Julia Ball is the wife to Andrew, mom to Levi and pastor to a group of amazing kids! She currently serves on staff as the Children’s & Families Pastor at Calvary Pentecostal Church in Clarenville, NL, Canada. She’s passionate about seeing all generations – but especially kids and their families – grow to understand the Gospel more and love Jesus more deeply.
In the last Theology Thursday post, we started a conversation about teaching kids about eternity. This daunting, but important topic, is one that often gets avoided with kids – but is so vital to a healthy Christian faith. Last week, we established that our kids’ understanding of eternity must be based on two truths:
1. What we know about eternity, we learn about through Jesus. Essentially, Jesus is the ‘firstfruit’ of resurrection, and through His resurrection, we can know more about eternity. It is because of Him that death is defeated!
2. Death is not the end. Kids must understand that this life is temporary, and there is a life that extends for eternity. While this won’t completely eliminate grief or questions, it will certainly give kids hope in the midst of it.
The question then remains – what does life after death look like?
As Christians, the historical and orthodox (accepted as true) belief is that after death, each of us will end up in one of two destinations – heaven or hell. Jesus will be the judge of who ends up where – and our lives in that destination will last forever. If you’re like me, at this point in the discussion I start to cringe. Do we really have to talk about this with our kids? Is it of any benefit?
My answer is yes. Here’s why:
- Understanding that we all don’t automatically go to heaven gives kids a greater understanding of what Jesus has done for us through his life, death and resurrection, and places a higher value on their relationship with Him. It’s not just a bonus or an addition to their lives – it is literally their salvation.
- Our world – secular and Christian – has somewhat of an obsession with the afterlife and supernatural. Movies like “Heaven is For Real” have been box-office hits, even amongst those who don’t claim to have faith in God. I believe this is because the Bible says “God has set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Whether you’re talking about it or not, your kid is going to hear someone’s beliefs somewhere about eternity – you want to ensure what they’re hearing is biblically accurate.
- While eternity – particularly judgement and hell – aren’t topics we like to talk about, they are clearly laid out in the Bible. While it’s important not to use them as scare tactics or threats, it’s also important to discuss them in order to paint an accurate picture of what the whole Bible teaches.
So how do we talk about this? What should we say? I think it’s important as with any conversation in theology, to start and end with Jesus. NEVER tell your kids that “good people go to heaven” & “bad people go to hell.” This is such a distortion of what the Bible teaches to be true about judgment and eternity.
What is true is that those who accept Jesus spend eternity in heaven with Him, and those who reject Him spend eternity away from Him in hell.
What is true is that God “is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9). He “wants everyone to be saved & to understand the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). He is not, as some have painted Him, sitting in the sky, eagerly awaiting judgment day. In fact, Scripture points an opposite picture – He is being patient, allowing time for as many as possible to come to accept the saving grace of Jesus.
What is also true is this all-loving God desires obedience and holiness – which we could never perfectly live out. Because of Jesus, a way has been made to be in right standing with Him. Choosing not to accept Jesus means we refuse this status, we refuse this relationship – and we reap the consequences for eternity.
These are the basics of what your kids should know about eternity. The questions they ask about “What is heaven like?” or “What is hell like?” are, like so many things, mysteries. The reality is (despite the claims of some popular authors) no one has ever been to heaven or hell and returned. All we know about it is what we’re told in the Bible.
We are given some basics – hell is a place of separation from God and punishment, and heaven is a beautiful place with no suffering or pain, where we are in God’s presence forever. Many of the other questions kids may ask – “are there pets in heaven?”, “what will we do there?”, “what does hell feel like?” or “what does it look like?” – aren’t clearly answered. The best we can do is make an educated guess.
In summary, as you approach this topic with your kids:
- Be sure never to use eternity or God’s judgment as a scare tactic. It is a part of the greater narrative of God’s story – and ultimately, it’s the final picture of God’s justice & love. Make sure you paint that picture for your kids.
- Always talk about heaven & hell in a developmentally appropriate way. Your toddlers probably need to know very little – just that heaven is a place where God is, while your tweens will have a lot more questions & be able to have deeper discussions.
- Make space for your kids to ask questions & find answers in the Bible. Where there are no answers, don’t make them up! Allow them to explore, think & ask the questions – but let them sit with the ones without clear answers.
- Use the doctrine of eternity to motivate your kids to a more vibrant relationship with Jesus! What an awesome reward awaits us! What a great gift of salvation we can be given! What a responsibility to share this good news with others.
- When you’re faced with death in your child’s circle of family and friends, navigate these topics in a sensitive way. Answer questions, talk about the hope the Bible provides – but also allow space for genuine grief and turmoil. These emotions are normal.
Having resources to navigate these questions either in your own family, or with a group of kids in your ministry, is vital. Here are some of my favourites:
- “What Should I Tell My Kids about Hell?” – Good Book Co.
- “Talking to Your Kids about Hell” – The Renewed Family
- Superbook’s Q&A Page for Kids on Heaven & Hell
- “Teaching Kids Heaven & Hell” – Tamera Kraft on churchleaders.com
- “Teaching Kids about Heaven” – Randy Alcorn at Focus on the Family
An original version of this article appeared on www.ministrymom.ca