Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Question of Hell

So, last night I'm cleaning the kitchen post-dinner, and the girls are playing in their bedroom. With their army of Barbie (TM) dolls. I think we have at least a battalion.

Anyway, all of a sudden our eldest daughter says rather loudly, "oh my gosh, sister, when we die we won't be able to play with our Barbies (TM) anymore. We'll be dead. We'll be in heaven! Our eyes will be shut! We'll be dust! We'll be in heaven!"

(No, she didn't actually say (TM). It was implied.)

Well. Death and dolls. Interesting. Five years old and contemplating, at least superficially, what death will be like. And to an extent she's right: we'll be dust, and we'll be in heaven. There's so much more to death than heaven, though. Jesus was very clear that there is another destination for some. Our daughter does not yet know about that alternative. She is little Miss Uber Sensitive, and we're not quite up for the nightmares yet

I'm pretty sure our family isn't unique in this sense. I've taught pre-school/elementary-school kindergarten for a number of years, and I've taught Awana for two. In that time, I've met one preschooler who mentioned hell in Sunday School. I think it's perfectly natural to avoid the subject with children; churches have even stopped teaching the doctrine to adults.

I have a question to pose though. Is this right? Okay, multiple, related questions. Are we shortchanging our children by hiding this aspect of our faith? Is hell something to avoid on grounds of maturity, or are we simply afraid to talk about a rather unpleasant topic (to say the least)? I'm beginning to wonder.

So...open forum, and the more the merrier. Let's discuss. When is it okay to talk about hell? Why then (if at all, for those who think it's not worth talking about at all)?

Just remember: be civil. While forgiveness is always available, Jesus didn't have kind words to say about those who hated on others. In fact, He had some rather harsh words. Including "hell."

Thanks, and God bless!

3 comments:

Spunky said...

I enjoyed reading this. In general I believe it is a parents obligation according to scripture to teach the full gospel. When the child asks the question is in my estimation as a time as any to begin to answer. It may not mean giving all the details. But I believe that sharing truth with our children builds trust and encourages future conversations.

I broadened your question to discussing difficult topics with our children and posted about it today. Since you don't have trackback I wanted to let you know.

Spunky
BTW I came from the Christian Carnival.

R. Stewart said...

Thanks Spunky, I'll check out your post. I can't figure out why (but then, I haven't looked either) my trackbacks only appear on the main page, and not the permalinked pages. At any rate, I often have two sets of comments: the "blogger" comment thread on the permalink page, like this one, and the other is a haloscan on the main blog page. Odd.

But I appreciate the feedback!

Chris said...

Hi Ron,

"Are we shortchanging our children by hiding this aspect of our faith?"

I don't think so. Kids live in a world where they're still trying to figure out what is real and what is not, and that brings with it a whole host of fears they can't cope with yet. We, as adults, tend to not be sensitive to that. I don't think leaving out the topic of hell harms children in any way. At the appropriate time, they'll learn about it... when they're ready to handle it.

"Is hell something to avoid on grounds of maturity, or are we simply afraid to talk about a rather unpleasant topic (to say the least)?"

I think, first of all, when a child asks a question, we have to respect them with an answer (it also means they're ready for some sort of answer). We just have to give them the "age-appropriate" answer.

If my 4 year old asks me "daddy, where did I come from," I won't go into all the details about human reproduction, but if my 16 yr old wants more details, then holding the information back just means he'll go get it from somewhere else.

"When is it okay to talk about hell? Why then (if at all, for those who think it's not worth talking about at all)?"

I don't think we ever need to bring it up, unless it comes at us as a question -- in which case, it helps to be prepared.

So, here's an example:

4yr old says, "daddy, where do we go when we die"

answer: "we go to heaven, which is where we get to see God and Jesus"

4yr old says, "does everybody go to heaven?"

answer: "heaven is such a great place, nobody comes back from heaven, and it's up to Jesus"

4yr old: "what if Jesus says 'go away'"

answer: "Jesus loves us, and wants to be with us, so if we want to be with Him, then he lets us in"

...and that will usually suffice.

I didn't have to get into damnation or punishment or hellfire. Fear is not necessary to preach the gospel to youngsters. That's my belief anyway.

Does this teaching work? I hope so. My daughter is in college, and hasn't left the church, and is, in fact, a religion minor.