Scared to Death… And Back Again
As I searched to find the right words, two big sets of brown eyes just stared back at mine waiting for an answer. It is difficult to imagine a more sobering and gut-wrenching conversation to have with two young boys than trying to explain to them the reality of death. My family had just endured the loss of two close relatives who both died at early ages within a short span of time. And my sons had a lot of questions. They were sad, and they were scared.
We decided early on that, unlike some other parents we knew, we were not going to try and shield our children indefinitely from the reality of death. Of course we would take age appropriateness into consideration, but as soon as our kids were able to comprehend a loved one’s consistent presence, we could not justify deceiving them regarding the cause of that loved one’s sudden absence.
After all, the Bible we teach them to read doesn’t sugarcoat such realities. In the storyline of Scripture, we make it no more than four chapters in before being confronted with the “wages of sin” in the shedding of righteous Abel’s blood (Gen 4:1-8; cf. Matt 23:35). And in the very next chapter, there begins an ominous refrain that echoes throughout the Scriptures and throughout the halls of history bearing testimony to the universal fate of our forefathers and mothers, “and he died…and he died…and he died…” (Gen 5:5-31).
The Apostle Paul tells us, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). As a result, every society of men has been faced with this same problem and has had its own questions to answer. And from Egyptian mummies and pyramids to Greek pantheons and underworlds, each has sought to answer these questions in ways that seemed right, but were ultimately, hopeless. My two boys were not facing a new problem. Their sadness and fear were not new, and they weren’t asking new questions.
While many in our day might seek to dodge such questions or to vaguely explain how so-and-so has “gone away to a better place”, my sons knew better. They had seen the caskets. They had seen the now-lifeless faces. They had watched the holes being filled up with dirt. And somehow they knew that all of this just wasn’t right- an enemy has done this. “Dad, are you going to die one day?” I could see tears instantly welling up in little eyes as I replied, “Yes, unless Jesus comes back, we all will.” “But I don’t want you to die.”
Instantly, I began doubting myself. Maybe it was too soon for this discussion after all. Maybe I should have just dodged the question or given some vague answer. Maybe I should have come up with some contemporary mythology to try and soften their little consciences to the sting of death. But then I thought, “Wait a second. I’m a Christian!” We are the people of the cross and the empty tomb. We are the people who understand that, in the end, death has no sting and the grave has no victory because Jesus crushed death to death through his death on the cross.
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