I read a post today from a mother who was looking for advice on how to explain death to her three year old because someone they know is going through cancer and the three year old did not understand. This question in itself is difficult, but then the post went on to say that they are not religious so talking about heaven does not work for them. This is a question that plagues many people, not just children, because if God is not real and heaven is not real then the question of what happens to us when we die is all that we are left with. If there is nothing after death then we are merely living for today, we are here today and gone tomorrow, and nothing that we do really matters, because there is no eternal value to our life.
There was a time in my life when I graduated high school and left home that I also left the church. I quickly found myself wondering if God was even real and for six years I separated myself from God. During that time I worked hard and strove to make a good life for myself, but nothing I ever did really seemed to have any purpose. I was rarely content and often times I felt lonely, even when surrounded by other people. I’m not saying that I did not experience joy or have fun, but what I am saying is that it usually felt empty.
I can understand not wanting to accept God or to believe in Him, because I went through it. I still remember many of the feelings that I experienced during the six years that I was wandering, but what I remember the most is the moment in which I was welcomed into a family of believers who truly believed and lived for God. It was this experience that showed me that I was missing out on something, even though I did not understand it yet at the moment.
As time went on my belief in God and trust in Him grew through a variety of circumstances that drew me in closer to Him and at some point something changed in my outlook on life. At some point I experienced a shift from reserved belief to full belief in the fullness of God. I’ve experienced death more that I would care to as a chaplain and sometimes it is the death of an unbeliever or the impending death of someone who does not know God. I remember one instance in which the family of a patient called me in to pray with them and for the patient. When I entered the room the patient was clearly in distress and audibly saying no and physically moving her head back and forth in a “no” motion.
When I prayed for her I did not notice that relief that I often times notice after praying over someone in such a situation. It was upon this time that I inquired more with the family about her beliefs and I found out that she was an unbeliever. I felt led to stick around the room for a while so I found a place at the back of the room and just prayed. As I was praying I felt as though God gave me a word which did not make sense to me what-so-ever and quite frankly it was something I did not want to say out loud so I prayed a bit longer and it became clear that I was supposed to speak this word to the patient.
I knelt down next to the patient and I began to speak to her and I told her that I felt as though God had given me a word for her and I told her what I felt He had told me. Now, it should be noted that the patient was not responsive nor was she able to speak or communicate with us in any form, so the following is pure speculation, but it is what I believe to be true. When I spoke the words to her she immediately quit struggling and became still. Her entire demeanor had changed and even her family members noted the drastic change as something that they had not seen for a long time, certainly not since being in the hospital. Immediately I felt as though she was ready to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior and I simply prayed for her that Jesus would enter into her heart and give her peace.
If God is not real, then what happened was nothing more than a coincidence, but what I have learned is that often times coincidences are God at work. I believe that she could see the darkness coming to get her and that she was scared and crying out in an attempt to get them to leave. I believe that God gave her the words that she needed in able to trust that He is who He says He is and in that moment I believe that she gave her life to the Lord and was saved. Of course I have no proof of this, the lady never came out of her state of being to confirm this, but I believe this is what happened and so did her family who had been by her side during her distress.
My point is that death is not something that can be avoided, we are all going to die at some point, but it is also something that does not need to be feared or confusing. When we learn to trust in God and what we have been told in His Word death is no longer something to fear or to be confused about. Sure, most of us experience a loss that we are confused about, but that does not make God’s Word any less true. When we understand that death is not just ceasing to exist, but rather the beginning of our eternal existence we obtain purpose in life. If death has no purpose, then life has no purpose and vice-a-versa.
There is nowhere in my belief system that allows me any option of explaining death apart from Christ, because through my experiences and through what Christ has done in my life I no longer believe it is possible for heaven and hell to not be real and eternal. Explaining death to a three year old is a difficult task because of the age and understanding of the person, but I could not imagine trying to explain this if I had no belief system to ground my explanation upon. The agony that is in my heart to even think about what it is like to not believe brings back the memories of when I did not believe and the loneliness and lack of purpose that I felt in my life.
My prayers are with this mother that she can find truth in her own heart and my prayers are with this three year old little girl that she will find truth in her own heart. May God use this time to draw those who do not yet know Him into His presence. I pray that they would experience peace and love and I also pray for the person who is sick that their life will not be lived in agony or without purpose so that she can know that death has not won and that death has no sting for those who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.