thoughts on the passing of an unbeliever

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. –Psalm 23

Writer Derek Maul lives in North Carolina

Looking back, over half my “most-viewed” blog posts have been written in response to tragedy. There is something about loss and coming to terms with grief that demands deeper reflection. It’s not so much that we want to engage these questions, it’s more that we are compelled.

For my part I have no interest in dishing out easy answers or applying the thin veneer of pablum to anyone’s pain. But I do understand and frequently witness the amazing comfort of a vital faith community that surrounds people with the living presence of God’s active love; “Even though I walk through the darkest valley I know you are with me…”

What if I don’t believe?

Grief is a terrible burden to bear, but God’s active love is more than equal to it.

That said I also understand that all these experiences I write about have played out in the context of a belief system rooted in faith in God and following the teachings of Jesus. So what about people who face death somewhere other than under the umbrella of faith? Do I have anything to say to them?

  1. First, I think it’s important to realize that there does not need to be a sense of “outside.” God’s love is wide and deep and complete and stands as a constant invitation.
  2. Then – and this is critical – regardless of your belief or unbelief in God, God most certainly believes in you.

I have thought about this a lot and I think many people get it wrong when they categorically declare that non-believers will not get into heaven. I have heard Christianity presented as, “Do you know where you’re going when you die? Heaven… or HELL!” I have heard preachers at funerals telling the congregation “If you ever want to see your loved one again then accept Jesus as Lord and Savior right now!”

But that is not the message of Jesus. The message of Jesus is an invitation to respond to God’s saving grace by becoming a disciple and being conduits of God’s light and love day by day.

It’s up to God

If someone lives as a non-believer what happens after they die is between them and God. We have no idea what life after life will look like, but I do know this: nobody is going to be an atheist anymore, we’re all going to be a little more humble, and God will work things out.

  • Nobody is going to be an atheist anymore,
  • we’re all going to be a little more humble,
  • God will work things out.

My passion for sharing the Good News about Jesus is not about getting your ticket stamped for Heaven, it’s about inviting you into something wonderful now! I am one-hundred percent confident I will continue my walk with God in the next life, whatever that looks like, but that is not why I follow Jesus today.

To say, “Believe like me and say the right magic words, or else God will have no choice but to bar you from ‘heaven'” … that is the height of arrogance, and manipulation, and of misrepresenting the love and the sovereignty of Almighty God.

Your loved-one does not believe?

So your loved-one was not a believer? Maybe he/she was a wonderful, generous, kind, gracious person? Regardless, I am genuinely sorry they never understood or experienced the amazing grace of God and the (potentially) beautiful witness of Christ’s body, The Church.

  • Maybe it was because of broken religion that they chose not to believe?
  • Maybe it was the lives and the attitudes of “Christians” that pushed them away?
  • Likely Christians failed to be, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), or “letters from Jesus, read by everyone” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)
  • Maybe it was the cumulative hypocrisy of us all?

Whatever the reason, I am sorry for your loss and I am confident there is no-one qualified to speak to and for the future of your loved-one other than the Creator.

All I can do – all any of us can do who proclaim Christ – is to be a more gracious, generous, loving, encouraging, passionate, vibrant, light-soaked witness to God’s love today. Because that is why Jesus came, and why The Church is important, and why I will always invite anyone to begin that relationship to hope and promise today.

Right now.





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derekmaul View All →

Derek has published seven books in the past decade (you can find them at, and there’s always something new in the works.

Before becoming a full-time writer, Derek taught public school in Florida for eighteen years, including cutting-edge work with autistic children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and education from Stetson University and the University of West Florida.

Derek is active in teaching at his church: adult Sunday school, and a men’s Bible study/spiritual formation group. He enjoys the outdoors, traveling, photography, reading, cooking, playing guitar, and golf.

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