Why is it that we are so stuck that when we talk about eternity, especially with kids, we equate it with heaven?
For our day camp a few weeks ago, we adapted a VBS curriculum for the first half of the day. During the opening large group session, there was a recurring character who showed up each morning. One of the days was talking about eternity. The character had found a way to live forever, and the host corrected the character’s understanding of what God says about living forever by telling him that the gift of eternal life was about heaven.
I’m sure many of you are wondering, “Well, yeah… Isn’t that what it means? Living forever means you get to go to heaven.” Yes… and no.
Yes, by committing your life to following Christ you receive the gift of eternal life. But heaven is not the definition of that. Heaven is only a part of that. I ended up revising the VBS script.
We do children a disservice by telling them, “When you ask Jesus to be your forever friend, you get to go to heaven. That’s what it means to have eternal life or live forever.” The gift of eternal life is so much more than that, and it doesn’t just begin after we die here on earth. We are made new creatures upon submitting our lives to Christ, which means that we begin our “forever life” now. Yes, there will be a time when time will end and we will be physically transformed as well as spiritually, but I believe that the gift of eternal life… the power to live forever… is here for us now. We become a part of the atoning work that God is doing all around us: in the lives of others, in communities and in creation. Don’t get me wrong. We aren’t the ones who do the atoning… that is all God’s work. We just become a part of what he is doing. We get to take part in changing the world around us. We get to take part in “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
By telling children that heaven is THE goal, we shortchange them and miss the opportunity to invite them to something bigger and more powerful. We need to be letting children know that their “forever life” can begin now, and they can be agents of change in the world around them… and oh, by the way… bonus… there’s heaven, too.