Like most with gray hair, I spend most mornings reading the newspaper over a cup of coffee. Yes, an actual newspaper tossed in my driveway. News I must unwrap, not turn on, scroll through, or scan. There is something nostalgic about catching up to yesterday’s news, and washing the black residue from your fingertips. Although, a Keurig microbrewed my coffee so I’m selectively old-fashioned.
One reason I appreciate an actual newspaper is the obituaries. In fact, if I didn’t read an actual newspaper I wouldn’t regularly read obituaries. We can certainly read obits online, but I dare say many of us scroll through them. We typically read online only specific obituaries of those we know.
So, reading the newspaper requires I at least see the obituary page(s). I can’t not visit them.
Here are nine (overlapping) ways I benefit from reading obituaries. I hope you will benefit as well.
(1) Obviously, someone I know might have died recently. Perhaps it’s an occasion to send a note of grace and sympathy. It’s definitely an occasion to pray that Jesus draw near the family with gospel grace, conviction and hope.
(2) You will be reading my obituary sooner than I expected. Jesus said, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Lk. 6.31). I want you to read my obituary, so I’ll read yours!
(3) Obituaries keep us close to death. And there is wisdom in staying close to and keenly aware of death.
“So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90.12).
Reading obituaries, strolling through cemeteries, and attending funerals remind us we are “a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jas 4.14). Regular doses of our brevity enrich the days we number. Whatever time we have left, it’s one day less than yesterday. Yesterdays add up quickly so make today count. How will the world summarize your life?
(4) Obituaries serve the dignity of the imago Dei. Whether or not I know the deceased, they were made as much in God’s image as I am. Everything dies in this world but not with equal dignity. Persons, made in God’s image, deserve noteworthy deaths fitting for newspaper columns.
Reading obituaries transports us to the caves of Bethany where Jesus stood before his friend’s tomb. He wept because something terribly grievous had happened (Jn 11.35). The world he created, and then entered, was ruined. There he was: the Life and Light of men standing before the death and darkness of his friend.
Obituaries remind us of the harsh reality of sin. Not in general or abstract, but in its most personal form. Sin and Satan are not categories of the mind or merely afflict plants, animals and weather. They are murderers of people–the crown jewel of God’s creation (cf. Rom 8.20-22).
Sin has really ravaged us. There are obituaries for the 110-year-old and the 10-month old. Folks my age just died as well as children the same age as mine. Death respects no one or any time.
Therefore, we all deserve to be cried over. We all deserve to be mourned, remembered and paid attention to in life and in death.
(5) Obituaries celebrate the uniqueness of us all. They are mini-biographies of the most fascinating subjects. People in your town, in your neighborhood, on your street have lived truly remarkable lives. While we obsess over celebrities, our neighbors are the stars.
(6) Obituaries remind us we’re not all that unique. While we won’t know most obituaries personally, we know them in the most important sense. We all live different chapters of the same story. And all our stories end with a eulogy. The details change but we all know what it means to work, play, achieve, influence, aspire and inspire. We know what it means to love and be loved. We all face the reality of leaving it all whatever that “all” is.
(7) Obituaries provide the grace of sympathy (syn patho: to suffer with). We spend most days avoiding pain and amusing ourselves to death. We try to avoid pain through entertainment, addiction and superficialities. But a life without sympathy is no life at all. Obituaries bring sobriety to our silliness. So while we entertain ourselves today, others are burying friends or family.
(8) For Christians, what happens to one brother or sisters happens to all of us.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom 12.15).
“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Heb 13.3).
The Christian life isn’t all about my personal relationship with Jesus. It’s not all (or is rarely) hand-clapping, arm-waving, foot-tapping exuberance. We may feel “blessed and highly favored” but other brothers and sisters are fumbling their way through death. And their pain is our pain. It takes the church to rejoice in the morning and mourn in the afternoon. We take the death of any one of us to be sorrowful in some sense for all of us.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His godly ones” (Ps 116.15).
If obituaries are precious to God then they are precious to his children, too.
(9) For Christians, Christ-centered obituaries invigorate faith and work.
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor 15.56-58).
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12.1-3).
Reading the obituary of a faithful Christian helps us endure well. We are encouraged by a race well run, a fight well fought, a death full of hope. Now they are part of the witness cloud and we are compelled to finish well in faith ourselves, treasuring Christ until the end. By God’s grace, they did it and so can we. Their obituary invites us to the gospel and the gospel motivates us to labor heartily for Jesus.
Whatever the reasons, reading obituaries has a humbling affect. It’s worth walking to the end of my driveway for it. Perhaps I’ll see you at the end of yours tomorrow.