RIP Kobe

When I got home from church on Sunday, I sat down and turned on my phone. Facebook was blowing up. Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, was dead. Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13, together with seven other people were killed in a helicopter crash on their way to his daughter’s basketball game near Los Angeles.

Beginning Sunday afternoon and into the night, Kobe’s death dominated the news cycle and social media. Tens of thousands of people posted the same simple phrase on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

RIP Kobe.

That’s what we write – that’s what we say when somebody dies, right? RIP. Rest in Peace.

Originally from the Latin requiescat in pace, the initials RIP have been used on tombstones for centuries. The phrase is a prayer or wish that the soul of the person may now rest in peace after death.

The phrase flows from a fear that the person may not rest in peace. Many cultures believe that tormented souls remain here on earth if they have unfinished business or have committed wrongs which do not allow them to rest in peace.

Some Christians believe that after death, souls must go through a time of suffering and purification – paying for their sins – before they can enter the rest and glory of heaven. In fact, many Christians pray for the souls of the dead, asking God to spare them from suffering and to allow their souls to finally rest in peace.

The truth, however, is that, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). When a person dies, their soul and body separate and the soul goes before God for judgment. Though we all deserve God’s punishment for our failings and fallings in this life, those who die believing in Jesus are forgiven and given the gift of heaven. Those who do not believe in him, however, are condemned to an eternity in the torment of hell (Mark 16:16).

God’s judgment is final. There is no changing places (Luke 16:26). When a person has died, no prayer or wish or request on our part can change their eternal situation. By then it is too late.

Though I understand the love, respect and sorrow expressed when people say or write RIP, there are better ways in which we as Christians can express our condolences.

Some experts believe the phrase RIP can be traced back to another Latin phrase found in the catacombs of early Christians: dormit in pace – literally, “He sleeps in peace.” Instead of a wish or prayer, it is a statement of fact.

Those who die in Christ are now resting from the pains and problems of this world in the glory and happiness of heaven.

I did not know Kobe Bryant personally. Though he experienced embarrassingly public moral failings, he also was a professing Christian. Raised in the Catholic Church, Kobe continued to attend church as an adult and especially turned to God after scandal rocked his career.

Kobe took his daughters to church. There they heard about God’s love and about their Savior Jesus who lived and died for them. I cannot look into his heart, but there is nothing to make me doubt his faith in Jesus.

And that’s why I don’t have to wish or pray that Kobe Bryant rest in peace. It wouldn’t change anything even if I did. What I can do is pray for his family and all who are sad in this hour. What I can do is share with them a simple truth.

All those who die in Christ rest in the peace and happiness of heaven.