We say of the dead that he “was” a good person. Or that he “loved” something. Or that we will never forget him. The terms we use are designed to comfort us in our loss. Everyone who suffers the loss of a loved one needs comfort. And comfort shouldn’t be denied. But consider what referring to the dead in the past tense does to our spiritual perceptions.
When we refer to the Christian in the past tense we increase our sense of loss since that person is no longer with us. Yet, we may be denying his true state. He is enjoying the pleasures of a life in Heaven with Jesus. So when we refer to a believer who has died, perhaps we should say, “He is so compassionate,” because now he’s simply compassionate in another place. Perhaps we should say, “He is so talented,” because he’s exercising his talents in another place. Perhaps we should say, “He is a man of integrity,” because he is expressing his integrity in another place. I think we can find a hint of this in Jesus words to the Sadducees when he said, “He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him” ( Luke 20:38).
For the person who dies without the security of a relationship with Jesus, the situation is much different and our use of the past tense actually comforts us and shields us from the reality of what is faced.
When we refer to the unbeliever in the past tense we reduce our sense of loss by almost thinking in terms that he no longer exists, that he has gone into nothingness—he no longer suffers the pains and ills of this life. But the one who rejects Jesus doesn’t enter nothingness and he isn’t free from pain. He enters a realm of punishment, pain, and regret from which he can never escape. The death died without Chris is a true death indeed. We should remind ourselves of this and let it motivate us not to allow our loved ones to enter eternity without hearing about the true hope for eternity that is found in Jesus.