When my son is well-rested he lives in a violent world. He dresses in armor and runs around smiting the bad guys. Because he is only five (he turned five on Saturday) and does not yet feel shame about having people watch him in his activities, so he plays loudly and energetically. I overhear the plot-lines to his stories and they often involve the strangest combinations. “Hey, dad! The Patriots just shot down the Eagle’s ship with lasers. Now they have to ride from Australia to Canada on horses!”
That is my son when he is rested. When he is tired he is a whole different kid; he is a philosopher. He will lie on the couch, staring at the ceiling and then ask “Dad, what are laws?” or “When I die my body will go in a box, but where will my heart go?”
Tonight he wanted to know all about heaven. He wanted to know if he will have a shadow in heaven and if he’ll need his heart. He also wants to be sure that I wear glasses so I will look just the same and he can find me easily. He has decided that he does not want to grow up, because a necessary consequence of growing up will be that I will get older and eventually die. This terrifies him, as he can’t imagine life without me (and, to be truthful, I can’t imagine it without him). His little lip quivered as he struggled to tell me how he would miss me, and his face lit up when I reassured him that we would be together forever in heaven.
As we sat and talked about death, heaven and eternity, I was transported back almost exactly one year to a very similar conversation we had. I thought I would post my memory of that conversation, which I wrote down on February 21 of last year.
My son is three years old and has recently begun to become aware of the existence of death. At only three he has far greater capacity to wonder and to ask questions than he does to understand. This makes it difficult and as his father I struggle to try to share with him what death is and how something so terrifying and so final can be made an occasion of wondrous joy.
Today while my wife was at a Bible study, Nick and I settled down to watch a movie. It was a children’s movie and at the end one of the central characters died. I watched Nick as this event unfolded. I could see his face fall and his eyes narrow as the character died. I saw tears form as he watched the loved ones gather around their fallen friend. He turned to me and with tears spilling down his cheeks sobbed, “Daddy, why did he have to die? When is he going to come alive again?” I pulled him to my lap and reminded him of heaven and told him that people who love God go to heaven when they die. I told him how heaven is a place where there is no more death, no more fighting and no more sadness. I told him that it is a place where we can always be with God and where boys and their daddies can be together forever. He tried so hard to understand, but how is a three-year old mind supposed to understand a concept as large and as unnatural as death?
And so we sat on the couch and we wept together. Nicky put his head in my lap and cried about something he could not understand and something he was not created to understand. Daddy stroked his hair and wept for this world – a world which was created for us to live in for all eternity with our Maker, but a world that has been defiled by death. I wept that a three-year old needs to concern himself with death; with things he cannot and should not understand.
I asked Nicky if I could pray with him and wiping the tears from his cheeks he said “yes” and closed his eyes. So I asked God if he would help Nicky understand that death is not something to be feared if we love Him. I asked Him to help Nick learn to love Him more and more. And of course I asked Him to give Nicky peace so that his young mind wouldn’t be troubled by concepts too difficult for him to understand.
I wish I could explain to my son about the death of death accomplished through the death of Christ. I wish I could make him understand that if he places his trust in Jesus he has nothing to fear in life or in death. I hope, I trust, I pray that such an understanding will come in due time, so that when someday Nick’s eyes close in death, he and I will be reunited in that place where death shall be no more, where there will be no more mourning, pain or sorrow and where God will have already wiped away the tears that filled his little eyes.