I see it all over Facebook and Twitter each time someone famous dies. In recent weeks two well-known Christian authors passed away (Brennan Manning and Dallas Willard) and I saw countless comments using the phrase. I hear it after someone at church passes. I heard it many, many times after my grandpa passed away: “May he rest in peace.”
RIP. Rest in peace.
It’s a common cultural thing to say “rest in peace” to the dead as a way of saying goodbye. I honestly don’t even think we know what it means, it’s just commonplace so people say it. And honestly, I’d like to see it go away.
Is it a declarative statement? Are we saying it as a hopeful wish? Are we worried they may not be at peace?
(For those curious, the phrase originates from Latin and is often used as prayer for the deceased that God would grant them peace)
What the cultural acceptance of the phrase shows is a lack of clarity regarding death. I have two main struggles with this phrase:
First, we don’t really understand death, and we don’t know what to say when someone dies, so we just say what everyone else has said: RIP. It’s easier to be a parrot than it is to consider what our words actually mean.
From the perspective of someone who does not believe in Jesus this makes total sense. They aren’t sure about the eternal destiny of the deceased. They lack any sort of clarity regarding what the next step of the person will look like. Heaven? Hell? Some type of of reincarnation? Who knows.
But I don’t approach the subject of death from a “who knows” perspective. I don’t have fear about the death of my grandpa and many other friends who have passed before him. I know where they are. I know they are at peace. I know they are with the One they always wanted to be with.
Second, the phrase “rest in peace” removes us from the dead. I believe death is a communal event where the dead continue living through us. RIP is an isolating phrase that doesn’t invite the community support of friends and family into the grieving process with us.
You can offer others much hope in death without ever using the phrase “RIP.” Your words surrounding death have the power to bring so much life to the grieving. Don’t settle for a lazy phrase lacking meaning. Bring hope. Bring life.
Spend time thinking about death, because in seeing the end you are able to live in the present more faithfully.
Let’s do this. Let’s put an end to the common phrase, “rest in peace.”