Preparing Kids for the Reality of Death

August 17, 2023

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Today's question says, "My nine-year-old has expressed fear of death, of him dying, of me dying, so he won't have his mom anymore, et cetera. He's not a Christian. How do I comfort him in a biblical way?"


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast, where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "My nine-year-old has expressed fear of death, of him dying, of me dying, so he won't have his mom anymore, et cetera. He's not a Christian. How do I comfort him in a biblical way?" Great question and such an important one for us to cover with our children because we know that death is a reality and at some point in life our children are going to face the death of a loved one, whether it's us or someone else in their extended family or even one day when they die. And so death is just this reality that we need to make sure that we are preparing them for in a biblical way. So such an important question.

Before we dive down deep into answering that, I would ask that if you found the content of this podcast beneficial that you would consider liking and subscribing to make sure that you don't miss any future episodes and would also ask that you consider writing a review which helps more people discover this content so that we can equip more adults to get the kids in their care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter.

Now as we think through our children asking questions about death and also specifically expressing a fear of death, I think the first thing that we need to do in any situation where our children are asking questions is praise them for asking these questions. We want to make sure that we are developing a culture in our homes, in our churches, in our schools where kids feel safe asking questions. Because asking questions can be a really good thing. It's a really important thing that we need to do in order to learn.

So the first thing I would recommend for this parent to do, specifically I guess it's a mom, for this mom to do, is to praise your son for asking you these questions. Say, "oh buddy, that is such an important question to ask" or "those are such important questions to ask. I am so grateful that you came to me with those questions. Thank you so much." Just so that he knows that this is a safe topic to talk about and that you want to talk about these things with him.

The next thing that I recommend in this situation and in most other situations is to ask other questions, to get more information, to really diagnose why is he asking these questions? I have friends who have said over and over and over again that just stuck with me. The right answer to the wrong question is still the wrong answer. And so I've had friends who've said that to me over and over and over again, and it's really stuck with me. Wow, I need to ask further questions to diagnose what's going on here to make sure that I am answering actually the right questions.

So some questions that I would encourage you to ask him is "what is making you think about death?" You want to ask, "what is it that's making you think about death right now?" Is it the death of someone your family knows? Is it the death of someone in a friend's family? Did he see a movie or a TV show that dealt with death? Did a scary situation happen at school or something that's made him think about death? So finding out why is he thinking about death at this particular moment?

Then another good question to ask is "what makes you scared when you think about death?" Now, it sounds like in this conversation the son has already expressed specific fears about death of his own death, of his mom's death, of other people's death. But if that hasn't been answered yet, just ask what is it that scares you about this? And so I would encourage you just help him think through specific fears. If he cannot articulate them himself, he might be in a place where he can tell you exactly what scares him about death or he might not know. He might just have this overwhelming sense of fear about death, but not really be able to identify why is he scared of this?

So you can just help give some words to that to ask, are you scared of being alone? If someone that you love dies, are you specifically scared of me dying because you're scared that no one would be around to take care of you? Are you scared because you're not sure what happens when we die? So just ask specific questions to find out, okay, where is this fear stemming?

And then once you've asked some of those diagnostic questions, you can actually affirm that death is a scary thing. That we know from the biblical worldview that death is an enemy. That when God put Adam and Eve in the garden, the way he set things up was originally so that they would not die. That death as a result of the fall and death is a sad thing and it is a scary thing.

And I think this is something that we sometimes get wrong in the Christian community, that sometimes we jump so quickly to having a celebration of life ceremony or a homegoing ceremony. And while that is correct, while Scripture teaches that as Christians we do not grieve as those without hope, we are still called to grieve. That if we just move directly into the celebrating part, we're actually stuffing our grief down and not processing it in a biblical way.

Because according to Scripture, even though we do as Christians, we do have the hope of eternity. We mourn the fact that here on earth we have lost someone that we love and that this is a result of the fall that death is not a natural state. So just affirm for him that "you know what buddy? These fears make sense because death is a scary thing." And then root the conversation in Scripture. Because if we're just grounding anything that we're teaching our children just in ourselves, they're going to think, okay, this is what mommy believes, or this is what daddy believes, or this is what pastor so-and-so believes. Or this is what my teacher or misses or Mr so-and-so believes. We always want to root things in Scripture that yes, this is what I believe, but I believe it because this is what God has revealed in His word.

So a couple of passages that we can take our kids to. I think of the first one that's really important in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 in verse 26, Paul says, "the last enemy to be destroyed is death." And we can ask our kids, "what does this verse tell us about death?" This verse tells us that death is our enemy. Death is our enemy. So you know what these feelings that you have of being scared of death, of feeling like you don't want death to happen, you know what these feelings that you have are part of being created in God's image. Because you are created in God's image, you know that death is an enemy. And you know what? Even though we know that Jesus has defeated death right now, death is still our enemy. That we are waiting for Jesus to return and completely destroy death forever, that Jesus has had the first victory over death in that he died and rose again, but he has not yet forever defeated death that we are waiting for him to come back a second time and defeat that final enemy once and for all.

Another passage that I think is really important for us to take our kids to in this conversation is Hebrews chapter 2 verses 14 and 15, and those verses read "since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to life long slavery." And now this is something really important that we want to help our kids see and to say, okay, what does this passage say that death has led to for humans? That death has led to lifelong slavery, to fear that because death exists, because Satan tricked Adam and Eve into eating the fruit of the tree that Adam chose to rebel against God, sin and death entered into the human race and now death has killed us captive to fear, to slavery, to fear, and that is the case for all humans.

So then to ask, okay, so is what you're feeling normal? Yes, this fear of death that you are feeling is normal. It's something that all humans experience. However, that is not the end of the story. As these verses in Hebrews 2 make clear, they talk about him, Jesus, partaking of the same things as us. That Jesus came, he came as a human fully God and fully man. He lived the perfect life that we could never live. And when he died on the cross, he paid for our sin. He bore God's wrath for our sin. And then when he rose from the grave, he defeated sin and death because he partook of death. He has now defeated death so that we will not be dead forever. Though we die in this life, we will be resurrected to new life one day.

Another passage then to take our kids to is John chapter 3 verses 16 through 18. And these verses say, "for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world, to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." So then we can ask our kids, okay, what do these verses tell us about death? That God has given us, Jesus, his only son, to pay the penalty for us, that he has defeated sin and then he rose from the grave defeating death. And not only that, but those who believe in Jesus, those who trust in him, who repent or turn from their sin and trust in Jesus that we are no longer condemned, that we will have eternal life.

And so even though death is a scary thing, we know that we are no longer slaves through fear of death because we know that Jesus has defeated death.

Then the final passage that I think is really helpful for us to take our children two in this is 1 John chapter 5, verses 11 through 13, which says, "and this is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God, does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life." We can ask our kids, "what do these verses tell us? What truths do these verses reveal?". These verses reveal the truths that God has given us eternal life in his son Jesus, and that we can know that we have eternal life if we have repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus.

So then ask our children. So while death may always be a scary thing, if we have repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus, do we need to fear death? No. This is a great way, a great foundation just for our children to understand a biblical theology of death. That yes, death is a scary thing because death is not natural. That is not how God has designed us, that he initially designed us to live with him forever and we rebelled against him. But God has made a way through his only son, Jesus, for us to be forgiven of our sins and receive eternal life in him.

Now, that talks about the first just general fear of death. Another thing that this question asked was addressing a fear of a child, having their parent die. And this can be a really scary thing. I know that when I was a child, this was something that I really feared greatly that my mom's mom, so my maternal grandmother, she died while my mom was still growing up.

And I know that my mom's growing up years after her mom's death were very hard. And so I always feared death, the death of my parents as a child because I thought that this would be just a terrible thing, which it is. The death of a parent is a terrible thing. So how can we address this with our children?

The first thing that I would say is we need to be careful not to give our children a false sense of security by claiming that we will always be there for them because we do not know the future. And there is no guarantee that we are going to make it even to the end of today, let alone their high school graduation. We do not know how long we have on this earth, so we cannot give our children this false sense of hope by saying, "you know what? I'm always going to be here for you" because we don't know that. We don't know what God's plan is for us or for them, but we can comfort our children in some very specific ways.

The first thing is, again, to root it in Scripture because we need this to be rooted in the truth of God's word, not just some subjective idea of ours. So the first thing I think we can talk with our kids about is God's special nearness to those who are grieving to say, "you know what? I know it is a really scary thing for you to think about me dying. It's a really scary thing for me to think about you dying one day. But you know what God has promised us in his word? He has promised that he is near in a very special way to those who are grieving, those who are sad over death."

And then take them directly to Psalm 34. Because in Psalm 34 verse 18, it says, "the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." And to talk about who is God near to? God is near to the brokenhearted. Those whose hearts have been broken through grief, God is near to them in a special way. So even if one day, even if one day I die, even while you're still young, what has God promised to you? He's promised that he will be near you in a very, very special way if I do die one day when you're still a child. Okay, then also discuss God's continual presence because I think no matter where we are in life, being alone or the thought of being alone is terrifying. And this makes sense because God has created us. God has designed us for relationship because God is not alone. God eternally is relational because God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, have been in perfect loving communion from eternity past into eternity in the future.

So God has designed us in His image to be in relationships. The fear of being alone is a real fear that haunts most human beings. And so we can discuss with our children that God is always with his children, that those who have turned from their sins and trusted in Jesus, they always have God's presence with them. And a great passage to go to ground this in Scripture is Romans chapter 8, verses 31 through 39. Now, I know this is a longer passage, but I think this passage is a really important one for us to cover. So I am going to read all of it for us. So Romans chapter eight, verses 31 through 39, Paul writes, "what, then, shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, with him, graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Jesus Christ is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, "for your sake. We are being killed all the day long. We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord."

So we can read this passage with our kids and say, okay, for those who are children of God, those who have turned from their sins and trusted, entrusted in Jesus, what does this passage say can separate us from God's love? Nothing, absolutely nothing. And we can talk through "you know what? There are a lot of scary things that can happen. And Paul even mentioned some of these scary things. Tribulation, that means really hard things or distress. When we are distraught, when we are in situations that are really difficult, where we are physically in danger or persecution, that means people mistreating us because we love Jesus. Or famine, that means no food or nakedness. That means being poor and having no clothing or danger. Any situation where we're in danger or sword when there's war. None of these things, none of these things can separate us from God's love. And then Paul talks later that we we're dead or alive, nothing spiritual or physical rulers nor things that are here now, nor things that are to come, nor powers nor height, nor depth, nor anything else. And all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus" and say, "this is the most amazing promise because it's not a promise that's only going to be true here and now. It's going to be true forever. So that means no matter what happens to us, whether we live a happy, healthy, safe life, or whether we live a life that's really hard and lots of bad things happen, or a life that's somewhere in between those two things, we know that nothing can separate us from God's love."

And now the person who wrote in with this question mentions that her son is not a Christian, that her son does not believe the gospel has not yet turned from his sins and trusted in Christ. And so this is a good opportunity to remind him of the gospel to say, "buddy, I don't know if you have yet turned from your sins and trusted in Jesus, but all of these promises that I just mentioned, if you decide to turn from your sins and trust in Jesus, all of these promises are promises that God has made to you, okay?" Now, we never want to manipulate or coerce our children into becoming Christians, into surrendering their life, to turning from their sins and trusting in Christ, but we want to make sure that we are clear about that and then say, "you know what? When you are ready, when you are ready to become a Christian, to turn from your sins, to trust in Jesus, to have all of these promises that God has given in his word, be promises for you. You know what? I would love it if you came to me and you talked to me about this, and we can even pray together. And I would love that." So it's a great opportunity to preach the gospel to our children.

And just even if you're listening and you're like, "oh, well, my child has other questions or other fears about death," I would still recommend the same things. Ask questions to diagnose what the actual exact fear is. Affirm that death is a scary thing. Make sure you're grounding your responses in Scripture, taking your kids back to Scripture continually, to showing them the truth of the promises of God's Word.

Well, that's a wrap for today's episode. As always, my prayer for you as we leave this time together is that no matter the situation in which you and the children God has placed in your care, find yourselves that you would trust that God is working all things together for your good, because He's using those things to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.

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