Tony Scott, Death & Life
When tragedy strikes, how should Christians best support those who are grieving?
The tragic death of Hollywood film director Tony Scott this past weekend has caused many to ask questions around what happens when someone chooses to end their own life. As Christians, we can sometimes have a bit of a carpe diem (seize the day) mentality when those around us talk about death. We can easily think, ‘Here’s a chance for me to tell others about Jesus!’. Of course, I’m not saying it’s always bad to think this, but wise timing is crucial.
Mourn with those who mourn
Before we rush to answer questions, it is important that we stop and recognise the immeasurable grief that the person’s family and friends will be going through. This grief may also be shared by those who have experienced the loss of a loved one recently. The news of another death can often trigger a flood of past emotions, even if the deaths are completely unrelated. Rushing over grief to arrive at an explanation does little to uphold the value of human life.
Yes, scripture says we should ‘always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect' (1 Peter 3:15). However, it also tells us to, ‘rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn' (Romans 12:15). It’s important that we mourn with those who mourn first. If it’s appropriate, we can explain after supporting people in their grief and grieving with them, but never before.
In situations where there is the death of a celebrity, some may say that they don’t need to mourn because they most likely didn’t know the person. It is true that fake mourning is both worthless and lacks compassion, but just because we don’t know the person ourselves, doesn’t mean we can’t be respectful about their life and death. Even in these situations, the way we respond reveals a lot about our intentions.
Wisdom before words
As someone who serves young people in our church and city, I’ve often been asked what happens to someone when they die if they’ve taken their own life. If they are a Christian, do they still get to spend eternity with God? Or is suicide an unforgivable sin that means the person will be separated from God forever?
These are good questions to ask, and I’ll try to address them at a later time, but a good answer doesn’t have to start with a systematic theology about death, heaven and hell. Sometimes it should start with silence and simply being a shoulder to cry on. In most cases, people don’t ask questions like these because they are simply interested in a theological issue or looking for some sort of intellectual debate. Instead, their questions are about something much more personal. We shouldn’t seek to just satisfy the mind, when so often the root of their question is from the heart.
I find it so striking that just before Jesus rose Lazarus from the grave, he wept (John 11:35) and he prayed (41-42). When we find ourselves in situations involving illness and even death, our first response should be to do the same. Let’s not rush to explain things away, but instead show people something of the love of Christ by helping carry each other’s burdens. Let’s pray that people will not just see compassion in us, but they will see Christ in us. This is the only way they too can have fullness of life, even when confronting issues surrounding death.