What Do I Say When Someone Has Died?

This morning I responded to an email from a church member who is in a unique position to do gospel ministry. In our area this past month a young boy took his own life. Now people close to the situation are approaching this church member asking searching questions about life and death. She emailed me asking how she should respond. Below is a slightly altered version of my email response. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t everything that needs to be said. But, I think it’s a good starting point for a gospel witness in times of tragedy. I hope it helps you think better and more “Christianly” about death.

I will be praying that God gives you both the opportunities and the courage to demonstrate his love. When it comes to talking about a tragedy such as suicide there isn’t a formula. Rather, when I have to opportunity to talk with hurting/questioning people I just try to guide my conversation by a set of principles. Here they are:

1. People need to hear that I’m sorry for what they are going through.

2. People need to hear that I love them. 

When Chelsea and I lost a pregnancy a few years back people responded in so many different ways. Some people tried to tell us it wasn’t a big deal because “this happens to a lot of people.” Well, it was a huge deal for us because we had lost a child. Other’s tried to give cheap Christian sounding explanations like, “Well, God just needed another angel in heaven.” Aside from being incorrect, that statement wasn’t comforting at all. I learned through that time that I only really wanted to hear people say 2 things to us: “I’m so sorry this has happened. I love you.” Anything beyond that just felt like they were trying too hard. If I wanted answers to questions I would have asked. If I didn’t ask, then giving me answers just infuriated me. That would be the first thing I would consider. Let these people know you are sorry and that you love/care for them.

Second, if they ask questions that open the opportunity for witness I would really want them to know these few things:
1. God hates death. Too many Christians speak as if death is one of God’s ways of getting back at people who reject or disobey him. But, God hates death. It wasn’t apart of his original creation. Death is the awful result of human’s rejecting a relationship with God and we should never speak of death as, “just apart of life.” It may be apart of our current existence, but it is an evil consequence of our own choosing. We chose death. We chose exile from God’s presence. God hates death so much that he was willing to die. Christ died in order to kill death. Here’s what that means for us and our Christian witness. We should hate death too. And we should hate it all the more because we know it’s source and it’s ultimate defeat. I would impress that fact on anyone who asks you why something tragic has happened. Let them know that you hate death and God hates it too.
2. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you don’t know why this tragedy has occurred. The truth is that even if you did know the reason why things like this happen the answer wouldn’t satisfy anyway. The scriptures never tell us to always be prepared to give a reason as to why evil happens. Rather, we are to always be ready to give a reason for our hope in spite of evil. Why, in the face of such a tragedy, do we hope? What reason do we have for endurance and joy? It is because death is not the end. Christ has risen from the dead. Paul tell us that Christ disarmed all of the rulers who held judgement over us and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in the cross. Here’s our hope: when hope had all but faded and death was closing in, Christ came at the right time and took our death. He was exiled so that we could be brought back in to God’s family. He lost his face before God so that we could have God’s presence. Our hope is that our death has been exchanged for life.

2 thoughts on “What Do I Say When Someone Has Died?”

  1. Good words Jonathan and now you your fulfilling one of the reasons for God’s comfort in grief that is to love others in grief with the comfort He has given you.

    1. Thanks Jarrod. It was great seeing you a couple weeks back. It always is. I’ll never forget the many hospital visits we made together to care for those God placed in our path.

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