“A wake-up call.” That is how we often refer to death, especially when the person who died was close to us or when the individual’s death receives significant attention in the news. But what is this call awakening us from? And, even more importantly, what are we being awakened to?
Many people, when they see death, are simply faced with the fact that people die. Few people like to dwell on this fact, and those who do are considered morbid. When people see death, they are “awakened” from the delusions and fog of a comfortable life to the reality of mortality. This type of awakening is often short lived and leads to no real life change. It isn’t so much an awakening as it is a rolling over and shifting of positions on the metaphorical pillow of life.
For the wake-up to be real and the slumber to be ended truly, we must be awakened to the realities of heaven and hell. The sleeper isn’t truly awakened until he or she is confronted with eternity. Death should be a wake-up call of the loudest, shrillest variety. Instead of rolling over and going back to sleep, we must ask, “Are the dead resting in peace or not?” We must feel the weight of eternity, the reality of eternal peace or eternal punishment like it is ice water splashed in our groggy faces.
One of the snores that is among the loudest evidences that we are asleep to the realities of death and eternity is the casual use of the phrase “R.I.P.” We say, “Rest in peace,” to wish a departed soul on its way to . . . where? For whom is death restful? Have we even considered the implications of this phrase?
Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28; emphasis mine). He also says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; emphasis mine). And once again, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27; emphasis mine). Jesus is the way to rest, life, and peace. There is no “R.I.P.” without “R” or “P,” and Jesus is the only way to both.
There is no “R.I.P.” without “R” or “P,” and Jesus is the only way to both.
As humans, it is not ever for us to determine or even to know for certain, in many cases, who is resting with Jesus and who is not when people die. No, it is for us to look around and consider those near us and whether they will be resting with Jesus when their time comes (and it always, always comes too soon). When we come face to face with the reality of death and the eternity that follows, we cannot respond with a trite and meaningless “R.I.P., so-and-so.” That person’s rest has been determined, but what about the people standing near us, staring into eternity? Are they going to rest in peace when their times come?
Romans 10:14–15 says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” When a person is awakened by a death to the terrifying reality of eternity, how will he know what to believe or in whom he should believe? If a person is in Christ, there is no fear in death. Seeing death is never happy and it is never comfortable, but neither is it terrifying or stupefying the way it is for those to whom eternity is a mystery, a black fog of fear. The only way that fog will blow away is by the breath of the Spirit, through the Word of God, spoken by faithful saints. How will they know in whom to hope and on whom to call when standing on the edge of deaths murky mystery? We must tell them.
Every thought of “R.I.P.” should become a forward thinking one, one that is simultaneously uplifting to our souls and powerfully motivating in our lives. We should fixate on the truth and hope of perfect rest in Jesus, but that is not a landing place. It is a launching pad. We cannot rest in this life while there are those around us who will not rest in the next life. And we can work tirelessly in this life because, in Jesus, there is perfect rest in the next. For those in Jesus, the statement “I can rest when I’m dead” is a sentence full of hope and promise.
Let us be the ones to speak the words of gospel truth that the Holy Spirit can use to blow away the fog of uncertainty and fear, and let us open people’s eyes to the reality of eternal peace with Jesus. Let the reality of death be a spur in our sides, kicking us vigorously into the proclamation and exemplification of Jesus. Let us make it known that "R.I.P." is no platitude to commemorate a departed soul but rather a promise of perfect happiness for any who follow Jesus.