Jesus, Inerrancy, and Heroin Overdoses
I got a note today from a dear reader and good friend. He was upset because he just came from a funeral for an old friend of one of his best friends, who died of a drug overdose. Here is a copy of the message, edited to respect the anonymity of those involved:
I just wanted to share with you something I experienced today that made me remember why I left the Baptist church. So a preface to this story: A guy that I went to high school with, (he was in a grade under me, and I only knew him in passing at school), was found dead in his apartment on Tuesday after injecting heroin and overdosing. My best friend was really good friends with him, so I went with her to the funeral service today. The service was at __________ Baptist. My friend,______, also grew up Baptist and left the church many years ago. When the pastor got up to give a (what was supposed to be) short sermon, my heart broke. I was completely disgusted at what he was saying. One of the things he said to the family was and I quote: “What I’m about to say is not going to make this any easier for y’all, but _______ got caught up in sin, and the Bible teaches us ‘For the wages of sin is death.’” When he said this, my heart hurt for the family... in my mind, what he was saying was that it was his own fault for his death because he was a sinner! He completely took that scripture WAY out of context! Another thing he mentioned was at one point he counseled ______. He said that ______ expressed to him that he tries to live up to God’s standards and do right by God, but he sometimes fails as sin gets in the way. The pastor said to ________ that he has nothing to worry about because his sins (the pastors) are far worse than _______’s. He also said that everything that he is speaking about to us (the congregation) is the truth and biblical. Lastly, he said, and I quote “our perfection here on this earth determines if we get to heaven.” I was completely speechless when we left there. As we were walking to the car, _______ said “Boy do I have something to say about what he was saying!” We talked the whole way home about how what he was saying was most definitely NOT biblical and also NOT appropriate for the circumstances! It’s a shame what he is teaching people!
Well, that was painful.
I know of the church, but I don't know their pastor. We definitely would be getting coffee together. If I could sit before him right now, here's some of what I might say to him:
"When someone dies under circumstances like this, the family doesn't need to be told he brought it on himself because the Bible says so. They need to be comforted. And where does the Bible say, our perfection here on earth determines if we get to heaven?" Do you realize that your flippant remark actually takes the power away from God, Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit, and places it on us? I can't save myself, and I'm pretty sure you can't either (no offense). If I were you, I would go to the family and offer an apology and a full recanting of your sermon, or whatever that was."
People are leaving the traditional church at an alarming rate. Poor and irresponsible teaching like what my friend shared is definitely turning them out.
I left local church ministry in 2016, but I guess I still have a pastor's heart. I have done way too many funerals and they never got easier. One time a 13 year old girl was killed in an auto accident. She was the only one sober of 4 people. She was the only one who died. A fellow minister was also close to the family and was there at the home. I was dumbfounded by this tragedy. I pulled him aside and asked him, What do you say to the family to comfort them, because I've got nothing! This is awful!" He was older and wiser and told me something I never forgot. He said, "you just being there says everything. No words are necessary to offer comfort in times like this. Just be there for them."
If I could, I would advise this Bible thumping pastor to consider this when he does his next funeral. I would say, "Definitely use no words."
In 1994 my grandmother died after a hard fight with cancer. Just before she passed away she moved back to Wisconsin with my aunt and uncle. She was always Lutheran, so a Lutheran minister close to the Wisconsin relatives did the service. He had never even met my grandma and had no idea who she was. She was the light of my life growing up. I adored her. She taught me so much about how to be a good man and a good Samaritan. She worked all day in the kitchen on Thanksgivings, making sure everyone had plenty to eat. We would finally have to insist that she sit down and eat with us. She did for a few minutes and then she was back to the kitchen. She was a beautiful soul.
This Lutheran minister used my grandma's death to grandstand about her sin giving her cancer, and how her sin put Jesus on the cross, and so on and so forth. I wanted to throat punch him. I wanted to stand up and call him out for the awful way he spoke of my grandma. But my grandma wouldn't have wanted that. She would have just hugged the minister and thanked him. That's who she was.
I am happy to say that out of all the wrong things I did in ministry, I never used a funeral platform to plug the inerrancy of scripture and the depravity of the departed. Instead I offered Jesus. Jesus who wept when Lazarus died, knowing full well he would soon raise him back to life. Jesus, who offered grace to prostitutes, Hebrew IRS agents, a thief on a cross, and lepers when no one else did. Jesus, who, while on the cross, cried out, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." Jesus, who defeated death to give us eternal life, lock stock and barrel...for free. Jesus, who makes us joint heirs and sons and daughters of almighty God. Jesus, giver of life and light.
Jesus, who comforts those that need comforting, even those who die of a drug overdose. That is who this hurting world needs.