Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Funeral Thoughts

I was at a family funeral yesterday and it was tough going. A very dearly cherished person had perished tragically and before time. I was amazed by how many people turned out for the funeral, I'm guessing 500. I was more surprised though how completely absent of either hope of gratitude the service was. Although held in a church, God didn't really get a look in. There was no prayer or hymns, no way for the congregation to participate, except to listen to those who spoke, all of whom shared loss, disbelief, anger, grief and unhappiness. This is of course now fairly standard in a society that has cast off religious roots, and although claims to still be "spiritual" has no resources for coping with the event of untimely death except sad vague songs sung by professionals and PowerPoint presentations.

I know I could not expect much hope at a non-christian funeral. Although the clergy person on duty was quite frankly a total waste of space, I have never heard anyone before use the theory of emergence to comfort grieving people and I hope never to again. I think I was probably the only person there to know what he was going on about, how many people have studied emergence theory in relation to theology? (maybe lots have, I have led a sheltered life) Certainly his incoherent ramblings, pseudo-scientific speculations, and half hearted biblical allusions didn't leave anyone the wiser.

But everyone seemed angry at the universe or God or whatever for what had happened. Fair enough, those feelings were real and needed to be expressed. But that same universe in which the dearly departed had suffered a tragic death was the only universe in which she could ever have existed. In one sense, for that wonderful person to have existed in the way she did, she also had to die the way she did.
When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.

These words from Ecclesiastes 7:14 make the point. When we are angry about the bad we need to remember that we didn't complain when we received the good. Whether it is God or just some faceless universe everything in life ultimately comes to us from the same hand. Even at times of loss gratitude needs to be expressed. Gratitude for a life well lived and for love given and received. Remembrance will bring pain but it should also bring happiness, because although you feel the loss now, it would have been worse to never have known who you are missing at all.

Another verse from Ecclesiastes 7, verse 2:
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.


  1. I did a BA at a liberal secular university and an MA in a theologically liberal college and I've never heard of Emergence. Your Wikipedia article didn't help as it had some long words in it.

    I've also had the experience of a funeral for a loved one that offered no comfort at all. It's sad. Our culture just can't deal with death - thanks for this blog post.

    Job 1:21 is another text for times like this.

  2. Hi Phil, thanks for the comment. Emergence is a fascinating subject, probably worth a blog post. Watch this space. personally I think it is a very important area of science/philosophy/theology research but totally innapropriate for a funeral! My essay in the side bar on the right on Spirit and Science has a section on the subject, but may not be helpful as an introduction.

    Job 1:21, yes, which put me in mind of Mat Redman's excellent "Blessed be your name".

  3. I agree. Being a bit of a supporter of emergence theory from both a scientific and theological point of view, it would offer no insight into eternity spent with God... or otherwise. It does not provide any space for celebration or gratitude for a life well lived.

    Such a shame. I have been blessed with never having been to a funeral without hope. Even the non-Christian ones I have been to, have been a celebration of a person's life and hope in their ongoing legacy.