“He was a real jerk!”
In all the funerals I’ve held or been a part of, I’ve yet to hear such an honest eulogy. At some of the funerals where such words would adequately describe the deceased, such kind words and kind stories were shared that I wondered if anyone recognized the person being described!
Gracious stories of gentleness of someone who was hard as stone.
Gracious stories of tenderness of someone who was cold as ice.
Gracious stories of someone who was a “devout Christian” but was never involved in a church.
Gracious stories of generosity of someone who on any other day would be described as a cheap shrewd.
Are we talking about the same person?!
Why do we do this? Social grace tells us we “gently lie” at funerals to accentuate the positive while doing our best to minimize the negative. (For the record, if I do your funeral and there’s nothing good to say about you, I won’t lie. I will, however, point everyone to the only one we have: Jesus.)
But it’s pointless to lie like that, isn’t it? Everyone in the room knows we’re lying or perhaps very carefully and surgically editing the stories and statement.
We’re not the first people to do this. We probably won’t be the last either. In Ecclesiastes 8:9-10 King Soloman observes this same hypocrisy at a funeral.
9 All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. 10 Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.
Ecclesiastes 8:9-10, NIV
The teacher turns his full attention to the overwhelming complexities of human behavior. He is left with a bitter taste in his mouth at not only the level of foolishness, but also the level of immorality and hypocrisy.
The situation Solomon specifies is that when the wicked have their funerals, they are attended by people who heap high praise on the “dearly departed”. Yet, in the hypocrisy of humanity, they know full well the person was evil and undeserving of the kind words.
He declares it “meaningless”. Indeed, it is. It is an exercise in futility because the deeds we have done in this life are the memorials serving as the cornerstone of our legacies. Rewriting the legacy someone has forged in life does not change the reality of the situation.
There is also the selfishness expressed in these behaviors. We certainly hope people will say kind things at our funeral and will omit the bad parts and highlight the good parts. After all, who wants to think about being “trashed” at their own funeral. King Solomon would point out the selfishness of that desire.
It’s selfish because in our sin, we want to live life on our terms and yet we want to be remembered as all the things we rejected in this life. Apart from the salvation offered through Jesus, that’s all we could hope for. With His salvation, however, we can live the lives we would wish eulogized.
Now the next time you’re at a funeral of a real class A jerk, do NOT stand up and tell the brutally honest truth. I’m NOT saying to lie. I’m just echoing what we’ve all heard, “If you’ve got nothing good to say, say nothing at all.”
But let those moments at funerals cause you to pause and think of the testimony you would like shared at your funeral. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, dear Christian, live that life now so the truth may be told at your funeral.