Longtime Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis died Saturday, Oct. 8 at the age of 82. After winning a close game against the Houston Texans on Sunday, Oakland coach Hue Jackson was reported by NPR as saying, “We truly, honestly believed that coach was here with us today. I believe that wholeheartedly. I know he’s looking down on this team and he’s with us every step of the way.”
It is understandable that in an emotional moment people will say all kinds of things. Yet, what are people to make of the coach’s comments about the afterlife? Is this really how the afterlife works? If one was an NFL owner, the first task beyond the grave is to stick around and help one’s team win?
Is this how it will work with Steve Jobs as well? Is his first order of post-mortem business to assist in making the iPhone 5 Apple’s greatest achievement?
Christians have different theological views when it comes to who will make it into heaven as discussed in a previous article on knotmove.com. However, the belief that ancestors and loved ones hang around to help people succeed in their own life is more folk religion than Christianity.
These sorts of things are often said at funerals or during significant moments in life. There is a something inside everyone that wants to believe a loved one isn’t fully gone yet. Everyone wants to believe that they linger, floating somewhere between heaven and earth.
Though a Christian may want to believe this, a follower of Jesus must own up to the Christian worldview even in these moments of grief.
The common Christian belief, taken from 2 Corinthians 5, is that when a person dies, they are absent from their body and present with the Lord. The end of physical life means the beginning of eternity. This means that upon their deaths, Al Davis and Steve Jobs stood before the living God.
One can only speculate about what happened after that encounter. They likely did what everyone will do when standing before God one day. They bowed down with their knees to the ground.
Christians disagree with each other about whether there is a temporary judgment immediately upon death or a final judgment sometime in the future, or both. However, no Christian belief system includes NFL owners floating around like Casper the Friendly Ghost in the end zone helping their old team win the game. This also means there’s no Christian belief system that includes loved ones sticking around to help us pass a test or hit a home run.
Next time someone says their deceased loved one was “right there with us,” and they mean it literally, one can be sure that they are not espousing a Christian belief. Instead, they are articulating a kind of folklore born of civil religion that is called upon most in the arenas of sports psychology and mortuary science.