The House of Mourning

Funerals are out of fashion. Today, celebration of life services are in.

This trend, however, is a product of broader influences in society and the church. In our culture we tend to shun sadness and encourage happiness. You see it in parenting, movies, sports, and education. But in the church also we don’t give much place to grief. For instance, just consider how many ‘happy’ songs we sing in church compared to how many ‘lament’ songs we sing. Moreover, in a church full of amazing worship, extraordinary events, great experiences, and most importantly fun, there’s no time to cry.

Now, I don’t mean to simply nit-pick at a name. But I wonder, what do we really gain by virtue of this name change? Or perhaps, what do we lose? It seems to me that this new name, while possibly setting a brighter and happier tone for the event, actually has two unintended consequences.

First, it implicitly discounts grief as an acceptable response to death. After all, it’s a celebration of life – and you don’t grieve at a celebration. Surely, the Apostle Paul didn’t want Christians to grieve without hope as unbelievers do (1 Thess. 4:13) – but God forbid we get rid of grieving altogether. On the contrary, Paul exhorted Christians to not only rejoice with those who rejoice, but also weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Furthermore, the resurrection and the life himself, Jesus, wept over the death of Lazarus (John 11:35). Could we possibly accuse Jesus of grieving without hope? Such a possibility is absurd – so also, the thought that grief is an inappropriate response to death.

Second, merely celebrating a person’s life overlooks the very thing that will actually make others wise, namely, death. I don’t mean to suggest that at a funeral there ought not be any remembrance of a person’s life and the (hopefully) many fond memories of family and friends – such storytelling is quite worthwhile. But is that all a funeral is good for? As Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Thinking about death – as miserable as that sounds – makes us live better. Contemplating our own mortality is, in fact, meant to make us wise; for in the words of Psalm 90, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

While I’m not defending the word ‘funeral’ as the most appropriate designation of a ceremony for a deceased person, perhaps it is better than ‘celebration of life’. For so long as pain and tears and death are a part of our world, may we respect the house of mourning and enter in to weep with those who are weeping.

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2 thoughts on “The House of Mourning

  1. Jon,

    It’s interesting when a writer tries not to belittle a concept, but wants only to bring it in balance with the opposite side. That is, he or she tries to make a case for the other side, for a different point of view, without totally trashing the first.

    The writer is repeatedly assuring the reader that there is value in the original idea, *but*… And this “*but”* is necessary to make the point.

    In speech, in preaching, I have heard men argue for the other side to the exclusion of the first side. And I can understand why – since it is so hard to make a point when the opposite is also true. It confuses the audience, I was told.

    Well, you did well by bringing out the two sides, and by bringing in Romans 12:15 here.

    The scripture is full of different perspectives, to such an extent that some think there are contradictions. Well, I’m glad these “contradictions” are there. It illustrates how limited we are in our ability to understand life without the Spirit opening up the truth to us.

    One of my favorite differences, since the two scriptures are so clearly different, is I John 1:8 which says if we say we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves – contrasted with I John 3:6 which says that no one who abides in Him sins. So must we conclude that we don’t abide in Him? How about we just admit we don’t understand how these ideas fit together.

    Thanks for another blog entry, Jon.

    Blessings, Grandpa

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  2. Grandpa, as we’ve spoken before, you probably know I’m quite uncomfortable and very much dislike the term ‘contradictions’ being applied to Scripture. For God to contradict himself is an oxymoron. So, while we may not be able to completely comprehend all truth, I don’t believe there are any contradictions in Scripture. Are there mysteries? Sure. Diverse perspectives? Yes. Truths in tension? Absolutely. Contradictions? No.
    Regarding the passages you cited from 1 John, these are quite notorious. But I would say three things in response. First, we should recognize that it does not appear that John, or his original audience, found these ideas to be contradictory – as he provides no further justification for their mutual truthfulness. Second, many possible and persuasive solutions exist concerning how these two ideas fit together. Third, as Frank Thielman has written, “Christians must admit that they sin, and Christians must not sin. There is tension here, but it is ultimately the same tension that lies beneath the ethical teaching of much of the New Testament.” That is to say, such tension is not foreign to biblical doctrine and ethics.
    -Jon

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