pin to the hot air filled balloon of the West’s view of man, we hate it. Boy, do we hate it. It IS the reminder of our finitude. The reality check that tells us we’re not as able as we’d like to think. And part of me thinks evangelicals, in being influenced by the Western modern paradigm, have looked past death for the same reason.

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Probably the biggest reason we’re not honest with death is because we like to think its God’s will. That “God makes no accidents”; that “it all happens for a reason” and that “we’ll understand in the end.” As a funeral director who’s seen his fair amount of death related crap, I honestly don’t know how people swallow this pill and still manage to have faith in God. So, let me get this right: this awful death that just occurred, you believe that God caused? And, not only do you believe God caused it, but you think he did it for good?

I do understand that such a line of thinking helps alleviate grief as it finds some reason amidst the confusion. And I do understand that sometimes, in order for people to make it through, they’d rather have a bad explanation than no explanation, but this is the ultimate reason we’re dishonest about death: we too often think it’s God will and we somehow think he meant it for good.

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Caleb Wilde is a funeral director director who reflects on faith through the lens of his vocation.  He is currently working on a book and blogs at: Confessions of a Funeral Director.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never thought about it from the perspective of someone who sees it all the time.  So what does he recommend?  How should we be thinking about it?

    • http://twitter.com/CalebWilde Caleb Wilde

      Great question, Susan!  There’s a sense where suffering is worship … where we touch the very heart of God in our grief, so I think it’s something we embrace, not in the traditional, Western way of embrace (i.e. with our thoughts, our words and a sense of independence), but rather in doubt, silence and with the community of God and others.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks, Caleb.   In my experience, the church doesn’t like suffering either, so your “suffering is worship” struck me.  I’ve learned a lot more about God in the depths of life, probably because I run to Him harder and faster when life stinks.

  • http://www.carolhiestand.com Chiestand48

    I have decided I can’t explain God – I know He knows.  I know  He understands.  I also know he wasn’t surprised by what happened.  He could have chosen to intervene, He didn’t and I will never know why – and if God could explain it to me, it wouldnt’ be enough to satisfy my human perspective.  . 

    the thing is, He never meant for death to be part of our experience.  He created us for life.   Death is ugly. and he provided the ressurection as his solution. 

     And yes, I think we overdo it in trying to make it a good experience.  No one ever talks about the patient who is a faithful follower of Jesus who doesn’t get the relief from symptoms as hospice promises (and is so good at mostly delivering.)    Yes, we can do a lot, but sometimes nothing works and death is not a “nice” experience

    I keep thinking that if we could understand God’s soverienty, then he wouldn’e be sovererign.  I do believe he brings good out of suffereing when we cooperate with Him. 

  • Karen Braswell

    I experienced this 1st hand with the death of my 23 year old son. My husband and I both worked at a non-dem charismatic church at the time. In law (relative) was pastor…they wanted to make the death, funeral like a homecoming of praise. A song I picked out for the funeral – was pulled and not played because they said it was too sad, or down.  When you are in the throws of instant grief (he was killed in a car accident)..you 1st act like a robot and do whatever is told of you – or at least I did.   Later the regret slips in and you are so mad at yourself that you did not do something different.   Many months later while still in grief and depression – and working through it slowly – an older church staff worker female “friend” proceeded to tell me – that I was in sin because I was still depressed  – that I needed to make a joyful noise unto the Lord – because my son was in a better place.  This began my slow pull away from this church and workplace. I found that I could not make them all “feel better” when they looked at my sadness. It was about how they felt or looked. Some even believed that we must have been in sin of some type because this happened to our family and that the devil won a victory with our son’s death…..
    I later found comfort in a parish where I am able to light a candle at any time in memory of my son and say a prayer – to my Guardian Angel…and speak my son’s name.  I no longer work at the church and only attend a few times a year because my spouse remains there. I am now a Catholic and appreciate the reality I am allowed to express when the sadness creeps in. I know many are not comfortable with death and grief- I understand.
    But DEAR LORD – you can not imagine the pain and hopeless I still seem to walk into at any given time….but being allowed to feel it (and be sad) does not diminish God’s love for me at all. I am not in sin – I am in reality.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @google-0dbcb0743baca542309f9e622c0ea938:disqus … this story breaks my heart for multiple reasons.  Sorry.

      It also makes me feel compelled to give you a book recommendation.  Its called: “Lament for a Son” and I think you will find that this short book addresses your situation in the way you might be looking for.  http://amzn.to/pJyXLI

      Grace and peace friend.

      • Karen Braswell

        Thank you Kurt and (Caleb).
        I am ordering the book from Amazon.
        Those were the 1st words I have typed about all of that…thanks for providing the place to share them.
        Peace be With You,

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

          Wonderful @google-0dbcb0743baca542309f9e622c0ea938:disqus … May God’s grace and peace continue to heal brokenness…

      • http://twitter.com/CalebWilde Caleb Wilde

        Love that book!  Great recommendation.  

        “The tears of God are the meaning of history.”  – Lament for a Son.  Possibly one of the most profound sentences I’ve ever read.  

    • http://www.carolhiestand.com Chiestand48

      i too feel really sad that his happens.  so very wrong and so hurtful.  I am glad you were able to type those words here.  it is a safe place. 

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Wow, Caleb, your first four points I thought were mostly “interesting,” but when you got to #5 you hit it out of the park!  Solid amen!

  • Cathybitikofer

    I’m not convinced of the whole “soul going to heaven for eternity” thing. I read a lot more in the Bible about new life, new earth, new heaven, new bodies for the faithful. I’m seeing God as one who will re-create, and makes all things new. Those I have lost to death who died in the Lord…”up” in heaven, or “sleeping” until the final resurrection?  Do we lean on the “they are somewhere else” now, or do we look forward to God’s plan of a new creation? Someday the grave will lose, and death will itself die. I don’t know.


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