The statement, ‘may his or her soul rest in eternal peace’ (MHSREP) is one of the popular statements in our societies. It is used by everyone, even those who deny life after death. Granted, this is a comforting statement, especially when one has lost his or her beloved one. Despite the popularity of this statement, many people do not understand its meaning and implications. To restate this, allow me to put it in a question form: When you are saying ‘may his/her soul rest in eternal (forever) peace’, do you understand what you are saying and what you mean? And if you really understand what you mean by what you are saying, do you believe what you are saying?
There are a number of things that need to be discussed and clarified about this popular statement. With the goal of helping the reader to have a realistic (biblical) view of life after death and to live in the light of that reality, this article discusses four things concerning this popular statement (MHSREP Or RIP): 1) meaning of this statement; 2) implications of this statement; 3) correction of the misconceptions in the statement; and 4) conclusion and applications.
Analyzing the meaning of this statement
Rest here is in reference to the soul/spirit, not the body that decomposes in the grave. Clearly, this statement wishes the soul of a deceased person to be in a peaceful state somewhere. This is what it means! This is logically obvious because the person saying this does not mean to say that the soul/spirit of a dead person should rest in eternal peace in the grave or at the cemetery. However, if that is the case, there is no hope and comfort in that, and hence, the statement loses its intended meaning, which is to give comfort. But either way, how will a soul rest at the cemetery when it is left alone and in darkness? Clearly, the place where the soul can rest in eternal peace is neither in the grave nor in the graveyard. Thus, the implied meaning is a restful and better place that is beyond the grave.
Implications of this statement
While this statement may imply a lot of things to various people, let us consider four of those: Firstly, the statement implies that there is life after death. It indicates that after physical death (the separation of the body and the soul/spirit) the spirit continues to live forever. This is so, because for something to rest, it must be there living, especially when you compare it with the body which is now dead and not any more there. One needs to be there alive for him or her to rest in peace! This is a correct implication, for even the Word of God teaches so (Eccl. 12:7). Physical death is not the end of existence; rather, it is the passage from one mode of existence to another. Benware discussing the biblical view of death says, “When a person dies physically they do not cease to exist; rather, their body and soul experience separation” (p.346). Scripture says it is appointed for a man to die once and after that to face God’s judgment (Heb. 9:27). Second Corinthians 5:10 also says that after physical death “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one of us may receive what is due for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad”. This truth that man continues to exist in another conscious mode after death is well demonstrated in the story of the wicked rich man and the righteous poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Thus, it is true that there is life after death.
Secondly, the statement implies that there is a resting or agonizing of the soul/spirit after death. If there was only one option, then there will be no need for wishing for another (resting in peace). Again that implication is correct too. Truly, after physical death, there is eternal resting of soul for some people in heaven (Kings. 2:20; 1 Thessalonians. 4:13; Philippians. 1:21–23; 2 Corinthians. 5:6–8), and eternal agonizing (torment) for others in the place of torment, namely, hell, which leads to the eternal lake of fire (Luke 16:19-31; Matt. 5:22; 11:23; 23:33; 25:41; Rev. 20:11-15; 21: 6-8). However, some argue that in wishing one to rest in peace, they are referring to a deceased leaving this earth (place of many sorrows and pains). Even in this case resting in peace is only possible if the dead is going to the place of rest, not when he/she is going to hell.
Thirdly, the statement implies that the soul will live eternally (forever). This implied idea affirms the teaching of Scripture. Scripture teaches that those who are saved will live in paradise with the Lord, then in the new creation forever (2 Cor. 5:4-8; Phil. 1:21-23; Rev. 21:1-8); while the unsaved will go in hell and then in the lake of fire where they will be forever (Luke 16:19-28; Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:11-15). So, physical death is not the end of existence, man will live forever.
Fourthly, since two opposing views cannot be both right, by affirming the biblical view of death in the statement (MHSREP), by implication, logically that nullifies (cancels out) all other unbiblical claims that are believed, including the following five: 1. Soul sleeping – the claim that after physical death the soul of the deceased sleeps unconsciously at the cemetery, waiting for the day of resurrection. Eternal peace is not in the grave yard. An unconscious soul cannot experience resting in peace. 2. Annihilation – the claim that the unsaved will not exist forever because in judgment, they will be burned completely and cease to exist (Benware, 2006, pp. 356-357). In addition, the biblical view also nullifies the claim that physical death is the end of existence, for what is destroyed or ceased to exist cannot experience eternal rest or eternal punishment. 3. Reincarnation – the claim that a dead person can be rebirthed as another person or as something else (Curriculum Development Centre, 2008, pp.183-184). 4. The African Traditional Religions claim of ancestral spirit – the view that when a person dies, he/she turns into a spirit that sticks around the cemetery, or somewhere in the community for some time, and then later goes to join the ancestral spirits in the forest or somewhere in the spiritual world/realms as a mediator between “gods” or spirits and men (Mbiti, 1967, p. 25). The truthful Word of God teaches that after physical death, man faces God’s judgment; after judgment you either go to heaven or to hell (Heb. 9:27). There are no other destinations apart from those two. Thus “ghost/haunting spirit” cannot be the spirit of the dead; they might be demons impersonating the dead. 5. Purgatory – the claim that dead sinners go to a place of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are paying the price for their sin through temporary suffering before going to heaven. Biblically, as we have seen earlier, after physical death, the person either goes to heaven, or he/she goes to hell (Luke. 16:19-31; 23:43; 1 Cor. 5:6-8). There is no place for repentance after death; there is no such a thing as purgatory; all what is there for the unsaved sinners is the lake of fire (Matt. 25: 41; Rev. 20:11-15; 21:8).
Correcting the Misconceptions in this statement
There are many misconceptions about this statement, for many who use it do not even understand what this statement means. Among those misconceptions, here are two:
Firstly,this statement does not determine one’s eternal destiny. Many people think thatwishing someone to rest in peace is what makes that person to rest in peace. This is a false belief. Saying, ‘may her soul rest in peace’ is not what makes one to rest in eternal peace. In order to rest in peace after physical death, one must be saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:1–18; 2 Cor. 5:9, 10, 19–21; Matt. 11:28–30) while he/she is physically alive.
In order to rest in eternal peace, you and I need to reconcile with God because our sins have separated us with the most holy God (Isaiah 59:1-3). Remember all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Roman 3:23). All descendants of Adam and Eve have sinned in Adam. They are also condemned and separated from God through Adam (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12). In addition to that, you and I have sinned and do sin in our thoughts, speech, action, attitude and in motives, and our conscious bears witness to that (Rom. 1:18-32; 3:9-23; Mark 7:21-23). Since we are sinners, and God is holy and just, we deserve to die and go to hell, for the wage of sin is death (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:2-3), for the righteous God rightly punishes sin without favoritism (Rom. 2:1-16). Since all people are born sinners (born with indwelling sin) and because they have all sinned, all people are guilty before God, and they therefore need to reconcile with God through the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9-21). If you die without being saved God, no matter how many people will say ‘may your soul rest in eternal peace’, you will still go to hell!
What brings salvation, and hope for resting in eternal peace is repentance from sin and trusting in the person of Jesus Christ and in His sufficient saving accomplished work. Whoever believes Jesus Christ will be saved (John 3:16-18). Whoever does not believe Jesus Christ will suffer in hell forever (John 3:18, 35-36). Those who will rest in peacefully are those who are truly saved (Matt. 11:28-30; Rom. 5:1-11). Of course salvation belongs to the Lord; it is God who elects, predestines, calls, justifies, sanctifies and glorifies through Christ (Eph. 1:3-14); thus “even the elects who die as infants are still saved by grace through Christ” (Mwalimu, 2013, p. 12). However, all who reject God and the gospel will suffer in eternal fire (Rom. 1:18; 2 Thess. 1:8–9). Are you saved; are you reconciled with God? Examine yourself in the light of the Scriptures to see whether you are truly saved. The man who claims to be a Christian but continues to delight and pursue sin like a nonbeliever is not truly saved (1 John 3:4-10). The point is this: In order to rest in peace, you must be saved through the Lord Jesus Christ while you are still alive (1 John 5:11–12). Eternal peace and rest begins here on earth (Matt. 11:28-30; Heb. 4:1–11). No resting in eternal peace without salvation. For detailed information on the way of salvation click the link (https://gracetothenation.blog/2019/03/11/a-biblical-understanding-of-salvation/) and read the article by Kwatuota Katenda entitled, “Biblical Understanding of Salvation”.
Secondly, this popular statement is not the most comforting statement you can use to comfort someone. If you understand and believe that wishing someone to rest in peace is not the determinant of his/her destiny, you then understand that such a wish is not always comforting. In fact, often it is an unrealistic wish. If the person has died without salvation, even if you wish him/her eternal peace he/she will still be in eternal agony. Careless use of this statement can mislead and deceive those who are listening, especially nonbelievers.
Conclusions and applications
Having analyzed the meaning, clarified the implications, and corrected the misconceptions, how should the correct understanding of this statement affect us? Here are the three conclusions and points of application:
First,we must ensure that we have repented and believed the gospel before we die. People who will rest in eternal peace are only those that have found rest and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you have Jesus Christ? You might have a church were you attend, you might have been baptized, confirmed, etc., you might have a Bible, you might be a church leader, or maybe you are child of a Christian, but if you do not have Jesus Christ, if you have not repented and believed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, you have no eternal life; you are still in your sins; and if you die in your sins there will be no eternal life and rest for you (1 John 5:11–12).
No matter how many people will show up at your funeral and say, ‘may his/her soul rest in peace’, if you die without salvation with God, you will go to hell. There is no resting in peace while you are at enmity with God (John. 3:18, 36). Remember you can die anytime, seek the Lord while he is to be found (Isaiah 55:6-8); if you seek and find salvation while you are still alive, then in that day when others will say, ‘MHSREP’, they will not be saying empty words. Come to Jesus make no delay; before you die, reconcile with God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). And even if you are to live for some more years, months or days, why do you want to continue living life as an enemy of God and the friend of the devil? Why do you want to continue multiplying your sins and provoking the wrath of God? Why? Why do you want to continue wallowing in sin like a maggot in the garbage, or like pig in the mud?
Second, we believers must live by the gospel.To those of us who are saved, we must live according to what we profess. We must pray for the salvation of others, and share the gospel with them; we must preach the gospel to them. Saving faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:9-17). We must live out the gospel that we preach; do what you tell others to do! We are the ambassadors of Jesus Christ; while we are waiting for the blessed return of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of God and by the enablement of God the Holy Spirit let us continue living for Christ, for the glory of God and for the salvation of the souls (2 Cor. 5:14–21; 1 Peter. 4:7-11). We must reach out to the people who are in our circle of influence (friends, family, neighbors, workmates and schoolmates, visitors, strangers) and others who are afar. Do not just seats idle until one is died then you come wish him or her ‘rest in peace’.
Third, we believers must be renewed in our minds, and help others to be renewed in their minds. We cannot claim to have believed the biblical truth and still cling to unbiblical views of death. Acting that way is hypocrisy. E.g. we cannot claim to believe that dead people either go to heaven or to hell and still believe that “ghosts” in our communities are the spirits of the dead. That is illogical. We must have (know and believe) a biblical view of death – physical death (Eccl. 12:7), spiritual death (Eph. 2:1-3), and eternal death (Rev. 20:11-15).
Since two opposing views cannot be both correct, thus affirming biblical view of death nullifies all unbiblical views of death. We either believe the biblical view (God’s truth) of death and of life after death or we believe men’s views and opinions of death. A Christian is one who believes and lives by the teaching of the Scriptures. Therefore, we must allow the Scripture (the Bible) to renew our thinking (2 Tim. 3:15-17). We cannot live biblically if we are not thinking biblically; and we cannot think biblically if our minds are not renewed by the Scriptures. We must study, obey and teach God’s Word. This should include helping others to have a biblical understanding of the statement, ‘may his/her soul rest in eternal peace’ and its implications. Finally, having a biblical view of death should help us not to fear physical death, but rather it should help us to get ready for physical death (2 Cor. 5:9-10). It should also comfort us, for when a believer dies we will not be sorrowful like nonbelievers who do not have hope (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Benware, P. N. (2011). Understanding end times prophecy. Moody Publisher, Chicago.
Curriculum Development Centre. (2008). Teachers’ handbook for Christian religious education. Chingola , Zambia
Mbiti, S. J. (1967). African Religions and philosophy. 2nd Ed. Heinemann
Mwalimu, J. (2013, January-March). The reformers’ and puritans perspective of death. Reformation Zambia, 027.