Should We Save Our Children From the Flames of Hell?

Should We Save Our Children From the Flames of Hell? September 15, 2013


By Jenell Paris

“Being saved is about your whole life, and all the decisions you make each day. You can’t just rest on the fact that you prayed a certain prayer.” So said my childhood friend, now a mother of small children, when I asked whether she is teaching her children to become born-again in the way we were thirty years ago. I’m wondering how to talk about salvation with my own young children. Was “asking Jesus into your heart” just a metaphor that helped my generation be connected to the sacred, or is it a vital step of faith?

“But still,” she continued, “my kids have prayed the sinner’s prayer. I’m not totally sure what I think about it, but it’s good insurance. You know; something to fall back on. At least they’re several years away from the age of accountability, so I don’t have to worry about it too much yet.”

In my house, the age of accountability is whatever age you happen to be, even for matters of great spiritual importance. My four-year-olds are held accountable for their decisions, and so is the 2-year-old, and so is the 36-year-old and so is the 42-year-old. I can imagine my preschoolers being questioned by the Great Judge, “Did you enjoy the sunshine I gave you? What about all that love your parents had for you – did you receive it? And the bruise on your twin’s face, Sam, have you apologized for that yet?” No ifs, ands, or buts; we’re each accountable. In age appropriate ways, all people are responsive to and responsible for the grace, love, and joy that flow in and out of our lives.

It was the insurance, though, that really got me thinking. Is it a good idea to have an insurance policy against spiritual failure, even hell itself? I buy insurance to protect the semi-valuable things in my life: possessions and income. Health insurance supports my pursuit of longevity, and when that fails, life insurance promises to shore up my loved ones’ financial well-being. The most valuable things in my life, however, have no back-up.

Take marriage, for instance. My husband and I agreed to be partners for life, and sealed the promise with a spoken word. I’ve no contingency plan, no husbands on stand-by, and no escape hatch of my own. If it ends, it will end very badly. Marriage is supposed to last on the strength of a promise and an ever-accumulating stockpile of shared experiences. Plans and policies support certain dimensions of it (legal marriage benefits, for example), but they don’t keep the blood flowing through its heart. Taking out an insurance policy would actually sabotage that which I hope to strengthen, dividing up my trust and loyalty between my husband and the policy. Same goes for friendship, parenting, kin relationships, and God.

I imagine my friend’s little boy standing before God someday and being judged unworthy of eternal life. The boy reminds God, “But I prayed the sinner’s prayer way back when,” and God is forced to relent: the insurance policy holds. The boy has no faith, only transactional prayer. And instead of turning to a overflowing cup of love and mercy, God is simply bound to the very rules He established. It just doesn’t make sense to rely on insurance as back-up in a relationship that is, by its nature, uninsurable.

The first thing my friend said makes such beautiful sense: “Being saved is about your whole life, and all the decisions you make each day.” That’s what I want for my children, that they be spiritually awake every day, surprised and delighted by their encounters with the sacred. That they trust God’s mercy enough to live spiritually uninsured, relying on God’s promises that are strengthened by ever-accumulating and ever-deepening pool of sacred experiences. This is even better than fire insurance against hell. It is blessed assurance for each blessed day.

Jenell Paris is a professor of Anthropology at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. She is also the author of “The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are”.




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  • Peter Attwood

    The “sinner’s prayer” has the same biblical sanction as praying the rosary, and comes from the same unbelief in God. We’re saved if we continue with him, which depends on his grace to make that happen. The way people got saved in the gospels is that they ran into Jesus, believed him, and followed him. Nobody asked him to come into their hearts, neither before nor after his resurrection and ascension.

    • Jan

      I agree that we continue to be saved if we continue to obey God’s commandments. “Belief” in God is actually obedience to God’s commandments to the best of a person’s ability until his death. You personally judge certain prayers as “unbelief” because these prayers are not something that you personally do. Why do you do this? If praying either the sinner’s prayer or the rosary (which is a meditation on the events in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ) help a person to focus his thoughts on God and His mercy and justice, this seems to me to be a good thing to do. People who pray these prayers desire to please God and this is good. Judge not….

  • montanajack1948

    I believe the Great Judge has already indicated his view of preschoolers–“Let the little children come unto me” etc. If you’re seriously suggesting that four-year-olds might be sent to hell for not appreciating the sunshine or for not apologizing for the heinous wrongs they’ve done to their siblings: well, I’m just glad you’re not the Great Judge.

  • guest

    It’s okay, Hell is a myth made up to scare little children and God is imaginary, so it doesn’t matter if your children pray the sinner’s prayer or not. As long as you treat them with love and respect, it’s all good.

    • PaulBot 1138

      …says “guest,” clearly possessing greater authority on the subject than the combined understanding and wisdom of millenia of apostles, priests, theologians both ordained and lay, and last but not least, Jesus of Nazareth Himself, who specifically referred to Hell as a real, existing destination in the afterlife.

      Far be it from me to impugn the obviously unimaginably vast and universe-spanning understanding of “guest,” but I’ll take my chances with the teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.