The music world mourned as the announcement came out that David Bowie succumbed to cancer at the age of 69. Regardless of whether you liked him or not, one can hardly argue the influence he had over pop music for the last 40+ years. In fact, one of my favorite artists, Steve Taylor, tweeted this:
It's the I.O.U. part that shows Bowie's influence, but it's the R.I.P. part I want to talk about. We all know the standard response of "Rest in Peace" when someone dies. It actually comes from the Latin phrase "requiescat in pace", which of course means the same thing. It's found on tombstones, etc. It expresses a desire that the recently departed would actually find peace in the life to come.
But is it legitimate for Christian people to offer the epitaph to those who by their lives demonstrate no relationship with Christ at all? I mean, according to Scripture, there is no rest apart from Christ. God has made it quite clear that all are by nature objects of His wrath, that our inborn sin will literally keep us from entering His rest, and will earn for us nothing but judgment in the world to come...unless we come to Christ.
God has promised His wrath on sinful men, but in His mercy and grace He has also sent His Son to experience that wrath in our place, to suffer judgment in our place, to give us instead forgiveness, and salvation, and yes, peace in His rest. But that only comes through Christ. It only comes through faith. It only comes through a new birth by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.
So then, if we see someone leave this world and enter into eternity, someone who has lived a life which gives no evidence of any faith in Christ; a life that has actually been anti-Christ in so many ways; a life bereft of any fruit that would lead us to believe a new birth has happened; is it legitimate to offer the epitaph "R.I.P."? Knowing that apart from Christ, there is no rest or peace, can we just smile and say "R.I.P" to those whose future contains nothing of the sort?
I guess we could say we're offering it in hope. We are hoping and praying that somehow maybe this person did find that faith in Christ. We are hoping and praying that they truly will rest in peace. Or I guess that we could just say "it's just a saying" and let it go. R.I.P. is just the standard response to death, and it has no meaning at all. Maybe.
I'm probably making way too big a deal about this, but the idea of hoping for someone to truly rest in peace is a serious one. It should make us consider the eternal. Facing mortality should cause us to consider immortality. The end of this flesh should cause us to consider what comes after. Because there is an "after." And that "after" will include either resting in peace, or suffering in wrath. Only Christ can make the difference. So please, if you've considered these things before, you need to now. When it comes time to offer epitaphs, it's too late. Seek Christ today.
It's not my place, ultimately, to judge David Bowie's eternal state, or anyone else's. In fact, the following video brings up some very interesting questions regarding some possible late life changes in Mr. Bowie's life. Regardless, you and I should be concerned with our own destiny. If you have questions, follow the link at the end of the video, or feel free to contact me through the comments.