3 Reasons Why Christians Should Lay “R.I.P.” to Rest

"Rest in peace" gives the sense that the deceased are "in a better place"—a place of rest and peace.

I’ve noticed something of a concerning trend over the past several years. It is the way in which believers speak about culture-impacting individuals at their deaths. Instead of simply expressing appreciation for their life and achievements, it has become commonplace for Christians to use the shorthand “R.I.P.” (rest in peace) on social media when speaking of individuals in whose lives there was no evidence of saving grace at their death.

 

I have great admiration for non-Christians who have contributed to the improvement of society through their inventions, production, leadership, literature and art. My wife and I were recently reflecting on the remarkable ways in which Steve Jobs’s labors helped change the world in which we live. I love so many of the beautiful works of art and music that have been the product of secular artists; and I do not, for one second, believe that we should sequester ourselves from the use and enjoyment of the contributions of self-avowed unbelievers in the world arounds us. Otherwise, as the apostle Paul wrote, “you would need to go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10). There is a common grace principle at work in the world by which God allows men to benefit their neighbors, making life in this fallen world a little less painful than it would otherwise be.

That being said, I’ve noticed something of a concerning trend over the past several years. It is the way in which believers speak about culture-impacting individuals at their deaths. Instead of simply expressing appreciation for their life and achievements, it has become commonplace for Christians to use the shorthand “R.I.P.” (rest in peace) on social media when speaking of individuals in whose lives there was no evidence of saving grace at their death. At the risk of sounding ill-tempered, I wish to set out several reasons why I am troubled by this occurrence.

1. R.I.P. refers to the afterlife.

First, when we employ the abbreviation R.I.P., we are inevitably admitting a state or condition inseparably linked to the idea of the afterlife. We are not speaking of something indifferent to the truth of the hereafter. Someone might push back at this point, suggesting that R.I.P. is nothing other than a way of expressing appreciation for an individual’s life and achievements.

However, while certain words and phrases can be fluid in their meaning (e.g., “goodbye” has taken on a different meaning than its Old English sense, “God be with you”), “rest in peace” gives the sense that the deceased are “in a better place”—a place of rest and peace. If we care about the eternal salvation of people, and whether or not they are trusting in Christ alone for eternal life, then we should painstakingly avoid giving the sense that we believe in any form of universalism whatsoever.

2. Christians should not pray for the dead.

Second, as Christians we should revolt at the idea of “praying for the dead,” since there is not a single ounce of biblical support for such an idea. By saying “rest in peace,” we necessarily run the risk of giving the impression that we are saying a prayer for the deceased—whether for self-professed unbelievers or self-professed believers. This alone ought to give us pause as to whether we should seek to abandon using the expression.

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