3 things to teach your child when talking about death

April 2, 2020

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first conversation I had with my son about death. He was three when his playful bouncing turned to, “I need to go see Nana. I miss her.” “Nana” is my mom. She was diagnosed with cancer in February 2011, and then passed away in August 2012.  

Losing my mom brings new hardships in each season. Having young children means the hardship of trying to explain cancer and death to them at much younger ages than I’d envisioned. There’s no easy way to talk about death. It’s even hard for us adults to understand.  And yet, through this heartache, I’ve been reminded that the best thing I can give to my children is Jesus. 

So, from my experience, here are three things to include when talking with your children about death.

1. Teach them about our need for a Savior

The reality is that our worst sickness is our sin. So, the healing we most desperately need is the spiritual one only our Savior can provide. When these conversations about death arise, we need to teach our children the gospel. We can teach them of creation, and how God’s intentions were for us to live in perfect fellowship with him and one another, with no death or cancer or virus (for more study, see Genesis 1-2).

Then, we tell them of the fall and how when Adam and Eve sinned, everything changed (Gen. 3:7). Sin entered, along with every effect of the fall, including cancer and death and disease. However, we praise God because he didn’t leave humanity hopeless. He immediately covered Adam and Eve and promised to send the Seed to crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). This is the hope we get to point our children to in tough conversations about death. Because of our Rescuer, death and its effects don’t have the final say. Christ will restore all things, and things like coronavirus, cancer, and death will be no more (Rev. 21:4, 8).

Practically, we won’t always have the time or the eloquence to walk our children through the big story of Scripture every time they ask about death. My children’s questions often catch me off-guard, and I fumble through my words. As much as we’re able, though, we can piece together a line or two of the truth. Our children need a Savior, and their questions provide opportunities to gently remind them of that. We don’t want to scare our children into salvation. However, we need to have truthful conversations with them about the realities of accepting or denying Christ; and questions about death can give us chances to intentionally speak this truth to our children.

2. Teach them that Jesus is enough

There are many beautiful truths of Scripture we can teach our children through grief, but if we teach them only one, let us teach them that Jesus is enough. That day, my son insisted he needed to see Nana. Though I selfishly wished he could, I pointed him to Jesus. I told him how his nana would’ve loved him like crazy, but her love for him would pale in comparison to Jesus’ love for him. Our love is fallen and imperfect, but Jesus’ love is perfect and unconditional. 

I also used those next few moments to intentionally talk with my son about how Jesus is enough for us. Jesus is who supplies our every need, including our need for salvation (Phil. 4:19). Because our God is so good, he even supplies us with himself in the midst of our grief. In grief, we can teach our children the beautiful promises of God. We tell them how God is our Shepherd who comforts us in the valley (Psa. 23:4) and how he promises to be near to the brokenhearted (Psa. 34:18). We can even teach them it’s okay to be sad, showing them how Jesus wept at his friend’s tomb (John. 11:35). 

We miss the point of heaven when we spend most of our time focused on seeing loved ones and walking streets of gold. Instead of a “Hollywood” version of heaven, let’s give our children the biblical view of it. Heaven will be wonderful because Jesus is there.

3. Jesus is the best thing about heaven

Another truth we can teach our children in these conversations is that Jesus is the very best thing about heaven. Like we all do, children want to know if they’ll see their loved ones again. We can find comfort that we will see those who died trusting in Jesus. However, the best thing about heaven is that we’ll forever dwell with our Savior (Rev. 21:3). We miss the point of heaven when we spend most of our time focused on seeing loved ones and walking streets of gold. Instead of a “Hollywood” version of heaven, let’s give our children the biblical view of it. 

Heaven will be wonderful because Jesus is there. We must teach our children Jesus is far greater than all things. Our children will ask many questions for which we don’t have answers. Let’s be clear on what the Bible is clear on, but where it’s not, let’s be authentic with our children and point them back to this: One thing the Bible is very clear on is that we’ll be with God forever. Keep pointing to that. That’s where our answers and hope lie.

Our children’s questions can be intimidating. As we stumble through finding our words, we can trust that God is strong in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), and he uses our feeble efforts to sow great seeds for his kingdom. These conversations are hard, and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. However, Jesus promises to be with us, including in these discussions. Rely fully on the Lord. He’s our sure and steady anchor, living hope, and cornerstone. He’ll be that for us as we face difficult conversations, and he’ll be that for our children, too, as they wade through life’s challenging waters.

Cassie Pattillo

Cassie Pattillo is a student pastor’s wife, mom to two energetic boys, and hopeful adoptive mom to their daughter, growing in their hearts from India. She’s passionate about biblical literacy, and writing and teaching about Scripture. She’s also a big fan of slow mornings with a cup of coffee, a … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24