As far as parenting goes, explaining death and what comes after death can be a challenge, even scary. It doesn’t need to be that way, especially for Christian parents.
Have you ever had a surprise party thrown in your honor? You walk through the door and the lights come on and the horns blow, close friends cheer as ribbons and balloons are thrown into the air?
Have you ever watched as an athlete’s name is announced and he runs from the dressing room tunnel and onto the field as 60 or 70 thousand people cheer his arrival?
Have you watched as sailors return home from a deployment? And as they leave the ship their loved ones run to great them with kisses and hugs?
Or have you noticed the smiles on the Olympic athlete’s faces as they rise to the podium and wave and smile to the cheering crowd as they receive the reward for achieving their goal?
When my kids ask about death, these are some of the analogies that I use. Because my children have made decisions to follow Jesus, I can tell them that Jesus and the angels and all the people who have died before us and who are already in heaven, well, those people will welcome us home with cheers and shouts of joy. Another good thing to do, especially if you have lots of kids like we do, or if you have a bunch of people over when the question is asked is to have some of them go outside onto the deck while the others, along with the kid who’s been asking about death stay back in the kitchen or whatever. The questioner’s favourite parent goes onto the deck and plays the role of Jesus. Then, the questioner pretends that s/he is dying and is crossing from this world into the next. As s/he opens the door and steps across the threshold leading to the deck, the people in the kitchen say, “There s/he goes. Bye, bye honey. We love you.” while at the same time those on the deck cheer and shout, “Here s/he comes! Yea, she made it safely home.” And while the people on the deck are cheering the arrival of the child, the parent playing the role of Jesus gives the kid a big hug and introduces the questioner to those who have gone to the deck before with, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to introduce to you my personal friend (insert name). Now my child, come and play with us.” The Bible explains to us that "We (Christians) do not grieve as those who have no hope." Death need not be a difficult passage for us and Jesus is the reason why.
What a difference it must be for atheist parents, especially for those who want to be honest with their child.
“Dad, what happens when we die?”
“Well, nothing really. We come from nothing and we go to nothing. Either your mom and I or someone else will put you into the ground and cover you with dirt and the person that we knew as YOU will just totally and completely cease to exist. And that’s the end of it.”
“But, how can that be it? How can I just come to an end? What if I only live until I’m five years old? I won’t get to do anything important.”
“My dear boy. Five years or five hundred years, it doesn’t really matter because none of it counts, not ultimately anyhow. Humans are part of a dying species in a dying universe. You’re an accident little buddy. An absolute accident to which we gave a name. Don’t get me wrong. We love you, and perhaps some day you can even manipulate some other people to love you too. But apart from that you’re pretty much on your own. I sure hope you don’t grow up to be so weak as to think that you need anything other than yourself.”
“But what are we here for? Is there any meaning or purpose to all this?”
“Use your brain son. How can there be meaning and purpose to something that’s an accident? Of course, you can pretend this life has meaning and purpose if you want. You can be kind, or get really rich, or you can discover how our chemicals interact so that the lives of similar organisms might be made easier. You can get a good education or do some type of research, anything really to relieve the boredom from now until you die. Just remember. You can better the human race all you want son, but when it’s done, it’s done. And all the time that you spend making someone else’s life better, well, what’s happening to your own? You know what I mean? All those people whose lives you’ve made easier? They’re going to die just like you’re going to die and no matter what you’ve done during your life time, in the end it all counts for absolutely nothing. Since there is no objective purpose to human life, none of what you choose to do has any objective significance, regardless of how important you happen to think they are. Fame and importance are ultimately meaningless no matter how much you pretend otherwise. Reality is, you come from nothing and you’re headed to nothing, just emptiness, a void. That’s all there is son. That’s not a bad thing son. It just is. The fact is, our life has no meaning, no context and absolutely no purpose save the purpose that you pretend to give it. Pretty cool huh?”
“But daddy, shouldn’t I at least try to be a good person?”
“Oh my precious little munchkin. Good and bad are just subjective words that some people use to describe things that they like or don’t like. Have you read Ayn Rand or Camus, or Hume or Sartre or Monod? Oh, of course you haven’t. You can’t read yet. Listen, as soon as you can read you should check out what these people have to say. You’ll find them very encouraging. They explain it a lot better than I do. All I know is, live good, live bad, live for yourself, live for others, none of it matters because the end of the good and the end of the bad, the end of people, pigs and insects is exactly the same, we rot away and become a different form of matter. Now, why don’t you run along. I’ve got some useless and pointless things to do.”
“But dad, that’s absurd!. How do you expect me to be happy if life has no meaning, context or purpose” If that’s the way things are, why did you make me in the fist place?”
“Well, sweetpea, now you’re starting to ask what's beginning to feel like a lot of questions. First of all, I couldn’t not make you. My genes compel me to reproduce. I squirt my semen here and there and everywhere, not so much since your mother and I got married, but it’s like I have no other option. Our DNA must reproduce. A very brilliant man named Richard Dawkins says so and he wouldn’t lie. You’ll do the same thing as soon as you’re able. And as far as life being absurd goes, well, yes it is. It’s a farce really, just a little bit this side of a tragedy. But like I said, here is where we must simply pretend that it isn’t absurd. A brilliant Nobel Prize winner, an atheist of course makes the case for all of us atheists believing what he calls, “The Noble Lie.” That lie of course is that in an accidental universe there actually is meaning and purpose. I haven’t been able to pull it off but for that guy and Dawkins and a few others, apparently they’re able to believe such a thing. And don’t go accusing me of promising you happiness. Now THAT would be irrational. A wonderfully brilliant man whom I admire a lot, his name was Bertrand Russel, well, once he said, “We must build our lives on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” He was such an awesome atheist! One of my heros. You see son, it can be no other way. If you live consistently according to the logical conclusion of our atheist belief system then you simply cannot be happy. Remember, it’s because I love you that I’m teaching you this belief system so that you’ll be resistant to all those Christian idiots who try to tell you that because of a guy named Jesus, you can have hope and joy and peace in your life just like they have in their lives. But that’s a lie - straight up. If you wish to be happy, then you cannot live consistently according to the logical conclusion of our atheist beliefs - the ones that your mother and I are teaching you. But if you’re serious about this, if you rebel against our indoctrination to live a brave life in the face of meaninglessness, well, what you do in that case is, you borrow meaning and value and purpose from the Christian’s belief system and claim it as your own. I’ll think that you’re an idiot if you do that, but because I’m so tolerant I’ll still tolerate you if you turn against our logic and reason. Simple enough. Now, you must run along as I have a large bowl movement approaching at a fantastic pace. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”
“You’re a really great dad. Thank you.”