#5 in 2011: One Thing That Bothers Me About the Christian Response to Death

Erik Cooper —  December 27, 2011 — 2 Comments

This week I’m re-posting my best blogs from 2011. This was #5:

“Have you ever heard of Dan…..Whel…Wheldon?”

My mom is ridiculously hip for her age (which shall remain unquantified), but when it comes to knowledge of pop culture, outside of American Idol’s top 12, she usually needs some assistance.

“You mean the winner of this year’s Indy 500, Dan Wheldon?” I asked.

“Oh, well, yes. I didn’t know that. I just had lunch with him. He’s very charming.”

“Does dad know about this?”

Turns out my mom and Dan have a mutual friend, and they coincidentally ended up sharing a meal together at a Speedway, Indiana restaurant.

Just two months ago.

Other than that six degrees of separation encounter, I don’t know Dan Wheldon at all. So when the news of his tragic death hit my Twitter feed last night, I was a little surprised at my audible gasp. Like many, we were deeply troubled for his family and friends, and deeply moved by the outpouring on the radio, TV, and social media sites.

But I have to be honest, I was also troubled by something else. Something I’m not really sure what to do with, so I’m just going to throw it out there. I really wrestle with one of our (seemingly compassionate) Christian responses to high profile deaths. This statement began emerging everywhere:

“I sure hope he knew Jesus.”

I know you may find this surprising. Blasphemous even. I don’t find this to be a theologically inaccurate statement, but I do question our motivation for publicly speculating about it.

Let me be absolutely clear, I believe your stance on Jesus is the most important decision of your life. I believe Jesus is absolutely who He claimed to be, the only Way to be reconciled with God. But I have to go with my gut on this one, and right now it just feels a little funny.

Maybe we just don’t know what else to say, but impulsively reacting to tragedy with “doctrine” feels cheap, like we’re seizing a moment of mourning to slip in a subtle sales tactic. Riding the avalanche of emotional outpouring to gain momentum for our argument. Using the fear of death to try and scare people towards God.

I wonder if more people would be drawn to Christ if our response more mirrored His own in moments like these.

Of course Jesus taught. He instructed. He corrected. But He also embraced pain. He mourned. He wept. Regardless of people’s personal standing with Him. To me, this kind of compassionate outpouring should be our primal Christian response.

So today, we weep with the Wheldon family. To me, it seems like the most Christ-like thing to do.

What do you think?

2 responses to #5 in 2011: One Thing That Bothers Me About the Christian Response to Death

  1. If I’m following your thought process correctly, I think you are coming at it from the wrong direction about what people are thinking. At least when I say this, it is not only that I am hoping the person is in heaven, but I’m thinking about the family. I know from personal experience that even though the pain is tremendous when we lose a loved one, I also know it is much easier on the family if they know their loved one is in heaven. It’s always my first thought when a truly good person dies. I actually feel a little guilty that I don’t always feel this way. If it wasn’t such a good person, I don’t really give it a thought, but I know my savior does. He loved that person just as much as He loves the good person.

    • Hey Peggy….thanks for chiming in on this one. It does feel a little different to me a few months removed from the actual incident, but I think my point still rings true. I don’t think it’s a wrong question. It just feels to me at times as if we as Christians use death, especially the death of a famous person, as an opportunity to make a point, rather than first simply embracing the devastating loss of a human life.

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