This post will reveal my evangelical tendencies.
Language is no longer important. Sentences have lost meaning because we speak not from convictions but convenience. As products of this world - globally and instantly connected - we soften our speech and reveal our innate desire to be people pleasers.
There is one particular phrase, which I am guilty of using, that bothers me. I believe we use this phrase to mask the harsh reality/truth of our convictions. In some sense, we use it because we are embarrassed by its alternative. The phrase "Rest in Peace" is an affront to the Gospel as given to us.
When both Steve Jobs and Christopher Hitchens died, my Twitter feed was filled with somber requests for these individuals to "rest in peace." The author of these posts were both believers and nonbelievers. I would expect this sort of language from nonbelievers (or at least from those that affirm a peaceful afterlife for all). However, I am appalled that Christians resort to using such patronizing language. This is particularly true in the case of Christopher Hitchens' death. Here is a man who vehemently denied any tenets of religion. Here's a man who denied any form of afterlife. For Hitchens, as far as I understand, afterlife meant decomposition - that's it. Yet, we as Christians, pathetically ask him to "rest in peace," as if that was really an option.
Perhaps I am being too harsh; however, language reveals who we are. Granted, I am guilty of misusing language, and it's only through sanctification that I've come to curb some of these tendencies. God, through his revealed word, reminds us the power of our words (see 1 Timothy 4:12, 1 Peter 3:10, 1 Peter 4:11). What we say should reveal the truths we hold. "Rest in Peace" is offensive because it is unbiblical and an affront to the gospel.
Scripture does not seem to advocate peaceful existence after life for nonbelievers. This may not be true if you are a universalist or you deny the doctrine of Hell. In Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. There is no sense of peace for the rich man. He seems to be standing in judgement. Lazarus, on the other hand, is standing beside Abraham. He truly seems to be at peace (this is not always the case for every believer, see Revelation 6:9).
If we affirm the doctrine of Hell and the judgement of those who reject the gospel, then how can we say "Rest in Peace." This is a contradiction to the very thing we hold so dear. It is far more appropriate to say, "My condolences to his family."
With much love,