Ask Your Preacher
We recently had a man from the congregation preach for us, and as he talked, he told the unfortunate story of how his son's life was not in accordance with God's will and how he wished so much that he could even share a meal with him, but because of his sinful state, he could not be around him. Is this the kind of separation the Bible teaches we are to have from those outside Christ? How can we be a light to those not in Christ if we can't speak a word to them?
Dear Seems Harsh,
It sounds like this man’s son became a Christian and then fell away. When that happens, the church is told to show tough love and separate themselves from the wayward brother or sister. We are commanded to “withdraw from” and “have no company with” an ungodly Christian (2 Thess 3:6, 1 Cor 5:1-13). We are to do this for the sinner’s own good, hoping it will bring shame on them, and they will repent (2 Thess 3:14). This is really a loving thing to do even though it is a hurtful and sorrowful act for all people involved. The church is given strict orders to withdraw and not associate with a wayward brother or sister (1 Cor 5:13).
However, the immediate family doesn’t have the same “black and white” guidelines. In fact, we see that in some scenarios, the family is commanded to do the opposite – as in the case of an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:13). Sometimes the family has a greater influence by still associating with the wayward Christian… in other cases, the family finds the best way to help the sinning loved one is to separate themselves. When dealing with immediate family, there are wisdom and judgment calls involved.
It is important to note that when a Christian turns back to a life of sin, the church is supposed to separate themselves from them… but that command only applies to wayward Christians. The apostle Paul specifically tells us that we should try to draw near and affect the lives of sinners that haven’t ever obeyed the gospel (1 Cor 5:9-10). Christians should seek to be lights in the world and examples to those who have never known Christ.
There are some things that I can't comprehend. I'm having to watch my mom slowly die of cancer. Why would a loving God put my family through this? If God is so great and powerful, why won't He heal her? She is the only parent my siblings and I have ever had. Please help me to make sense of it all.
Child In Distress
Dear Child In Distress,
Life here on this planet is full of heartaches, and we here at AYP cannot imagine how devastated you are right now. This world is full of all sorts of disease, pain, violence, and strife – but God didn’t cause those things, sin did. All bad things are a result of sin. When God made the world, He placed mankind in the Garden of Eden and gave us a joyously blissful existence in that paradise. Who caused the pain? We did. It is sin that has brought all of the death, disease, decay, pain, suffering, troubles, and heartaches into our world. We all, in varying degrees, are reaping the benefits of a world with sin in it. Sickness is a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. One of the curses of their sin was that we all must face our own mortality – life is finite. Sickness, disease, and pain are a part of the human existence. Sadly, this is true even for our children. When God gave us freewill, He gave us the right to cause problems for ourselves and others, and if He simply removed all the consequences for our actions, He would be removing our freedoms as well.
Sometimes bad things simply happen because they happen. Job suffered greatly, and his children died, but it wasn’t his (or their) fault. Job hadn’t done anything wrong, nor had his kids. It all happened because Satan wanted to do evil (Job 1:6). As long as we live in this world of sin, there will be troubles. Sometimes, there isn’t anyone at fault… just time and chance wreaking havoc in a sinful world (Eccl 9:11).
Regardless of the reasons, your mother’s illness is devastating to you – and rightfully so. You have every right to be hurt, but don’t let that hurt cause you to turn your back on God who wants to save us all from this sinful world. After all, God gave His Son’s life for us – He knows how painful this is for you and knows exactly how to give you comfort through this dark hour.
My grandmother died this year; she was ninety-four years old. She had two daughters. In her will, she left the major portion of her estate to her younger daughter. When my grandfather was alive, they had a living trust; their estate was divided equally between the two daughters. My grandmother always favored her younger daughter and her family, and it was very noticeable to an outsider. When the reading of the will was done, it hurt my mother, making her feel even more unloved. My mother never did anything to deserve this. My mother is a God-fearing Christian and has always done the right thing. My aunt won't have a thing to do with my mother, which was another blow to my mother. What does God think of a woman who would cause so much pain?
Your question is a loaded one. Realistically, we all cause others pain, and every story has two sides to it. We won’t even begin to talk about the eternal fate of someone we’ve never even known. After hearing your perspective, we can’t imagine why anyone would behave like that, but that is always the way you feel when you only hear one side of a story (Pr 18:17).
Jesus was once asked by two men to settle a family dispute about money, and His answer was, “Who made Me a judge or divider over you?” (Lk 12:13-14). We would have to take the same tact – it isn’t our place to try and unravel family financial squabbles.
We are very sorry for your pain, and we are so sorry that your mother is hurting. The best advice we can give is to not focus on what others think of us and remember that if we serve the Lord, He will cause all to work together for good (Rom 8:28).
My wife’s grandmother passed away a few months ago. They were very close. My wife came from a Baptist family. When we met, I was able to show her the truth, and now she is a member of the Church; my heart was broken when she looked at me and asked me, "Is it wrong for me (my wife) to think my grandmother is in heaven?” I didn't know what to say. We both know what the Bible says, and we know that no matter what, what we would like to believe is irrelevant. The Bible still says we must be baptized. How can I answer a question my wife already knows the answer to? Does that make any sense? What would you recommend the best way to word this answer? It's much harder than I thought.
Dear Compassionate Husband,
Mourning is such a difficult process because grief isn’t logical; it is emotional. The fact is that you don’t have to give your wife an answer at this time; sometimes the best comfort is what Job’s friends provided him with – quiet companionship (Job 2:13). Sometimes all you need to say is, “I can’t imagine how much you are hurting at this time” and leave it at that.
However, if your wife looks for a more in-depth answer, God says that He finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek 33:11). That tells you that God will not send anyone to hell by accident, from spite, or out of malicious intent. Anyone who ends up in hell really, truly belongs there, and all those who are meant to be in heaven will be there. When your wife’s grandmother faces God on the Day of Judgment, God will make the right decision concerning her fate. There is some comfort in knowing that God will not make any mistakes.
When family members have passed, can they hear us or see us from heaven? Do they remember us?
Dear Still Here,
Within Hades, there are two areas where people wait for the final judgment. All of the faithful who die wait in the good part of Hades called ‘Paradise’ (2 Cor 12:4, Lk 23:43). All of the wicked who die wait in a part of Hades known only as ‘torments’ (Lk 16:23). We cannot say with entire certainty whether people can look down on the affairs of Earth while in Hades, but the story of the rich man and Lazarus implies that they can’t. When the rich man died, he was in the ‘torments’ of Hades. He then began to inquire about his brothers in a way that leads us to believe he couldn’t see what was going on in their lives (Lk 16:27-31). However, the rich man remembered remembered his brothers, even though he couldn’t see what they were doing.