Here lies a terrible man

Published 12:22 am Saturday, September 21, 2013

By Rev. Chris Surber

I want my tombstone to say simply this: “Here lies a terrible man that Jesus was barely able to use.”

That seems just about properly fitting. Ever since I became a Christian, God has pretty much had to drag me kicking and screaming out of my comfort zones, out of my pride, out of my preferences and into His will.

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I’ve never come to Him with a great idea to bring glory to Him, but I have sure asked for His blessing hundreds of times on things that were entirely about me.

I’ve never seen a tombstone like that. You know — an honest one. Recalling the eulogies I’ve given or heard, I’m amazed how everyone who dies has always been so good.

I’ve yet to hear someone stand up in a church and declare, “Ol’ So-and-So was a liar, a cheat, a rotten scoundrel, and you know what? I’m not going to miss him at all!”

Of course, at funerals and on tombstones it simply would be in poor taste not to emphasize the good a person had done in their life over the bad they had done.

At least, that’s what our social expectations tell us. We tend not to speak ill of the dead, even if the dead person was an odious jerk.

But what concerns me more than what we say of others is what we think of ourselves, and this is especially true for Christians. Inherent to the Christian way is a death to self in the recognition that we can’t possibly please God because of our own sinfulness and ethical and moral inadequacy.

In distinctly biblical and historically Christian terms, there is no such thing as a great man or woman of God. There is only a great God who chooses to work through woefully imperfect people.

At the end of our days are we more likely to request a monument to our goodness or insist that we would have been blessed even to have been able to do something good because of God’s goodness working in us?

In Luke, chapter 18, Jesus tells the story of a tax collector and Pharisee praying near one another. The corrupt tax collector begs God for mercy, knowing he is a sinner. The religious leader thanks God that he is a good man, who has not ruined his life like the tax collector.

“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Christian, are you a good person like the Pharisee or are you an honest person like the tax collector? Does your sense of worth come from considering yourself less imperfect than other imperfect people, or do you trust alone in a great God? What do you think belongs on your tombstone?

I know what belongs on mine: “To God, alone, be the glory, because Chris deserves none of it.”

Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at