Learn how to explain death to a child Biblically through Scripture and simple phrases children can understand. This article will equip you to know what to say when your child has to deal with the hardest thing in life: death.
His face crumpled behind his boy-man hands.
“I miss Great-Grandpa,” my 10 year old said, as tears streamed down his face.
“Being with him were some of my favourite times.”
My son was only 5 years old when my Grandpa died, but the heartache was coming to the forefront suddenly, which is what grief does. It rears its head when we least expect it and are unprepared for the crush of emotions.
I’ve experienced this myself on many occasions.
Most recently, I was utterly shocked when I discovered a CD that I thought was a mix created by my sister. It turned out to be a compilation of songs that she and I had recorded together before she died. I didn’t even know this CD existed, and suddenly hearing her singing voice after nearly 15 years was like a donkey kick in the stomach. I crumpled, wailing the kind of lament that only comes from a shattered heart. My surprised little guy wandered in, totally confused as to why his mom was weeping on the cold linoleum floor.
What can we say to our kids when they are touched by death?
When my children ask about the Auntie they’ve never met, what should I say? Here’s how to explain death to child biblically.
How does the Bible explain death?
Death wasn’t God’s Plan A. In fact, death doesn’t enter the scene until Genesis chapter 3. The whole incident is summarized in Romans 5:12:
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”Romans 5:12 NIV
So what did the Jewish people believe about death? Depending on which translation you use, the Old Testament refers to the place of death as Sheol, or “the grave” or “the realm of the dead”. (reference)
Death seems to be a place to be gone DOWN to, and it’s also the end. There is a weird little episode where King Saul actually calls up the ghost of Samuel, who chides him from beyond the grave, but overall, the theme is that once you’re in the grave, that’s it.
Death in the New Testament
The Christian understanding of death and the afterlife comes almost exclusively from the New Testament.
In the Gospels and Epistles, we learn that death isn’t the end of humans. It’s just the death of our earthly bodies, but something else happens to our souls. They don’t just go to Sheol, or Hades, anymore. Now we have another option: spiritual resurrection, followed by a future bodily resurrection.
Jesus came that death might not have the final word in our lives:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus also teaches us that there is life beyond this mortal home, and that Jesus is preparing a place for us there.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?John 14:1-2 New International Version (NIV)
In the Gospels, we learn that God the Son IS the Resurrection and the Life, and living by believing in Christ is key to our own resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”John 11:25-26 New International Version (NIV)
The Two Resurrections
In the gospels we learned that Jesus came to offer resurrection and eternal life to those who follow him, but what exactly does that resurrection life look like?
There will be a natural AND spiritual resurrected body, meaning there are two kinds of resurrection. The first resurrection occurs when we die, when our spiritual bodies (our souls) go to heaven to be with God.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.1 Corinthians 15:42-44 New International Version (NIV)
We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.2 Corinthians 5:8 New International Version (NIV)
If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.Romans 14:8 New International Version (NIV)
Want to know more about the importance of Jesus’ resurrection? Check out this article on how to explain the Resurrection to a child.
Resurrection in the End Times
But the spiritual resurrection isn’t the only resurrection.
Again, we look to Jesus, because he is also the firstborn of those who will be resurrected in the end. What happened to Jesus when he was resurrected? He came back to life with a REAL body that could walk through walls, eat and enjoy food, and even fly (or however you interpret him “going up into the clouds”.
According to Scripture, in the end, when Jesus comes back to rule the new heavens and new earth, all Christians will receive a glorious body like his.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.Philippians 3:20-21 New International Version (NIV)
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.2 Corinthians 5:1-5 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus has the power to give us these new, eternal bodies because he has defeated death!
I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.Revelation 1:18 New International Version (NIV)
And in the end, when all death is dead, the world will be back to the way that God intended it in the first place: pure, glorious, and eternal.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”Revelation 21:4 New International Version (NIV)
Want to learn more about heaven? Check out this article.
So what does this mean for us?
All this means that for the believer, death is not something to be afraid of. We don’t need to be afraid of death for ourselves.
In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:1 Corinthians 15:54-57 MSG
Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?
It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!
How to explain death to a child biblically: a summary
Helping a child coping with death and loss
If your child is dealing with death, I have two resources to help you in this hard time.
In the Navigate printable resource, you’ll learn about helping children through various types of loss from parents who’ve been there and navigated through it well. Learn more here.
Quinn Says Goodbye is a Christian picture book that shows us that we can trust God even in the hardest times of life, including death itself.
To learn more about Quinn Says Goodbye and how it can help your child, or to read reviews, hop over to this book info page.