Guest Author, Jenny Solomon
“What’s a casket?” Those four words clatter onto the dinner table like a dropped fork. You are a young boy asking a simple question. I pause to look you over—noticing the mouth those words come from. It’s a mixed-up assembly of full grown and babies. One of your loose teeth dangles, hanging on by a thread. The next bite of the world is sure to pull it loose—proving it’s apostasy. It’s my turn to speak and I hesitate. I’ve spent the last six years protecting you from yourself and protecting you from the world. Some lives are measured in coffee spoons. Mine could be measured in car seat buckles fastened.
Now I have to tell you a hard truth. Whether you know it or not, you will be forced to respond to my answer with either fear or faith. Will this opportunity for disbelief uproot you—revealing that yours is a wobbly, loose tooth, fall away faith?
“Caskets are boxes. Dead bodies go in boxes. Then someone digs a hole in the ground and puts the box in the ground.”
“What!” Your one word response is an appalled exclamation more than it is a question. Mortality met with indignation, because you were made to live forever. I wonder. What was the first sign Adam felt of the curse? Of course there were the external horrors of death—the separation from God, the angel guards, the last few steps out of a glorious garden into a foreign, biting land. But, what did he experience in his body? Was it a stubbed toe? Did he provide a mosquito’s lunch? When did Adam first feel, in his frame, that his bones would return to dust?
My children have thought about death a lot over the past year. Last Thanksgiving we intended to spend the holiday feasting and laughing with our favorite uncle. He died suddenly, early in the morning on Thanksgiving Day. He feasted with Jesus. I prayed through that bleak darkness—waiting for the sun to arise. My husband and I had to tell our sons this news over breakfast; I hesitated, watching them eat. I fumbled for words. They carried such joyful anticipation for the day ahead. I shattered it with truth:
“Uncle Richard died last night. We are so sad. We are so sorry to tell you this. We miss him, already. He’s with Jesus now.”
You looked at me with steady, betrayed eyes. “Did you know he was going to die?”
“No, honey, only God knows how long people are going to live. We thought we would all be together today for Thanksgiving.”
I look at you now, again, across the dinner table. You who fears the deeps of night so much that you sleep wearing a headlamp—ever ready to dispel the darkness. You who relishes the pleasure of companionship. You are always on the lookout for new friends—eager to connect with everyone you meet. You store up your koala bear hugs for me, your brother, and our friend, Ms. Sheri, who receives your affection enthusiastically before she bags our groceries each week. You will meet this same fate. The dark of the casket, the solitude of the grave.
“That casket sounds scary doesn’t it.” You nod in agreement. “Death is scary. It’s the scariest thing we’ll ever face, and we all have to face it. But, Jesus beat death. Jesus fought death and won. Jesus is coming back. When he does all those dead people in boxes will come up out of the ground and walk around. Then the people who love and trust Jesus will be with him forever. He will make everything right. No one will ever die again.”
This good news sounds like crazy talk. People have been put in psychiatric wards for delusions far less grand. Only this story isn’t an illusion. It’s not pretend, but it is imaginary. Two plus two equals four. I can get four apples and show you how that truth adds up. You can see it with your own eyes and touch the fruit—adding it with your hands. The same is true of Jesus. His life, death and resurrection have been empirically verified. People touched him, saw him, talked with him. Over 500 people witnessed him walking on earth, post resurrection. This is all gospel truth on which I can stake an empirical claim. But, there’s a problem. No one has seen Jesus for over 2,000 years and all of the coming redemption that my Christian faith promises gets rebutted by a steady succession of caskets.
I hold out hope to my son. Hope that can dispel his fears and ward off death’s sting. Asking if this hope is real or imaginary sets up a false dichotomy. Much of the truth that Christians stake a claim on is both real and thus far only imagined. A Christian imagination (which is one that accepts by faith the future articulated in Scripture) has a firmer grasp of reality than a mind which interacts solely within the concrete present of the physical world. So, there are two things we must do to prepare our children to receive the truth of the gospel (and all of its future implications). First, we teach them scripture. Second, and equally important, we must look for ways to expand and engage their imaginations.
As I tell my son the truth, I pray that his imagination is big enough to see a world so different than the one where he lives. There’s a coming new creation. A well cultivated imagination is fertile ground to receive the hope of our death-destroying, back from the dead, white horse riding, eyes like a flame of fire, sword in the mouth, soon to return King, Jesus. True faith interacts with the future hope of the gospel through imagination. I can only imagine. You can only imagine. Our sons and daughters can only imagine. Because man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. And, that future-looking, hope-filled bread is digested in the human imagination, so that we can be nourished, strengthened, and sustained for a journey through a fear-fraught, casket-filled world.
Jenny Solomon has a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion from College of the Ozarks and attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She serves as a ministry wife and loves connecting God’s Word to everyday life. Read more of Jenny’s writing at The Biblical Counseling Coalition: https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2019/09/25/fathers/
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