How can I help my child understand heaven and hell?

What guidance does the Bible provide?

God created all mankind as eternal beings.  He created us to exist forever.  In John 3:16, the Bible says “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  If we were created to exist forever, where becomes the next question.   Heaven is a place God has designed for those who have believed in His Son as their Savior to enjoy forever.  1 Corinthians 2:9 describes heaven as a place "what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him."  Conversely, those who reject God's grace have chosen separation from God forever in a place we commonly call hell.  The Bible speaks of hell as a real place in Matthew 25:46 "they will go away to eternal punishment."

Things to think about:

Explaining the concept of heaven and hell to your children doesn’t need to be a daunting experience for parents. You know your child better than anyone else, and can determine how much information is age appropriate at the time.  

Here is one way to begin the discussion:

 “What would you do if I told you we were about to go on vacation?  You’d ask all kinds of questions!  You’d want to know where we were going, what it will be like, who will be there, and what we will do!  The more we talked about it and learned about the place we were going, the more excited you would become. More than that, you might express thanks to us for taking you to such a great place.  You would show you are grateful by telling us, but also by showing us (cleaning your room, obeying when we ask, showing kindness to your siblings.)”

Just like our vacation plans, the Bible tells us what heaven is like.   God promises in His Word that all who have believed in Jesus would live with Him forever in a place that we call heaven.  Not a place with clouds, harps, and people with halos, but a place similar to what we know on Earth, only perfect!  It will have buildings, gates, rivers, and trees (Revelation 21:25-22:2.)  It is a place that Jesus is actively preparing for us and all of His followers right now!  (John 14:1-3)  In Heaven there will be no pain, no death, no disease, and no darkness.   Heaven will be perfect and beautiful because God's presence will be with us always and we will be together, with all who have come to know Christ as well, enjoying perfect fellowship with them.  We will have complete joy and satisfaction whether resting, working, eating, or playing.  In all of it, we will be worshipping God, because that's what He designed us to do.

“In the same way, what if we knew someone else in our family was going on a vacation, and it was a place that we knew was not safe, a place where people who were dangerous lived, and a place that we knew they wouldn’t want to visit or stay.  Wouldn’t we want to prevent them from going there?  The Bible describes the place where those who don’t believe in Jesus will spend eternity, and it’s not a place we would want anyone to spend forever.”

Those who reject God’s grace, refusing to repent of their sin and trust in Christ as Savior, will live forever in a place we call hell.  The Bible also refers to it as the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:10-15.)  We know it is a place that contrasts heaven.  It will be full of pain and punishment, a place described as both dark and full of unquenchable fire (Matthew 13:42.)  God’s presence and goodness will not be found in that place.  It is a place God longs for no one to experience, but the Bible tells us many will.

This is a great opportunity for parents to lay the foundation for the Gospel, explaining to your child that God's desire is for all to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

What do I do now?

There are a lot of things about heaven we don't know.  Heaven is too great for us to understand fully now!  You may relate it to a birthday celebration:  your kids know it's coming, they know there will be cake, friends, family, and presents, but all of the details they don't know just yet.  God gives us a glimpse at what it will be like, and it surely should make us excited to see the full picture!

Perhaps the greatest challenge in talking to kids about hell is the distressing idea surrounding it.  Much of what may be asked is, "why would God do that if He loves all?' or "why would He make the punishment last forever?"  These are legitimate questions.  First, sin is an eternal offense against God.  It's not small, but an immeasurable offense against a Holy God because it's rebellion against Him.  Second, point them to 2 Peter 3:9.  It's a wonderful reminder that God doesn't want anyone to experience hell; He is patient in bringing His judgment because He wants to give each as many opportunities as possible to repent.

Want to go deeper?

Two helpful books on the subject of heaven and hell are:

  • Heaven for Kids by Randy Alcorn
  • Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware