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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Losing the "Lost"

One of the hardest things to do as a pastor is to offer "hope" to families when a loved one has apparently died without having a relationship with Jesus. I say apparently because I try to be very careful about trying to make such a determination. I am one of those who believes that the Bible urges us to judge one another's fruit (our behaviors as they compare to what Scripture teaches) but also warns us heavily about trying to determine the reality of someone's relationship with Christ.

But when a family readily admits that their loved one had nothing to do with faith or Christ, it's hard to offer them much hope. No, it's not hard...it's impossible. I believe with all my heart that every bit of hope we have beyond the grave rests in the final and complete work that Jesus did on the Cross and by coming out of the tomb. Those two events combined are what all our hopes rest on...all of them.

Last night I was asked a question that relates to this subject. The question went something like this:
What would your advice be to someone who has lost one of the most important people in their life when that person didn’t believe in God and no one in your family knows Christ?

See what I mean about tough? Can I be honest and tell you this is one of those areas where I'm really at a loss for answers? I've said before that, based on my own experience, I don't know how anyone can go through a difficult trial without some kind of faith. I'm also aware that, for some people, trials are the very thing that causes someone to lose their faith. (Remember my blog a few days ago about bad things happening to good people?)

This answer may seem harsh (if someone has a nicer suggestion, I'm open) but I would submit that there is nothing you can offer to families regarding the person who has died...but there is everything you can offer the living. If nothing else, the loss of a loved one should put a greater sense of urgency in our hearts for those who remain. It should stoke our fires. It should give greater passion to our prayers and greater insistence to our pleas. Watching someone (anyone) die without Jesus should energize us for the task of sharing with others this message of grace and mercy and hope.

It should also force us to live our lives with a little bit more purity. At the risk of sounding trite, your life may be the only Jesus that your friends and family ever see. For many people that means the greatest stumbling block to their faith is not their lack of confidence in Christ but the lack of consistency in your imitation of Him.

Losing someone is never easy. An understatement. Losing someone who is--as church people like to say--"lost" without Jesus is infinitely harder. Rather than getting down about what we cannot change, however, I think it should inspire us to love more deeply a world that waits to hear about the hope we have.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 1 Peter 3:15 NIV

5 comments:

Chrissy said...

Yeah, I don't envy you in trying to answer those questions.
Nice blog design! It looks almost like mine! ;)

Anonymous said...

Ridley,

The population of the world is nearing seven (7) billion. Of that, approximately two (2) billion are Christian. For the sake of argument, let's assume they have a "saving" relationship with Jesus. That means nearly 5 billion people will suffer the torments of hell according to your interpretation of scripture. And, that's not to mention the billions who have died previously. So, we have a God that tortures - isn't that the correct term for hell? - the majority of humankind. I'm not trying to be confrontational, but doesn't that seem hard to square with a loving and merciful God? C. S. Lewis said, "We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him." Isn't that a possibility? Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

George Romano said...

This is truly a difficult situation to be in and I appreciate your candidness in sharing it.

The one thing that I heard that can be said to a person who lost an unsaved loved one is that "they are now in the hands of a loving and just God," which is true.

I hope this may help.

God bless,
George

MWT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Interesting comment from Edward Fudge:
This past weekend, Bill O'Reilly of "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News talked with his guest, Evangelist Franklin Graham, scion of Billy Graham, about hell and the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Happily, Brother Graham quoted John 3:16 as summarizing the gospel message. Sadly, he explained it as if it were not followed immediately by verse 17.
I long for the day when I hear some evangelical guest tell a television host something like the following: "You should know that most evangelical Christians perceive small children as being covered by reason of inability to responsibly choose for themselves. As for the adult victims of the Holocaust, Scripture does not authorize us to give positive assurances of salvation concerning specific adults who die without ever hearing of Jesus Christ. However, neither do we have authority to state unequivocally that such persons finally will be condemned by God. What we can say with complete certainty is that Jesus' atonement is sufficient for the whole world, and that God who knows every heart will apply it to everyone in whom he sees a heart of faith, of which Abraham -- as non-Christian and pre-Jew -- remains a model (Rom. 4). However that exactly works out, God will always do what is right--since "right" is defined by his own character.
As for hell itself, many of the foremost evangelical Bible scholars and theologians in the world reject the traditional notion of everlasting conscious torment. Instead, they take literally such biblical affirmations as 'the wages of sin is death' (Rom. 6:23) and 'whoever believes in [Jesus] will not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16)."
This understanding, which includes whatever kind and extent of conscious torment God sees that each person in hell justly requires, is known as annihilationism