Heaven on Earth?: Talking with Our Children about Death
“Is she going to die?” That’s what my boys wanted to know when we told them how sick their Bisabuela was. How do we answer that question and other questions about death that our children ask?
Talking about death is uncomfortable, isn’t it? As a culture, we don’t like to think about it. In fact, we avoid thinking about it. We exercise and eat “right” and take vitamins and supplements that promise us eternal youth, or at least a long life.
But eventually, we’re confronted with the reality of death. Maybe it’s the death of a grandparent. Maybe it’s the loss of a child. Maybe it’s a life-threatening illness. Whatever the circumstances, we come to a point where we can’t just ignore death. For ourselves and our children, we need to be ready to give biblical answers and gospel encouragement when the time comes.
So, what should we tell our children about death? In my experience, children want answers to three basic questions. Why do people have to die? Are you/am I going to die? What happens when we die? These can be hard questions to answer. The good news is that God has given us answers in the Bible.
Why do people have to die?
Children are right to ask this question. Why do we have to die? It doesn’t seem right. And it’s not. We weren’t created to suffer and die. As the Catechism for Young Children teaches us, we were created “holy and happy” and with “souls that could never die.” God made us to live with Him forever.
So, what happened? Why do we get sick and die? Genesis 3 tells us that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought sin and death into the perfect world God created. Because of their sin, Adam and Eve died, physically and spiritually. As their children, we’re born to die (Job 5:7). Apart from Christ, we’re spiritually dead and physically our bodies will one day die.
Not a cheery thought and answering this question usually brings the next question to mind.
Are you/am I going to die?
When children become aware of death, they become aware that you, a fixture of their world, may die. Or they may realize that they too will die. It’s a scary thought. And it’s tempting to reassure our children by telling them not to worry or that we won’t die for a long, long time. Certainly, we should encourage our children not to worry, but we don’t know the future. As Scripture says, “Man does not know his time,” (Eccl. 9:12, NASB).
We don’t need to be morbid or morose. But it’s right to tell our children that while we don’t have any reason to expect to die soon, only God knows the future. The encouragement for us and for our children is knowing that God, who is good and loving, is not surprised by anything. Everything that happens is in His hands, including our lives, and God will take care of us. No matter what.
What happens when we die?
Once we understand the reality and inevitability of death, we want to know what happens when we die. And it’s not just children who are wondering. Every culture, every religion, every person who has ever lived has asked this question. Different religions give different answers to what happens after death. But the only true answer is found in the Bible. It may not tell us everything we’d like to know about life after death, but it does tell us what we need to know.
Scripture teaches that there are two paths for the future. Those who believe in Christ and trust in Him for their salvation will live forever with God. Those who reject Christ will spend eternity in Hell (Matt. 25:31-46).
For believers, when we die, we go immediately to be with the Lord (Luke 23:43). There we await Jesus’s return when the dead will be raised (1 Thess. 4:13-18). After the judgment, believers will live forever with the Lord in the new heavens and new earth where there will be no more pain or sorrow or separation or sin or death (Rev. 21:1-5). This is the glorious hope and future we have as God’s children.
Our “only comfort in life and in death”
Death is a frightening thing and not just for children. Death is an enemy. It’s painful and sad. We are right to mourn when loved ones die. But we don’t grieve as those without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). We know the future. Jesus has won! He’s defeated death, and He will return and bring us home. In the meantime, He’s promised never to leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Nothing can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:38-39). And that’s the best news we have for ourselves and our children.
Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She has a BA in History from Texas A&M University. She is a member of a PCA church in the Houston area and the homeschooling mother of three boys.
 Heidelberg Catechism, question 1