Offering the Comfort of a Future Paradise
“MOREOVER, brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant concerning those who are sleeping in death; that you may not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope.” So wrote the apostle Paul. After giving assurance concerning the resurrection hope, he concluded: “Consequently keep comforting one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:13, 18) Offering comfort is what a speaker at a funeral service basically wants to do. But it is also what all of us can do for others who sorrow because a loved one has died. What, then, can we offer in the way of comfort?
Sorrow is a very natural human reaction. There are numerous examples in the Bible of God’s servants who showed sorrow at the loss of loved ones. For example, the Scriptures tell us that “Joseph fell upon the face of his [deceased] father and burst into tears over him and kissed him.” (Gen. 50:1) Also, the sons of Israel “proceeded to weep for Moses on the desert plains of Moab thirty days” following his death. (Deut. 34:8) Helping us to understand that sorrow is no sign of imperfection, John 11:35 says that the perfect man Jesus “gave way to tears” in connection with the death of his friend Lazarus.
True Christians properly sorrow when relatives, friends or neighbors die. They will miss these deceased ones for whom they had affection. (John 11:36) But because of Christians’ Bible-based hope, they do “not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope.” That is, they do not give in to unlimited grief and extreme displays of emotion as sometimes is the case with persons who do not have accurate knowledge about death and resurrection. Nevertheless, Christians should be sincerely interested in caring for the dead in a dignified way and in offering comfort to survivors.
One means of doing so is in connection with the funeral itself. If a request is made, the body of overseers in a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses can arrange for a capable speaker to deliver a funeral talk, at a location such as the funeral home, or the gravesite before burial. There is no charge for this comforting service. And it is comforting, since the speaker arranged for through the congregation will be one knowledgeable about God’s Word. He will be someone fully conscious of the seriousness of the occasion, a man capable not only of offering comfort to those who have suffered loss but also of building up spiritually those in attendance. This is done by explaining the marvelous hope the Bible gives, in short, the hope of a future earthly paradise in which both the living survivors and the resurrected dead can have a share.
Funeral services conducted by Jehovah’s Witnesses may begin with a song if desired. That is particularly so at memorial services held at Kingdom Halls. Among songs in their songbook often used are those entitled: “The Resurrection Joy” (Number 53, based on John 11; 20:18; Revelation 20:13), “Throw Your Burden on Jehovah!” (Number 87, drawn from Psalm 55), “Balsam in Gilead” (Number 97, employing Jeremiah 8:22) and “The Resurrection—God’s Loving Provision” (Number 98, based on Jesus’ words at John 5:28, 29).
Often the speaker will include some words about the deceased person. It may well be that while alive he had been exemplary in his Christian devotion, had successfully met various trials through applying Bible principles or in other ways had shown that he desired to make a good name with God. (Eccl. 7:1) Those attending such a funeral may find such warm remarks comforting and also helpful as they strive to lead Christian lives.
The speaker will likely bring in as well the Bible-based hope for the dead that the deceased knew of, if he or she had been a true Christian. Also there might be some tasteful remarks to the effect that because all of us are sinners, including the deceased, death is inevitable in the present system. It is the common heritage of all.—Rom. 5:12; 6:23.
The speaker does not foster among the survivors the false hope that they can in any way help their loved one by paying for Masses or something of the sort. No amount of ceremony will bring the dead back nor change that one’s standing before God. (See 2 Samuel 12:19-23.) But what a comfort to know that the dead are unconscious, not undergoing torment or suffering! And to know that the future of a dead loved one is in the hands of a just and loving God, who has made a resurrection provision, is a comfort itself.—Eccl. 9:5, 10; Deut. 32:4.
A scripture quoted in the funeral discourse given in Ohlsdorf is the one found at Psalm 90:10, which says: “In themselves the days of our years are seventy years; and if because of special mightiness they are eighty years, yet their insistence is on trouble and hurtful things.” Statistics back up the Bible. According to The World Almanac (1979), human life-expectancy rates range from between 30 and 40 years in such countries as Bangladesh, Benin, Chad and Mali to a high of just over 70 (but well below 80) in Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands and a few other countries.
Accordingly, some might liken their “life account” to a bank account, at birth credited with about 25,600 days. When young, this might sound like a great deal of time. Still, at best, when a person is 25 about a third of his days have been used up, like money spent. Like a dwindling bank account the remaining time of life lessens with every passing day. At 35 one’s life at best is almost half over. But even at that, just as a sudden recession or an unexpected turn of events can wipe out a person’s bank account, unexpected circumstances can suddenly deplete a person’s “life account.” Is this the purpose or scheme of life, for one’s days to be spent in this way, all the while being full of “trouble and hurtful things”? The death of a loved one often gets survivors thinking about this serious matter.—Eccl. 7:2.
Still, it is possible to offer comfort to mourning ones. You can point out that man’s Creator lives a purposeful life, and forever. If, as the Bible says, man was created in His likeness, why should man’s life then be so short? (Gen. 1:27) This seems hard to harmonize with the God of love we learn about in the Bible, a God so obviously interested in the happiness and contentment of his creatures. But what a comforting relief it can be to learn and accept from the Bible that God can undo death!
The Scriptures assure true Christians that they are serving the God “who makes the dead alive.” (Rom. 4:17) Jehovah God promises to do away with death by emptying mankind’s common grave of the dead, returning them to life in an earthly paradise. With such a hope, no wonder God’s servants do “not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope.”—1 Thess. 4:13.
Looking Ahead to Paradise
In a funeral talk or even when you personally comfort a bereaved person, often attention may be called to God’s original purpose for the earth. That purpose was for the paradisaic garden of Eden to be extended to cover the entire globe. (Gen. 1:28) We can trust that God’s purpose cannot, no, will not, be thwarted. True, in his wisdom he permitted imperfection to continue among humans until his Son would come to earth and offer a ransom sacrifice, and until the heavenly kingdom would be established. But we can be absolutely confident that a paradise will be restored earth wide. So the dead who come forth in the future earthly resurrection actually will be in line to experience a life far better—more peaceful and rewarding—than that before their death. What a comfort can be that assurance backed up by God’s Word!
It was with these thoughts still running through my mind that I bade farewell to the bereaved relatives and acquaintances of my friend’s deceased mother. Leaving the beautiful parklike paradise of Ohlsdorf, I had to rejoice in the hope of the other kind of paradise just ahead—an earthly paradise for the living, but one in which even the dead will be able to share.
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