Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
In life before thee are again
In death around thee—and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still.1
For many, Halloween is a fun time of telling ghost stories, passing out candy to little ghouls and goblins who come knocking on doors, or getting a good scare at a haunted house. But All Hallows Eve also raises questions for many children and parents. Is it true, as Edgar Allan Poe said in the poem above, that the people who stood around us in life stand around us in their death as disembodied spirits? In other words, do ghosts really exist? And if not, what happens after death?
I know many Christian parents who steer clear of Halloween. They attend their church’s fall festival and dress up their kids as Cinderella, a cartoon character, or a biblical hero. I have done the same. Yet no matter how hard parents try to protect their children from the macabre nature of Halloween, kids will see decorations in stores and at school, as well as children in the neighborhood, and even at church, who dress like Dracula, ghosts, or the living dead. Halloween, therefore, offers tremendous opportunities for you to speak with your kids about death and what happens after death.
Obviously you should use discretion in discussing this difficult subject with your little ones, taking into account their age and maturity level. The exact wording and timing will be up to you, but as you consider your approach, keep in mind that your conversation about death should include three great truths.
First, everyone is going to die. Assure your children that they don’t have to fear death, even though the Bible teaches that each of us will die (Hebrews 9:27). Death simply means separation. There is separation of the body from the soul or spirit—physical death—and for non-Christians, there is separation of the spirit from the presence of God—spiritual death.
As soon as you raise the topic of death, your kids may want to know why we have to die. Explain to them that just as they sometimes get punished for disobeying, so God punishes His children for disobeying. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned [we’ve done, said, or thought things that are wrong in God’s eyes] and fall short” of God’s standard of holiness. And because we have all sinned, we deserve the “wages of [our] sin,” the paycheck for our sin, which is “death” (Romans 6:23).
Once you’ve told them that everyone dies, encourage them with the truth that everyone’s spirit has a home. When a person dies, his or her body is placed in the ground and it decays, or returns to dust (Genesis 3:19). However, his or her spirit goes to one of two homes. If the person who has died was a Christian, his or her spirit, the immaterial part of each of us, immediately goes to live with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). If the person wasn’t a follower of Christ, his or her spirit eventually goes to hell; this is spiritual death—eternal separation from God. In the story Jesus told of the rich man and a poor man named Lazarus, both men died and Lazarus’s spirit was taken to heaven while the rich man’s spirit was taken to hades (Luke 16:19-23). Knowing that his brothers would join him in torment when they died, the rich man begged that Lazarus be sent to warn them, but as Jesus told the tale, no one would return from the grave to warn them (16:30-31). One of the points Jesus was making was that death is final. We can rest assured, there’s no such thing as ghosts.
Thinking that anyone might die and not go to heaven can be distressing for children. Tell your kids, then, this third great truth—everyone has the opportunity to live in heaven. God must punish us because of our sin, but He wants to forgive us because of His grace. This is the good news. Paul warned us in Romans 6:23 that sin leads to death, but he also relayed this wonderful promise: “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Eternal life is available for all who believe that Jesus died on the cross to take away their sins, for all who believe that He rose from the dead (not as a ghost but with a unique body) to give them life, and for all who accept His forgiveness. Everyone who does that will not die spiritually but will live forever in heaven. Celebrate this reassuring truth with your kids, especially during Halloween. What greater message could you give your children on a holiday that celebrates ghosts?
So before you drive to the fall festival or go out trick-or-treating, have a brief conversation with your kids about the truth of ghosts and the gospel. Who knows . . . they just might decide the greatest treat of all is accepting Jesus’s free gift of eternal life. And there’s no trick to that.
- Edgar Allan Poe, “Spirits of the Dead,” in The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992), 23.
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