Live every day as though it were your last. A short sentence spoken by many, forgotten in the rush of daily life by many more. Yet, a mindful awareness of the fragility of life is one of the best things you can pass along to your kids.
That is, unless you credit a book entitled Heaven for Kids by Randy Alcorn with Linda Washington (Tyndale House).
Though this book was published in 2006, it’s apparently still selling well. Intended for kids ages 8-12, I imagine enthusiastic parents would present it to their younger children, as well. And they’d be guilty of emotional child abuse.
First, who is this fellow whose back cover refers to him as “Dr. Randy Alcorn, a leading authority on Heaven”?? He’s a former pastor who operates a non-profit ministry, and his doctorate is honorary. His authority about heaven icomes from his own interpretation of the Bible.
WHEN IS IT CHILD ABUSE?
Some have called prominent atheist Richard Dawkins overly strident when he stated that foisting religion on children without questioning its merits is a form of child abuse. Read Heaven for Kids and see if you don’t agree with him (assuming you agree with the basic premise that believing in the supernatural is altogether irrational in the first place).
What’s abusive about telling children about the wonders of their next life in heaven? Alcorn based this book on his bestselling book for adults, which I haven’t read, so I won’t label that one “adult-abuse.” But anytime a group extols the extraordinary rewards of death and what comes after, you’re skimming the edges of being a death cult. That’s how terrorists happen, if the timing and culture align a certain way.
I know. Strong words. But Alcorn makes heaven sound very cool to kids, and tries to answer all possible questions a child might ask (rather pathetically, in my opinion). He answers questions I myself have wondered about, in the sense of wondering how Christians conceive of the afterlife they’re counting on.
THE BASICS OF HEAVEN
If you don’t know the basics, I understand them to be this, based on Alcorn’s book: you die, go to temporary heaven, then at some point Jesus comes (back) to earth, really nasty things happen to nonbelievers, then you go to real heaven, a.k.a. New Earth, where you live forever in the presence of Jesus and God and whoever you want to spend time with, maybe even a pet you once had, you will have a really good body, and you’ll keep learning new things, you can dance (but not in the way that causes impure thoughts), you can be with your wife or husband, but probably only as best friends, and you will never want to do bad things and you will be unbelievably happy doing only good things forever. There will even be businesses, though no money, because that means you’ll get to make and provide things that make you and other people happy. Plus you get to eat and sleep too.
Here’s a brief excerpt so you can get the gist of Alcorn’s tone:
What other features will the New Earth have?
If you get a new version of a computer game, you hope that the new version will have better features, don’t you? You eagerly scan the package, hoping that you’ll see phrases like better graphics or a bigger adventure.
It’s only natural to wonder what new features “Earth version 2.0” will have, especially considering how the original Earth 1.0, once an amazingly good program, was infected with the Sin Virus on every level. . . . Just as our new bodies will be better than our current ones, the New Earth’s natural wonders will be more spectacular than those we now see.
As to who we get to hang out with in heaven, other than Jesus, Alcorn writes, “Death isn’t the end of our relationships. It’s just an interruption. It’s like the people who have died have gone on a trip ahead of us, but later we’re going to join them. And then we’ll always be together.”
Personally, I’d be loathe to tell any child that. A deeply grieving one might be moved to join the beloved parent a lot sooner than God intended, so to speak.
HEAVEN HERE AND NOW
Alcorn glides over the reasonable question children might have about whether they’d see their non-Christian parents in this exciting version of heaven. A tiny bit of hope was offered, in that it’s always possible (claims Alcorn) that a non-believer may recant on the point of death, and be accepted into God’s good graces. Of course, someone who waited that long won’t get the best jobs in heaven.
The way I see it, it’s irresponsible to teach a child to think so little of this amazing life on earth as to have them anxious to begin the “next” life on a “better” earth. In that way, you’re taking away the wondrousness of living in the present, downplaying the preciousness of what we do have in our short time here. If you believe, without any proof, that we get another chance (well, you, not me), it still seems brutish to deny a child an appreciation of what exists right now. Blink, and you miss it all.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry