Knowing what happened to somebody who died, or knowing what will likely happen to somebody when they die are two pieces of information we can greatly desire. Sometimes you want to know because you care. Sometimes you want to know because you want to minister to them appropriately. Sometimes that knowledge would help you to grieve.
But can you know? Jesus urges us not to judge in Matthew 7:1. This command is especially relevant here, because there are many factors that could lead to the wrong conclusion. Here are a few:
One cannot determine a person’s eternal destiny based on how they died. It is common to view a peaceful death that is well anticipated as a superior sign over a violent, unexpected death. But the cause of death says nothing about a person’s eternal destiny. Jesus confronted this popular misperception when a tower that was under construction collapsed. People concluded that the workers who died must have been worse “sinners” than others. Jesus put us all in the same boat.
Nor can we conclude anything based on experiences as one dies. Some have visions of Heaven. Some express nothing at all. My own mother had the experience of “falling” as she was dying. Sheol isn’t actually down and Heaven is actually up. So experiences of going up or down are just caused by the failing of the brain. In my next blog entry, I plan to start to address Near Death Experiences. While both experiences of Sheol and experiences of Heaven occur, also in the mix are intentional deceptions by Satan.
One cannot make an absolute judgment based on behavior. When we are connected to Jesus and saved from our sins the Holy Spirit does change us for the good. This change of qualities and increase in love should be observable. But even saved people continue to struggle with sinful nature. As such, the progress of our sanctification (being made into somebody good in our actions) can be slowed with periods of digression along the way. Don’t get sucked into the “good enough” evaluation. We are not saved by our deeds. We are saved by Christ’s deeds. While good works are valuable, they are neither the source of salvation nor a trustworthy way to evaluate whether somebody is saved.
One cannot make an absolute judgment based on whether a person’s faith is unwavering. Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace through faith. This sentence uses the word “faith” to describe a connection that God makes between us and Jesus. That type of “faith” can produce the “faith” that is certainty in what is unseen but promised by God.
Many solid disciples of Jesus can have frightening doubts as they approach death. It is common. You are not saved by your certainty. You are saved by Jesus. So do not get sucked into the “faith enough” evaluation either. Comfort a dying person who is afraid. Don’t beat them into believing better as if that were possible to do.
In the end, judgment is God’s business alone. Our ministry to the dying should be one of sharing and reaffirming God’s promises of grace. Our “self-evaluation” can be this simple three-question quiz: 1. Did Jesus really die and rise again? Yes or no. 2. Did God promise eternal life to all who call on Jesus? Yes or no. 3 Is God a liar? If you can answer yes, yes, no, it is because God chose you and gave you those answers.
Any other circumstantial evidence should kept at arm’s length. It probably doesn’t mean anything.