On the African soil we have so many ways in which people conduct funerals. It is also evident that some countries outside Africa have a unique way in which they conduct funerals. In recent years I have observed that some African countries are slowly conforming to the western culture of handling funerals. Nevertheless, there is one phrase that I keep hearing and seeing from people in Africa and from those in the other parts of the world when people lose a loved one. Sometimes I wonder why someone would make such a statement. Maybe its failure to understand what death really is.
Before I can state this most abused phrase during these emotional moments, let me try and unpack the meaning and definition of death. Death is the separation of the soul from the body. One example I can give to support this definition is the death of Christ. Remember when Jesus was dying? The Bible says in John 19:30 that “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” So you notice that Jesus died and gave up his spirit. In other words, his body was separated from his spirit when he died. I could site many other passages but that verse should do for now. Not only is death separation of the soul from the body but it is also separation of man from God. Remember when Adam sinned against God? He was at that time separated from God. Sin separated him from God.
The other thing I must mention before stating one of the most tortured phrases is the destiny of those who have died. It is clear from the Scriptures that when people die without having repented of their sins in faith towards Christ then their destination is hell. Hell is the place where they will spend eternity. A good example for this is the story of Lazarus and the Rich man. I am sure you know that story well. Lazarus ends up in Abraham’s bosom while the rich man ends up in the place of torment, a picture of hell. Why will such people end up in hell? Because they are Adam’s descendants and Adam, remember, died (was separated from God) because of sin. And in the story of Lazarus and the rich man we have a good picture of someone who is separated from God. Each one of us is Adam’s descendant and we are destined to die and go to hell if we are not saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
So here is my question now. If what I have said above is true and makes sense then why do people say, “May his soul rest in eternal peace,” during a funeral, when they do not even know whether that person was saved? This is abusing the phrase. In fact it is torturing the phrase. How can someone who lived in sin, cursed God and denied the Lord Jesus Christ even to his death ever rest in eternal peace? How? For all I know as the Bible says is that, “There is no rest, says the LORD, for the wicked” Isaiah 48:22. Could this be an African phrase or something from the western culture or Europe? Or is it just some people trying to be kind?