WHEN a tragedy occurs in a local community, involving the death of one or more people, the press usually reports that prayers were, or will be said for those who died. I often wonder whether such prayers for the dead are actually said in the context of a church service, or whether the news reporter is ignorantly trotting out a standard phrase.
Obviously, a local church congregation will want to uphold the friends and family who mourn those who have died, but this is different from offering prayers on behalf of the dead. If prayers are offered for the dead, what form does the prayer take and what is the hoped-for outcome?
For authority in respect of spiritual matters (and death is a spiritual matter) Christians trust the teaching of Jesus Christ and his apostles, as recorded for us in the Bible. Here we will find no encouragement to pray for the dead, nor any suggestion that our spiritual state can be somehow rectified after we have departed this life. In fact, we are told quite clearly that ‘... man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement.’ Jesus told the story of a rich man and a beggar; both died and one ended up in a place of anguish and the other at rest. There was a chasm between the two states, which Jesus said could not be crossed in either direction. The parable was told with a bigger theme in mind than the portion of the text I have selected. Nevertheless, the portion does confirm that praying for the dead accomplishes nothing, because by this stage eternal destinies are fixed.
So what is my point? Just this: that it is too late to worry about death and what follows, once we have died. While we are living is the time to consider what Jesus Christ says about these things. He talks about himself being the bread (sustainer) of life; forgiving sins and so removing condemnation; reconciling us to God; being the giver of eternal life, of resurrection and everlasting joy.
Shirley Baptist Church