regularly pray for those who have died. A number of times, I have heard Christians say, “I do not pray for the dead. Their fate has been sealed.” Evangelicals make this claim because they “know” that “the dead” cannot benefit from our prayers. The problem is not with “the dead,” but with Evangelical Christians, who in this case, as in so many others, think that they know what they do not know. Their claims to knowledge show a lack of faith, and a misunderstanding of faith. In fact, Evangelical Christianity is in some decisive respects outside the Christian tradition; it is a version of Gnosticism, in which one is saved by “knowledge.” (As St. Irenaeus wrote c. 200, “Gnostics open God like a book.” These folks claim to “know” that they “are saved,” and that claim hubristically assumes a prerogative that belongs to God alone: to know with certainty the fate of any human being.
We pray for those who have died because we love them, and we gratefully entrust our dear ones to the Creator. We can and should pray with confidence, not because we know the fate of the ones who died (which we do not), but because we trust in God’s goodness and mercy. Our faith is in God, not in our own so-called “faith” or “certainty of being saved.” (Again, such certainty is not Christian, and beyond the human condition. Avoid such spiritual magic.) Christian faith invites us to remember to the LORD all who have died, especially those dear to us, because they are alive in God (in a condition unknown to us); and we may commune with them, express our love, share our thoughts with them, trusting that God knows what is best for us and for them. Simply put, we pray for and commune with those whom we love, whether they are alive on earth or have died; life is only in God.
Love is not love if it ceases with death. It may have been use, or shared pleasure, but love does not know death, it does not cease at death, it cannot be overcome by death. On the contrary, love is the power at work in human beings which not only is greater than death, but transforms death into life eternal. “Love is of God; for God is Love.” To honor our Creator, we lovingly remember to Him those human beings and little ones whom he has given us to love in this life. Our love for one another does not detract from our love for God, nor does God say, “Love me alone, and do not invest love in any creature.” On the contrary, by loving the creature in God, we are loving the Creator all the more, all the more truly, and surely with more affection and gratitude, as we remember our loved ones who have died.
In the words of Jesus, “To God, all are alive.” That more that suffices to stir up my confident faith to pray for dear ones who have suffered death. To God, they are alive, and that is what truly matters for one who loves God “above all, and in all, and through all.”
LORD God, lover of all creatures, to You we entrust with confidence and gratitude all of our dear ones who have suffered death. Fill them eternally with your love and peace. Amen.