In this series of posts on talking to your children about the death of one close to them, there is one aspect that was not specifically covered : how should the death of an unbeliever be discussed? This is an important consideration. Dan posted the following comment on a previous post:
This post is very timely! My kids just lost their grandfather last week. I do not believe that he knew Christ. Any advice on dealing with this would be helpful and appreciated.
Let’s start with the reality that is the most important: the faithfulness of God. The faith of the psalmist in Psalm 46 is not based upon how a particular circumstance would turn out. His faith is in the living God. Even though devastating troubles have occurred, God is his refuge and strength. While this kind of faith will not change events or take away deep hurt, God is there to bring comfort and strength. Your strong belief in these realities—your reliance on God’s strength–can and will be a source of comfort to your children in troubling times.
The fact that matters above all else is that God is the true source of comfort. Circumstances cannot bring comfort. That is the place to begin in responding to Dan’s question. Our hope is in God’s faithfulness to us, not in the outcome of circumstances. Thus, when someone who is not a Christian dies, God is still God. God is still being faithful. He has not made a mistake. Rather than trusting in a particular outcome, we must entrust ourselves to the One who judges justly (1Peter 2:23). Losing a grandfather is difficult for children. If the grandfather died without knowing Christ, that is even more difficult.
When talking with children about this situation, it is God’s goodness that must be stressed. God was good before the grandfather died. He is good now. And he will be good tomorrow. This is the constant. Life is uncertain. God is not.
In this time of grief the focus must remain upon God and his goodness. Psalm 103 reminds us of how good God is. Verses 17-23 speak specifically of God’s love for his people.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children-
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.
These words are designed by the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and hope to God’s people regardless of the circumstances. These words bring hope even when someone close to us who didn’t know Christ has died. As we saw in the last post, gratitude is always the appropriate response of God’s people. While there is great sadness in the death of one who did not trust Christ, there is even greater hope and comfort in constant goodness of God.
In this situation it is important not to give false hope to children (or to yourself) by saying things like , “We don’t really know that Grandpa didn’t repent at the last moment; maybe he is with God after all.” While this statement may sometimes apply, it still focuses on the outcome of the circumstance as the basis of comfort, rather than on the goodness of God. God is worthy of praise in all things. We don’t know the actions and state of the heart of others, but we do know the goodness of God is certain. I believe that this is what Deuteronomy 29:29 is teaching.
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
The outcome of those who die falls into the secret things of God. These matters belong ultimately to him. But the things that he has revealed in his Word belong to us and to our children. What is certain is that God is worthy of praise, honor and worship in all circumstances, for one significant reason–he is God! Yes, the loss of loved ones who don’t know God is painful. But God is faithful. He is the God of all comfort, even when the pain of loss seems insurmountable. There is a day coming–beyond our present comprehension–when God will wipe away all tears from our eyes.
An important life lesson that we all need to embrace is this: do not judge God’s faithfulness on the basis of circumstances. The world deals with death by attempting to ignore the reality of heaven and hell. Christians can face death knowing that God is good and that Christ has paid the awful penalty that we deserve. That is the reality that brings peace and comfort. In difficult times, turn to Christ. Trust in his steadfast care for you. This is the message of hope to give to your children. Urge them to seek the goodness of God for themselves. This is the time to present the message of the gospel once again to your children. Pray with your children that they will know the peace of that passes understanding – the peace that only Christ can give.
I want to thank Dan for his comment and the opportunity to respond to his concerns. Please let us know your thoughts and comments as well.