How can a Christian respond to the death of a non-Christian?
The death of a non-Christian is a very sobering thing. Why? Because we believe that Scripture teaches that each person has an eternal soul and that death is the great dividing line (Hebrews 9:27, Luke 16:19-31); that a person’s eternal destiny is sealed the moment they die and pass from this world into the next; there are two possible states: heaven or hell. What a person believes about Christ will determine their eternal destiny (John 3:36). Sobering truths indeed.
So, it hard to know how to act or what to say when an unbeliever dies; we can feel very awkward and unsure.
Let me share just a few ideas on responding properly to the death of an unbeliever:
- Express sorrow and sympathy. Loss of a loved one is always difficult so tears and sadness are appropriate. Come along side grieving family / friends and weep with them (Romans 12:15).
- Resist the temptation to “talk the deceased into heaven”. It is not being a truth-teller to draw unrealistic spiritual conclusions from a person’s life. The oft repeated phrase, “He’s in a better place” is promoting a false hope. Now, with that said, we never fully know a person’s heart and we can always hold out hope that perhaps there was an occasion when the deceased heard the gospel in their lifetime and responded.
- Point people to Jesus. In spiritual conversations you may subsequently engage in do not focus on the deceased but rather encourage others to consider their own immortality and to consider what they believe about Christ.
May the fragility and uncertainty of human life (James 4:13-14) motivate each of us to reach out in love to those around us and share the good news of Jesus Christ.