A dead man’s reputation

Published 9:50 pm Friday, July 6, 2012

A memorable church sign read, “Live out what you say you believe so that your pastor doesn’t have to lie at your funeral.” I have officiated over many funerals of vastly different kinds of people. Those words caused me to laugh out loud as I drove past the sign.

To my knowledge, I have never overtly lied while speaking at any funeral. However, I have found a better way to say,“Everybody that knew Larry knew him to be a swindling businessman, an untrustworthy friend, and a real hypocrite in his religious life.”

It is simply in poor taste and bad form to speak ill of those who have passed from this life, especially while talking to their bereaved family and friends.

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Nevertheless, it has often occurred to me that death cannot undo what was done in life. The act of dying doesn’t loosen all of the knots that we tied in living. Sometimes friends, family members, and the pastor of a person who has died have a real dilemma when it comes to being both honest and reverent in their choice of words at a funeral.

I love what Albert Einstein said with regard to seeking and telling the truth. “If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.” That advice is simpler to give than to follow when crafting a tailored eulogy or a sermon for many a man’s funeral.

Oh, and the tailor surely is at work in the service. Very often it is the case that the fine, unmoving tuxedo adorning the cold body of a man in a casket is finer than any suit that ever swished whilst the man walked through his life. How many a man has traded in a lifetime of overalls and muddy boots for an eternity in a fine suit he never would have willingly worn in life?

No matter how differently dressed or eloquently eulogized a man may be in death, no amount of alteration of his wardrobe or beatification of his reputation can amend the life that he lived or the legacy he earned. The reputation that we have after living is the consequence of the life that we lived; no matter how well tailored the words at our funeral may be.

In Ecclesiastes 10:1 the Bible says that “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.” (KJV)

In other words, dead flies bathing in perfume spoil its scent in the same way that foolish living spoils the reputation of a man otherwise known for wisdom and worthy of honor.

Death will visit all who live. Our reputation in death is entirely dependent upon our choices in life. Choose to live like a dead man’s reputation depends upon it, because it does.