Annette and I extend our deepest sympathies to all those who lost a child, family member, friend, or co-worker in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. We hope that the following previously-written article may bring some ray of comfort to our readers who are shocked and grieving in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of December 14, 2012.
Why have they died? Where have they gone?
If you or someone close to you has lost a child, you know the terrible pain and anguish this brings to every loving parent. It is hard enough to lose an adult family member or friend, let alone one whose life has barely started.
Where is the justice in this? Why does God allow such tragedies to happen? And what happens to our children and other loved ones who have died?
Nothing can take away the pain of losing a child. But wouldn’t there be some comfort in knowing where our children have gone and what will become of them?
Throughout many centuries there was great darkness on this subject. But today there is a great deal of light, thanks both to the many people in recent years who have described their near encounters with death, and to the book Heaven and Hell, published in 1758 by the spiritual pioneer Emanuel Swedenborg.
Supported by Jesus’ statements about children in the Bible, Swedenborg assures us that children who die continue to grow up in heaven under the care of loving angel parents and teachers, and that every single one of them becomes an angel.
How could God let children die?
Few things in life are as painful as losing a child. There is an emptiness that cannot be filled, a void where there used to be love. The love is still overflowing in our heart, but the one we long to lavish it on is no longer there. All that’s left is our memories, our child’s precious clothes and possessions, and an aching inside us that will not go away.
As the reality of the death settles in we naturally cry out, “Why? Why would God take my child? How could God allow these precious ones to suffer and die?”
We have similar feelings, similar aching questions, when anyone close to us dies. A husband or wife, a sister or brother, a parent, an aunt or uncle, a friend, a co-worker. Why do people have to die young? Why are these lives cut off early? Why didn’t God arrange things so that all people could live out their full lifespan? It’s hard enough to lose someone we love who has had a long, full life. But when that life is cut off at twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty, it seems unjust. Why should one person die young while another lives to be old? Why do so many good people have their lives shortened?
Divine justice or human folly?
Are these deaths someone’s fault? Did the people who died do something wrong so that God is punishing them? Or is it the result of some societal sin, and these untimely deaths are the decrees of divine justice?
First, let’s take a practical look. In fact, many people do die because of their own or others’ poor choices and bad behavior. Hundreds of thousands die each year from preventable causes such as abuse of tobacco and alcohol, reckless driving, unhealthful living, and the effects of poverty. There is an awful lot of human folly in this world, and it does take its toll.
But what about innocent children? What about adults who have lived good, clean lives yet still die young, perhaps due to the wrongful actions of others, or perhaps due to natural and unavoidable causes? Where is the justice in that? Is this the workings of some twisted divine justice?
No, it is not. Untimely deaths—especially the deaths of children—are not part of God’s will. We are assured in the Gospel that “it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14).
There are many reasons people die early. God’s will is not one of them. The Bible tells us that God “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). How much less would God desire the death of an innocent child? Please put out of your mind the idea that God has intentionally taken your child. The death of a child is something God permits not something God desires.
Then why does God let it happen?
Still, the ache remains. Why this child? Why any child? Why anyone who has not lived out a full lifetime? These questions weigh heavily on our minds and hearts.
And the fact is, none of us can know all of God’s reasons for allowing one child to die while other children live. God’s view is infinite. Ours is finite. God looks at things from an eternal perspective. Our view takes in only a limited view of the past and the present. We cannot know what would have taken place if our child had lived—how the world would be different, how we ourselves would have been different, how our child’s life would unfold.
In governing the universe and human lives, God sees all these things, for all people, in all times, in all their infinite possibilities and interconnections. And God is continually arranging things, not for our temporary happiness here on earth, but for our eternal happiness in the spiritual world after we pass on from this earth.
Though things may seem hopeless to us when we have lost a loved one, the Psalms assure us that “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). That “night” may last for months, years, or even decades. But in God’s eternal view, there will at last be comfort and joy for all the sorrows we have endured here on earth.
Can we have any real knowledge of the afterlife?
Of course, this assumes that our life does continue beyond the grave. In former years, the fate of our children and other loved ones after death seemed destined to remain a mystery until we ourselves joined them at the end of our own mortal lives. But in recent years, thousands of people who have had near brushes with death have come back to tell tales of a beautiful afterlife where we are welcomed by angels, including family and friends who have died before us.
Over two and a half centuries ago Emanuel Swedenborg, an earlier explorer of the spiritual realms, wrote about his extensive other-world journeys in his most famous book: Heaven and Hell. First published in 1758, this book has since gone through hundreds of editions in over a dozen languages throughout the world. Most of what is presented in the rest of this article is from Heaven and Hell, especially its chapter on “Children in Heaven.”
What happens to our children after death?
The first thing Swedenborg assures us is that all children who die, no matter what religion they are born into, are brought up in heaven and become angels. Not a single child who has ever died or who ever will die will end out in hell, baptized or not!
Didn’t Jesus tell us in Matthew 18:3 that “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”? And a few verses later he said about the little ones, “I tell you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). Not only do infants and children go to heaven when they die, but because of their innocent, trusting natures, they have an especially close relationship with God to eternity.
Do children grow up in heaven?
Have you ever seen the pictures of little cherubs with wings gracing many a valentine and many an old religious children’s book? This classic depiction of angel babies has led some people to believe that babies who die will remain babies to eternity. But Swedenborg tells us that not only do babies and children who die continue to grow up, but they do so more quickly in the beautiful, loving, and healthful atmosphere of heaven than they would have here on earth.
Children who die are given angel mothers who are chosen especially for their sympathy and similarity of character to the particular infant or child. These mothers love their adopted children tenderly, as if they were their own. Infants think of them as their own mothers, while older children will look to them as their new angel mothers.
While Swedenborg does not mention angel fathers, saying that all who live in heaven think of God as their common Father, in this day and age I suspect that men have made some inroads into the formerly all-female career of child-raising in heaven. And if not in the younger years, Swedenborg does describe angel teachers who instruct older children as their minds open up to the vast stores of knowledge and understanding available to them in the spiritual world.
Are there schools in heaven?
Just as here on earth, children in heaven go through different stages as they grow up. Infants and toddlers simply take in the world around them, exploring it with their eyes, mouths, fingers, and everything else. But before you know it, their thinking minds become active, and they develop an insatiable thirst for knowledge.
In heaven, that eagerness to learn is never dimmed by educational methods that don’t fit the active, affectionate, and inquisitive natures of children. Learning in heaven is hands-on, and involves seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and doing, not just sitting and listening, reading and writing. Swedenborg describes angel teachers with their students examining little bugs and talking about all their tiny parts. Another popular and effective learning method in heaven consists of what might be called spiritual movies (described before movies were invented!) that offer a vivid presentation of various spiritual subjects.
In other words, the “schools” in heaven are very different from the traditional rote learning so common here on earth since we first began formal education of children. Angel teachers are always adapting their teaching not only to the thinking minds but to the loves and emotions of the children. The instruction is always delightful and enjoyable to the children. It is also practical and hands-on. And it relates directly to issues and situations that the children themselves are involved in every day.
In short, children in heaven live, love, grow, and learn just as they do here on earth, only in a much brighter and more beautiful environment, surrounded by angels who love them, raise them, and teach them as if they were their own children. You can take some comfort, then, that even if your child is gone from this earth and there is a hole in your heart, he or she will be cared for lovingly, and will grow into an angel of heaven.
What about older children and teens?
Not all children who die are young and innocent. All too many die in the pre-teen and teenage years. And especially in the teen years, many of the deaths involve drugs, alcohol, violence, and suicide. The simple innocence of young children is gone, leaving parents and teachers to agonize and wonder if their teens who have died may be on a downward path instead of an upward one.
First, let me assure you that a teenager who commits suicide is not headed to hell as a result. If we as their parents, teachers, and counselors know the terrible struggles that some teens endure, and can sympathize with them in the despair they feel, won’t God and the angels similarly take a tender, loving, and forgiving approach to those poor, tortured young souls who feel they have no way out but to end their own lives?
Yes, the healing will take time even in the spiritual world. But all who die in tragic circumstances are given a level of care and counseling by angels with sensitivity and skills that go far beyond what even our best counselors on earth can offer. Teens who die tragic deaths by suicide or other means will get the help they need on the other side.
Neither will teens who die after having entered a criminal or immoral life be condemned on the other side. Some of them may require the spiritual equivalent of “tough love” to snap them out of their errant behavior. But that job will be done. For example, Swedenborg speaks of girls who have been drawn into prostitution being put into the care of strict angel instructors who penalize them whenever their thoughts lapse back into their former behavior, until they have put that way of life behind them.
In short, all who die before reaching adulthood, whatever their circumstances may have been here on earth, will get the care, guidance, and training they need to find their way to heaven.
Do love and justice triumph?
Here on earth, things often seem very unfair and unjust. There’s a simple reason for that: Here on earth, things often are very unfair and unjust. God allows human beings to run this world—and we humans are a mixed bag of right and wrong, justice and injustice.
But God runs the spiritual world in a very different way. Although there may be material injustice here, in the spiritual world not only justice but love triumphs because God is running the show, and God will not let those who are innocent continue to suffer.
If you have a child or teen who has died, you know in your own heart that your child had a good heart, whatever the outward circumstances may have been. God knows this too. And God will assign just the right angels to take care of your child and ensure that he or she grows into a loving and wise angel, and will be there to greet you with joy when your own time on earth is complete.
This article is © 2012 by Lee Woofenden