An unbeliever’s suffering doesn’t end with their physical death. A worse fate awaits them in the afterlife. What a tragedy! The unbelieving dead don’t rest in peace. Insisting that they do sounds humane and kind, but it’s seriously misaligned with what God teaches in the Bible. “God will say to those on his left ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41; John 8:24).
I thought I had taught and grasped the Bible enough to be prepared for death. But when I lost my dad in 2011 the pain, grief, and emptiness was devastating. Death created a void. Bereavement felt like being made mute, becoming unable to speak. It’s a troubling and difficult thought that one day you and I will be no more. We will all die.
These last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic were terrible. Countless people died daily, all around us. We’ve all witnessed enormous fear, suffering, grief, and loss. Emotions ran wild. The pandemic had everyone searching for comfort, for hope. And similar to most of human history and almost every culture, the idea that the dead are now in a better place could be heard everywhere. These words slip effortlessly from our mouths. But they are hollow comfort.
Do Deceased Loved Ones Rest in Peace?
The thought that you may never see a loved one again is unbearable. So we’re always looking for consolations to help us escape, denying the terrifying possibility. For many years we’ve turned to various phrases:
- “They’re resting in peace”
- “She’s watching over us now”
- “You can still make your late father proud”
- “He’s in a better place now.”
I understand why these are attractive. More so, I can relate to wanting them to be true. They are ways to ease grief and pain, to lessen loss. But despite our wishes, the dead are gone and their fate is already determined. This is a gut-wrenching reality. For who would readily affirm that their departed loved ones could actually be in a worse place than their earthly toil? Christians shouldn’t turn to these expressions for comfort. Instead we must ask what the Bible says about deceased unbelievers.
What Does God Say?
I’m sympathetic to all those who’ve lost loved ones. It was a tragic day all those years ago, when my dad died in my hands. So I’m familiar with the feelings of hopelessness that accompany the death of a breadwinner, a father, and pillar of the home.