What Should We Say to the Loved Ones of an Unbeliever Who Has Died?

In a recent episode of his podcast, Russell Moore discussed the question, “What Should You Say at an Unbeliever’s Funeral?” He gave a helpful answer for both those who attend such funerals, and those who conduct them.

I addressed a similar question in a blog post How Do I Minister to an Unsaved Friend Whose Loved One Died Without a Relationship with Christ?, and one of our EPM staff members, Brenda Abelein, wrote an answer to How Can I Comfort a Friend Who Lost One of Her Unbelieving Parents?

Or perhaps you’re the one who’s in the difficult position of having a friend or family member who died without ever professing Christ. As I mention in the blog post I link to above, what might help you personally on this—and I have reassured myself about this many times—is to realize that we do not know what happens inside a person before they die. We don’t know whether the Holy Spirit of God has done a work of grace in someone’s heart and life at the last moment. They may have been aware of the hours, minutes, and even just seconds leading up to their death and cried out to God for deliverance. The thief on the cross proves that “deathbed conversion” is certainly possible. And if someone is unable to speak, or too weak to respond, those around them would not know of that conversion. We may be surprised and delighted to one day see them in the presence of Christ.

Now, that should not be a false assurance for us say to ourselves about our unbelieving loved ones, “Then it doesn’t really matter whether I share the gospel with them, because maybe God will do a miracle in their lives shortly before they die.” Of course not—we should do everything we can to bring them the truth. But once someone has died, I think it’s appropriate to say, “I don’t know. Maybe they did come to faith in Christ, and if so, one day I will see them in God’s Kingdom.” 

A related question I’ve been asked frequently over the years is, “If Our Loved Ones Are in Hell, Won't That Spoil Heaven?” I give an answer to that question here

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Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries