Tuesday
Sep222009

Deal With The Preacher

Most everyone who lives long enough reaches a point at which they start reading the obituaries in the newspaper with morbid regularity.

Perhaps they’re looking for the names of old friends or acquaintances or they’re hoping that no one younger than they are died yesterday. Some even find great humor in the things that are sometimes printed in people’s obituaries. 

Pity poor Dolores Aguilar, who left this world on August 7, 2008. Her children paid to see this in print about dear old Mom: 

 

Dolores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing.

Her family will remember Dolores and amongst ourselves we will remember her in our own way, which were mostly sad and troubling times throughout the years. We may have some fond memories of her and perhaps we will think of those times too. But I truly believe at the end of the day ALL of us will really only miss what we never had, a good and kind mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. I hope she is finally at peace with herself. As for the rest of us left behind, I hope this is the beginning of a time of healing and learning to be a family again.

There will be no service, no prayers and no closure for the family she spent a lifetime tearing apart. We cannot come together in the end to see to it that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren can say their goodbyes. So I say here for all of us, GOOD BYE, MOM.

 

Ouch.

Obituaries and funerals usually work in the opposite way – even marginally acceptable people are lauded and lionized to the point that objective observers are left to wonder how such fiction can be ingested without instant regurgitation or divine recompense upon the fibber. 

The funeral preacher is expected to play along. Mom was a nasty toad of a woman, but make her sound good at the service, brother. Dad’s good qualities? Well, he didn’t beat us everyday, I guess. And he stopped to pick up that injured dog in the street that one time – of course, he was the one who ran over it and he was only hiding its body in the culvert, but still.

The truth is that it makes no difference at all to the dearly departed what is ultimately said over his remains at the funeral. He has probably been gone for three days and his spirit has already been presented at the feet of Jesus (Romans 14:11). As the service drags on, the deceased is settling into Abraham’s bosom or only beginning an eternity of wretched regret. He couldn’t make a deal with the preacher or strike a bargain with Heaven.

Jesus told a story about two men – one rich and the other a poor beggar named Lazarus who frequented his gate. The rich man fared sumptuously every day while Lazarus hoped that the cooks would throw him even a few scraps from the leftovers. Both died and the poor man – not because he was poor – was angelically lifted to the side of Abraham. The rich man – not because he was rich – was instead transported to a place of torment. 

While Lazarus was comforted and rewarded for a presumably pious life, the rich man was instantly stripped of his prosperity and luxury, now suffering eternally for his lack of compassion and gluttony. Where once the dogs licked the sores of poor Lazarus, now the rich man begged that someone would place even a small drop of cool water upon his parched tongue (see Second Corinthians 5:9-10).

Abraham could not permit it, however. “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:25-26).

We are accustomed to negotiating in this life – dickering at the garage sale, whittling down the price of a new car, promising to mow the grass later if we can play the game now. Some would even make a deal with the preacher – I’ll be in church on Sunday if the Lord will look the other way on Saturday night. This rich man – like all who die regardless of their wealth – finally realized that he had no room to negotiate with a God who had already contributed his only begotten son to his redemption. What more is it that you expect God to offer to secure your salvation (Mark 8:36)? 

Obituaries and funerals are usually polite settings, occasions to remember the good times, even if few, and to gloss over the bad, no matter how bad. Some resort to a certain amount of fiction to make themselves feel better or to avoid an unpleasant reality. Maybe loved ones and well-wishers can afford that luxury, but the person in the pine box cannot (Ecclesiastes 7:2). 

And someday, that person will be you.

And you won’t really be in the box – your spirit will be somewhere else, only beginning to receive the reward or penalty that eternity holds for you (Romans 2:1-11). Grace exists to wipe away the iniquity of the penitent, but there is nothing anywhere that blots out the willful, habitual, unrepented transgression of the selfish and the sinner (Hebrews 10:24-31). Even if you can make a deal with the preacher to clean up your biography, the judgment bar on high insists on facts.

God is merciful and gracious, but he is not mocked.