Death is always sad, but it can bring out kind and comforting words from family and friends. These good wishes really do help us feel better. Whether it's a simple expression of sorrow, some shared tears, or an enlightening story, our friends' kind words help us accept death, cherish the memories, and get life going again.
Now it happens that most of my relatives and close friends aren't Christian. We're a broad assortment of Deists, pantheists, paganists, agnostics and atheists. There's hardly a Christian among us.
So what do Christians write in their condolences? "The peace of the Lord is on your father." Or, "Your mother is resting in Jesus' arms now."
I know they mean well. But if these Christians were true to their faith, they'd say, "So sorry that your loved one is now being tortured with indescribable pain that is perpetually searing the flesh from her bones. I'm saddened that she will be screaming in agony for the rest of eternity. She seemed like such a nice lady. Too bad she didn't believe in Jesus."
Eternal cruel, sadistic, horrifying torture – that's true Christianity. Never mind that my loved ones are, to the last one, kind and moral people. I can't think of one family member or close friend who isn't a decent human being, and an asset to family, friends, community and humanity. They're good mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They work hard and support themselves and their families. They vote in elections (mostly). They give back far more than they take in life.
But none of that matters. Most of my close friends and family don't accept the two-thousand-year-old myth that a woman was impregnated by God and had a son, who was actually God himself, who then arranged to have himself tortured to death, but he didn't really die and came back to life for a few more days, and then he died, except that he still didn't die because God pulled his son (who was really himself) up to heaven. And if you believe this story, all your sins are forgiven, no matter how horrible, but if you don't, all your good deeds are for nothing.
So it's pretty offensive when, in our grief over the death of a loved one, some well-meaning Christian writes about how the dearly departed is now in Jesus' arms or basking in God's glory. It's dishonest.
Christians who are offering kind thoughts to grieving friends should stick to a secular message. "I'm so sorry for your loss" would be just fine.