Talking to Kids About the Death of an Unbeliever
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Today's question says, "How would you explain the death of a nonbeliever to a child? How can I be truthful in what God's word says about judgment after death, but yet comforting?" Guiding listeners through various scripture passages, host Elizabeth Urbanowicz builds a narrative about the concept of death, its relationship to sin, and the grace of salvation through belief in Christ. She provides not only a blueprint for having such complex discussions with children but also resources to assist in this journey. This episode serves as an invaluable guide for adults who aim to navigate these heavy conversations with the children in their care, ensuring they understand the truth of Christianity while still being comforted and reassured.
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 you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "How would you explain the death of a nonbeliever to a child? How can I be truthful in what God's word says about judgment after death, but yet comforting?" I love the way that this question is worded about the importance of explaining the truth to our children, yet also doing it in a very wise way.
Before we dive down into this question, if you have a question that you would like answered on a future Foundation Worldview podcast, you can submit it by going to FoundationWorldview.com/podcast. Also, if you found the content of this podcast beneficial, we'd ask that you consider liking and subscribing to make sure that you never miss a future episode, and we'd also ask that you consider writing a review and sharing this content with those within your sphere of influence because we want to equip as many adults as possible to get the kids in our care to carefully think and understand the truth of Christianity.
Now, this question is a really important one because we know that death is a fact of life and even though we don't enjoy talking about it, and many times we might try to avoid it, it's important that we're honest with our children and especially when there are situations in our own lives where people die and we're not sure whether or not they were reconciled in their relationship to God. And it's really important to be honest with children that we don't offer them false hope or false comfort, but that we speak the truth in a way that's going to remind them of the truth and goodness and beauty of the gospel.
So the first thing that I would encourage us to do is make sure that we are grounding our discussion in Scripture that this isn't our opinion. It's not just our personal preference or belief, but it's actually what Scripture teaches. So if I were going through this conversation with a child, I'm going to just walk us through some verses that I would read through together with the child, and then questions I'd want to ask and discussions to have. And so I think it's really important that we just take them through the narrative of Scripture so that they understand why death ofs, what happens when we die? What happens after we die? What happens if we're reconciled in our relationship to God and what happens if we're not reconciled in our relationship to God?
So the first passage of Scripture that I take a child to is in Genesis chapter 2 and Genesis chapter 2, verse 15 through 17 says, "the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man saying, you may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die." And so I would just ask the child, okay, what do these verses tell us about God and his creation of Adam? It tells us that God created Adam to work and tend the garden. That Adam had a very important job. It tells us that God gave Adam the freedom to eat from any tree in the garden except for one. And then what did God say about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that if Adam ate from it, he would surely die.
And then to talk through, you know can even read through Genesis chapter three where Adam and Eve decide to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and how immediately there is spiritual death that they're separated from God, they're separated from one another, they're even separated from a correct understanding of who they are. And then eventually years later, there was physical death. So to talk about this is the reason why we experienced death because our first parents, Adam and Eve, they rebelled against God and they disobeyed Him and so now we experience death.
The next passage I would take a child to is Romans chapter 5, verses 12 through 14, which say, "Therefore, justice sin came into the world through one man and death through sin. And so death spread to all men because all sinned for sin was indeed in the world before the law was given. But sin is not counted where there is no law yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even though those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come."
And so in this passage, I would ask the child, "okay, what does this tell us about sin?" And you can even reread the verses that verse 12 says, justice as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, that sin came into the world through one man, through Adam, just like we read about in the beginning chapters of Genesis and death came because of that sin. And then also these verses tell us that Adam was a type of the one who was to come and say, "Hmm, that's interesting. Adam was a type, I wonder what that means? Let's think about that some more."
Then the next passage, which explains this more I would take kids to is 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 20 to 22, which say, "but in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. The first fruits of those who have fallen asleep for as by a man came death by a man has come also the resurrection from the dead for as in Adam all die. So also in Christ, all shall be made alive."
So then I would ask the child, "okay, who are the two people being compared in this passage?" Adam and Christ. In Adam, what happens? This passage tells us that in Adam all die, what happens for those who are in Christ? It says they are made alive. "Oh, remember when we were talking about, we heard about that type in Romans 5? Adam was a type of the one who was to come. That Adam was our representative, and through him we all inherent sin. But Jesus comes to represent us to God and to die in our place and rise again and bring us to new life. So as in Adam all die, those who are in Christ are made alive.
Then the next passage I would take a child to is John 3 verses 16 through 18, which says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that who 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 I would ask, "okay, what did God do because he loved the world? He sent his Son, he sent Jesus. And when God sent Jesus into the world this first time, did he send Jesus to condemn the world, meaning to punish the world for their sin? No. What did he send Jesus for? To save us. God sent Jesus to save us. But then it says, whoever does not believe is condemned already. So if someone does not believe in Jesus does not trust him as their salvation, they are condemned because of their sin."
And then the final passage I would take a child to is Matthew chapter 25, verses 45 and 46, which say, "Then he will answer them saying, truly I say to you as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." And then I would ask the child, "okay, so for those who did not trust Jesus, those who did not follow Him, where do they go when they die? It says into eternal punishment. That means punishment that lasts forever, but the righteous, those who have righteousness through Jesus, where do they go to eternal life?"
And so just taking kids through passages of scripture like this can give them a picture of, okay, why does death occur? It's the consequence of sin. And then why did God send Jesus? God sent Jesus to rescue us from this consequence of sin, from eternal death, eternal separation from God, and those who have trusted Jesus and are made alive in Him, go to eternal life with God. And those who have not turned from their sin and trusted in Jesus, they go to eternal punishment.
Now, if you're thinking Elizabeth, I have no idea how you did that. I have no idea how you picked out those verses, it would take me forever. I don't have time in my life to do all that. Maybe you don't have time in your life to do all that. But you know what? That's the amazing thing about the internet these days. There are some great tools to give you solid guidance. So the website that I love to go to for situations like this is GotQuestions.org. They have really helpful articles that will point you to these scripture passages.
In fact, when I was preparing for this podcast, I could have sat down and looked through the entire Bible for all of these verses. But what I did is I Googled, "where do we go after we die gotquestions.org." And I pulled up a whole bunch of articles from them and followed the scripture passages that they used in those articles and then pulled out the scripture passages that I would take a child to. So if you're thinking, I don't know how to do this, Got Questions is an amazing ministry, just Google your question with "gotquestions" at the end, articles will pop up and they'll guide you to solid places where you can find answers in scripture.
So now back to our question about how to have this discussion with the child. The first thing I would do is anchor that in scripture just so they have a biblical understanding of what the Bible says about sin and death and our eternal destiny. Then as it relates to a specific person, because I'm assuming that the person who wrote this question in is thinking about a specific situation in their life and someone who died who you're either pretty sure they're not a believer or you're not sure, the next thing to do is to talk with your child, discuss what you do know and what you don't know, what you do know, and what you don't know about the person, about their life, about their death.
Because very rarely, very rarely are we a hundred percent positive that someone has not repented and trusted Christ up to their death. If we're with someone when they die, when they're specifically saying like, "I reject Jesus, I do not trust him," then we can be pretty positive then in that situation that they have not repented of their sin, but we have no idea what God's Holy Spirit is doing even in the final moments of someone's life.
So I'm not saying that we hold on to false hope, that we think, "okay, maybe this person, maybe this person's repented and in their final minute." But the truth of the matter is most of the time we do not know. So we can be honest with our child. We don't know. We don't know for sure where Mr. So-and-So or Mrs. So-and-so or whoever it was that in their life we know that while they were alive, while they were with us, they had not trusted in Jesus and they had rejected him. But we don't know if God changed their heart. We don't know if God changed their heart in the last moments of their life. So talk to our kids about what we do know and what we don't know.
Then something that's really important is to actually model and practice healthy grieving because in Western culture, especially in the US, we just love to feel happy and joyful at all times. One of my favorite TV shows, actually, my favorite TV show I think of all times is Psych, which was just this murder mystery fun show back in the early two thousands. And in Psych, the main character Shawn Spencer, every time there's a funeral he does not want to go or he refuses to go cause he's just like, "I don't want to think about death. It totally bums me out." And it sounds funny hearing it said like that death totally bums me out. But that's kind of our culture's attitude in that we don't want to think about death.
And I'm sure there will be people listening to this podcast who will disagree with me on this, but personally I don't agree when Christians have a celebration of life service when someone dies. I do agree that we should have time to celebrate their life. And I do agree that that is important. However, I think that the biblical model is actually grieving someone's death and recognizing that this separation of body and soul is not natural. It's not how God originally designed us, and us being separated from those we love is not a good thing, that death is the result of sin. And so while yes, we can have at some point a celebration of life service, we as humans need time to grieve the loss of someone who we loved. I mean, this is what is modeled throughout scripture and especially in the Psalms, in the Psalms of lament. That we are to pour out our hearts before the Lord and especially in times of death and major loss, to pour out our hearts before the Lord, to let him know how we're thinking, what we're feeling and to be honest with Him. We're commanded in Psalm 62, Psalm 62 at the beginning, it says, "pour out your hearts to him at all time O O peoples."
And so that's what we're to do. We're to pour out our hearts before the Lord we're to tell him what we're thinking, what we're feeling. We're to recognize that death is not a good thing, that the last enemy to be destroyed is death, and Jesus has conquered the grave, but we are still waiting for His second coming when death will be finally destroyed forever. So we want to model this for our kids, pouring out our hearts before the Lord, telling him what we're thinking, we're feeling that grieving this death and then ultimately anchoring everything in the truth of who God is. This is what the Psalmist model for us that they grieve, they lament, and then they anchor their thoughts and their feelings in the truth of who God is.
And grief is not this one time process. We don't pour out our hearts before the Lord anchor you know ourselves and the truth of who he is, and then feel fine. It's going to be this continual process, especially depending on how close we were with the person who has just died. So I think it's so important that we model and practice this in our families, this healthy biblical grieving.
Also, it's really important that we make sure that we are anchoring our hope in God's plan of redemption. In 1 Thessalonians four 13, Paul says, "We do not grieve as those who have no hope." And we don't. We have the hope of resurrection in Jesus. Now, I know this question is about what about those who don't have that hope? Well, one, it's very infrequently that we are a hundred percent positive that there is no hope very infrequently, that we're a hundred percent positive, that there is no hope that God had softened that person's heart before their death.
And we also want to bring our kids back to God's goodness. That yes, we're grieving and we're uncertain whether or not this person was reconciled in their relationship to God. And that is something that we should grieve. That is something that is difficult, that is something that even grieves the heart of God. But we can rejoice in the fact that we know that Jesus came to reconcile us to Himself, and if we have turned for our sin and trusted in Jesus, we have been made alive with Him, and we can trust that one day when He returns for a second time, He will forever defeat death and we will live with Him forever.
So those are just a few important things to think through as we consider how can we help a child through this grieving process.
Well, that's a wrap for today. But as always, as we leave our time together, my prayer for you is that no matter the situation in which you and the children in your care find yourselves, you will trust that God is working all things together for your good by using those circumstances to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.
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