Heaven and Hell: How to Explain God’s Love AND Justice to Kids

Heaven and Hell: How to Explain God's Love AND Justice to Kids

Lately, my two daughters (ages 6 and 4) have been arguing incessantly every morning. It’s the first thing I hear every day, echoing from down the hall:

“Stop staring at me!”

“Then leave my room!”

“You’re so mean!”

“No, you’re the meanest in the world!”

The other morning, my older daughter ran into my room, crying, “Mommy! Sister pushed me to the ground! I got hurt!”

In utter fatigue and frustration, I just looked at her blankly and replied, “I just don’t care anymore. I don’t know what to tell you.”

She burst into tears. “It’s NOT FAIR! Why don’t you care she did something bad?”

I shrugged and said, “I should. I’m just too tired of all this fighting to do anything anymore.”

I ushered my wailing daughter out of the room and finished getting ready, feeling like a total failure.

Little did I know my failure would serve as a great lesson about God’s love and justice only a few hours later.


Explaining God’s Love and Justice to Kids

That evening, when I was tucking my daughter into bed, she said, “I don’t totally understand who goes to heaven and hell.”

We had talked about this topic on many occasions before, but of course it’s something hard for kids to understand. At that moment, God placed it on my heart to use the example from the morning to explain the concepts in a more tangible way. I saw the lights really go on in her eyes through our conversation, so I want to share it with you today in dialogue form. I hope it will help you have this discussion with your own kids (you can use your own similar failure, or set one up as a lesson!).

Me: “That’s a really important question and I’m so glad you asked it. When you were younger and couldn’t understand a lot yet, we simply explained to you that if you love Jesus, you’ll be with Him forever in heaven. But you’re big enough now to understand much more. I want to start by answering your question with an example. Do you remember this morning when you came to my room because your sister had done something bad to you? How did I respond?”

My daughter: “That you didn’t care. That it didn’t matter. That you weren’t going to do anything about it.”

Me: “Right. How did that make you feel?”

My daughter: “Sad. I didn’t understand why you didn’t want to do something about her pushing me. It was unfair.”

Me: “So was that loving or not loving of mommy?”

My daughter: “I didn’t think it was loving at all.”

Me: “I don’t think it was either. I shouldn’t have responded that way. I’m sorry. The most loving thing for me to do would have been to give your sister a fair consequence. Can you see how part of being a loving mommy is being a fair mommy too?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “OK, so now think of what it’s like for God. As we’ve talked about, God has taught us His perfect rules of what is right and wrong in our hearts and in the Bible—just like mommy has rules about pushing that your sister broke. Everyone knows that God is more loving than we can ever imagine, but a lot of people don’t understand that means He is also perfectly fair. He could never just ignore that we sin and break His beautiful, perfect laws of what is right. If He just said, “Whatever! I don’t care anymore!” like mommy did this morning, He wouldn’t be loving, just like mommy wasn’t loving. So God has to do something about our sins because He is so loving. The big question is, what should He do?”

My daughter: “We would, like, have to die or something because breaking God’s rules is BAD.”

Me (laughing in surprise): “Wow, that’s an amazing guess, because the Bible actually tells us that the consequence of our sin is death. We all die. But God loves us tons and doesn’t want us to be separated from Him forever. So He has made a way to forgive us without ignoring our sin. He sent Jesus—His own Son—to be punished for our sin instead of us. That’s what it means that “Jesus died for our sins.” If you understand that, then I’m ready to answer your question about heaven and hell.”

My daughter: “I do, but we’re still punished. You punish us.”

Me: “Great question. We do experience consequences in this life for breaking rules. If you break mommy’s rules about hitting, you’ll go to your room, for example. If you break the rules at school, you’ll stay in from recess. If you break the rules of our government, you can go to jail. What we’re talking about right now is what happens when we break God’s rules our whole lives. We will never, ever be perfect, so we will sin against God’s rules until we die. We’re talking about what God should do about His rules being broken. Does that make sense?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “OK! So let’s answer your question now. The Bible says we will be with God forever if we accept the gift He gave us of being forgiven when Jesus died on the cross…”

My daughter: “What does it mean to accept?”

Me: [I took her stuffed animal and pushed it toward her.] Take the animal and hug it tight. You’ve accepted what I was giving you. [I took it back and pushed it toward her again.] Now push it away. You’ve rejected what I was giving you. When we accept the gift of forgiveness  that God is offering to us, it means to hang on tight to it our whole lives, like your animal right now. It means saying, “Yes! I know I’m breaking your laws and will never be perfect. Thank you so much for taking my punishment through Jesus. I accept your gift and will live my life for you in response.” Living our life for Jesus means making Him our highest priority…spending our lives getting to know Him through prayer and Bible study…wanting what He wants…and not sinning just because we know we’ll be forgiven. I want you to understand one thing really clearly: that means we don’t get to be with God just by being good or doing good things. We can never be good enough. When people do not accept God’s gift of forgiveness, they cannot be with Him when they die no matter how many good things they’ve done in their life on Earth. They still need His forgiveness for all the bad things they’ve done…and if they don’t accept God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus, they are choosing to take the punishment themselves. That means every person chooses whether they go to heaven with God or if they are separated from God forever in hell.”

My daughter: “What if someone has never heard about Jesus?”

Me: “Great question! A lot of adults ask that too. The Bible doesn’t tell us for sure, so Christians have different ideas about it. But what we do know is that God is perfectly fair and perfectly good, so however it works, we can know that God will handle it the right way. He’ll never sin like mommy this morning and just say He doesn’t care.”

With that, we ended our conversation and said goodnight. And I was a wee bit grateful for messing up that morning.

35 thoughts on “Heaven and Hell: How to Explain God’s Love AND Justice to Kids”

  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this. Yours is one of the very few blogs I read. Even though my own child is grown, I’m helping care for my granddaughter by keeping her every day while her mom and dad work and I am always inspired by your posts.

  2. The Bible does tell us for sure what happens to people who never heard of Jesus. They are still responsible for their sin and they have enough knowledge of God from His creation (Romans 1) to know to seek God. The Bible also says that those who seek God will find Him. So if someone has never heard of Jesus, it’s because he or she rejected what they did know of God and failed to seek God. They die of the sin disease if they don’t have the cure, which is Jesus.


    1. Hi Lindsay, Actually, Christians have different views on what the Bible has to say about it. There are many people who have access to general revelation (everyone – Romans 1) but not special revelation. The question is, what happens to those people? Christians generally hold one of two views: restrictivism and inclusivism. Without going into detail (there is an infinite amount written online about this), restrictivists believe that those who don’t hear of Jesus are lost (which is what it sounds like you hold to). Inclusivists believe that Jesus’ sacrifice can apply to people who have not heard, just like it applied retroactively to Old Testament believers. They believe that general revelation must be enough to save a person if it’s enough to condemn them (again, Romans 1) – if a person responds to God based on the level of revelation they DO have, they can be saved. What everyone agrees is that God will be fair, so the most important thing I emphasize with my kids is that you are responsible for focusing on what to do with what YOU know.

      1. The Apostle Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel… for IT (the Gospel) is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.” He also says, “How shall they believe if they do not hear?” And then again… “Believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and you shall be saved.” If inclusivism were Biblical then the Great Commission becomes almost irrelevant doesn’t it? I agree that there are many who hold to the idea of inclusivism, but I would argue that they are holding to an unbiblical notion, often times in hopes that they themselves will not be held accountable for their lack of faithfully sharing the Gospel. I urge you to examine Paul’s discussion of natural revelation (Rom. 1:20-21) in its context. You will find that is sandwiched between the clearest statement in Scripture that the power of salvation is the Gospel (1:16) and the longest litany of sins in the Bible (1:22-32), which is man’s best response to natural revelation.
        There are no indications in the entire Bible that anyone has ever been saved through general revelation (OT believers heard the Word and were justified by faith in those promises, and the One making them). General revelation is adequate to condemn, but it is not sufficient to save. God’s self-revelation in nature exposes man’s sin so that he is without excuse (1:20). Only in Christ is the condemnation removed (Rom. 8:1). Residents at Mars Hill acknowledged the unknown God, but they were not saved until they heard and believed the Gospel (Acts 17:23-34). To conclude from Romans 1:20-21 that anyone can be saved by general/natural revelation is dangerous to the lost, and at best; unloving on the part of the believer.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this! What a clear way to help the little ones really understand! I love your blog, thank you so much for all that you do 🙂

  4. Wow. Your morning slip up was an excellent teaching moment. I’ve only just started teaching my daughter about God. We have yet to talk too much about consequences of sin yet. Right now, we just talk about how she should trust Him and talk to Him when she feels like she can’t talk to me. I think you made up for the morning slip up with such a great discussion. Good for you and God bless!

  5. Hi Natasha I love this blog and find it so encouraging and helpful thanks for taking the time to do this. my son has a neurological condition and behind in his learning would you be able to email me any information you have or help in explain the gospel to him thanks

    1. Hi Gill, I’m so glad the blog has been helpful to you. Thank you for the kind words! I emailed you in response to your question with a book recommendation.

  6. Two other questions which your daughter may ask when she’s older: #1. Is it fair to punish an innocent person for someone else’s sins (even if the innocent victim, in this case Jesus, is perfectly willing)? #2. Is an *eternity* of suffering a fair consequence for any amount of sin?

    1. Those are the cornerstones of a lot of non-believers’ worldviews.

      Infinite punishment for finite crimes is a huge problem.

      1. Paul, even as a believer I struggle with this one. It just does not seem ‘fair’. But as a believer I have to fall back on the truth that God is fair, loving, completely wise and completely just. So He can be trusted to do the right, godly thing, especially since He created and ordered the universe. It is still a hard one to grasp and wrap my mind around, though. Especially when I think of non-believing family members who have died. Really hard to imagine and understand. I trust we will see things more clearly on the other side.

      2. Paul, I was thinking a bit more about this. And I think it helps to think of it this way. It is not so much that people are punished for eternity for petty crimes. It is that they have rejected God and chose to live life apart from Him. And He is letting them have their way for eternity. He gives all of us a chance and time frame (our earthly life) to accept Him and His forgiveness, love, and salvation. And if someone chooses to reject Him up to the end of their life, it is the decision they live with for eternity. That is what Hell is- eternal seperation from God, living with the choice you made when you had the chance to decide. It helps me to think of it this way, not just to view it as ‘punishment for temporary crimes.’

        1. Thanks for sharing this Heather – I think that’s an important angle from which to look at this subject as well. I always appreciate your insightful comments and replies! Thank you!

      3. Paul, There’s no doubt that hell is one of the hardest questions for Christians. But I would suggest that it doesn’t make a good cornerstone of disbelief. It really has nothing to do with the possibility of a creator’s existence. There is significant evidence for the mere existence of a being we would call God (I have been meaning to suggest to you Frank Turek’s new book, Stealing from God on this). For me, that’s the starting point of everything. Throwing out hell only throws out part of revealed religion. It doesn’t logically necessitate throwing out a creator God. But if you come to believe in the evidence for a creator, it brings you back face to face with whether there is evidence that He revealed more of Himself. And even then, throwing out hell doesn’t throw out Christianity. The truth of Christianity rests on the resurrection – for which there is significant historical evidence. Really, hell is a matter of biblical inspiration/infallibility after the independent evidence for God and Jesus has been established. So grapple with hell, but certainly don’t use it as a cornerstone of disbelief.

  7. Dear Natasha,
    Thank you for sharing these conversations. The time and effort you put into sharing these details, makes it easier to have an idea of how to approach the topic when it comes up. Thanks! Debbie

  8. Well done with a tough subject. I think that if more parents were pre-equipped with answers (like you) they would be able to parent the Deuteronomy 6 way and use the everyday to explain profound truths about God. I agree with some of the comments that this really is a hard question to tackle and that it is one that really troubles young minds. I am so grateful that God is just and that He has given us enough evidence to know that He is also kind. I trust Him completely even in the mystery. Thanks for you work, Natasha!

    1. Thank you, Thom! There’s no doubt that hell brings up tough questions. But I believe the starting point for any discussion is acknowledging and understanding this balance of love and justice. From there all other conversations flow. I agree with you – I am so grateful that we have the evidence to be confident in His love!

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  10. Natasha, I have to say you lay too much emphasis on humans accepting something offered and saying nothing about God’s election and eternal choice of individuals which is his prerogative, his irresistible grace by which he actually saves all for whom Christ died and his justice at eternally punishing the reprobate who remain impenitent. It’s ALL up him, and he is just and fair and merciful because none deserve anything but condemnation.

      1. Hi Julian, I agree with Natasha that not everyone sees it that way. And I have biblical support, too, as do you, I am sure. It is a controversial issue among believers. I did my best to present my biblical support in a post called “Predestination Does Not Mean ‘No Choice'” (in the August posts) at my blog, myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com. After examining this issue for a long time, I truly believe that God offers but we have to accept. Read my post and see what you think. And for the record, my very intelligent, godly pastor would agree with you.

  11. Natasha, not only are your blog topics pertinent and good lessons for our kids, but your responses to comments are intelligent and tactful. My theology seems to agree with yours so I keep reading your blogs and storing the lessons learned. Bless you, your family and ministry.

  12. I know that this blog is mainly a resource for parents Natasha, but as an adult I find it so incredibly helpful in understanding concepts that were only vaguely discussed (if at all) when I was growing up. I love reading your insights and although I don’t have children yet, I know that I am much better equipped now to have these kinds of conversations with them when I do. Thank you!

  13. Nice article!But I would hate to imagine those to girls fighting and me dealing with it.And I find it no one is perfect or bad,that’s saying about your little ones

  14. Shandalay Satterfield

    I learned a lot from this. I need to work on is recognizing “teaching moments” and even using mistakes or moments when I didn’t handle a situation quite as spiritually as I’d have liked to inspire my children and explain God’s love and truth to them. Thanks for teaching your daughters and being a spiritual blessing to both them and me!

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