Children and the concept of death

Doug Campbell - Contributing columnist

My daughter was a tot when I enlisted to beat the draft. My son was born in the USAF Regional Hospital at Chanute.

Those were the days when the politically correct thing was to avoid using the bedtime prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Terrify poor children with the thought of death? Unthinkable!

Perhaps children too young to understand the concept of death might be traumatized by the thought of dying in their sleep. But, it doesn’t take long. My children’s generation was traumatized by the fear of annihilation by thermo-nuclear war.

Children today (God, forgive us) are traumatized by the fear of death by gun violence. Go ahead, ask them; I dare you.

Shielding children from the reality death is unfaithful. Talking about God’s care for us despite the “wages of our sin” (death) is the beginning of a wonderful friendship with the deity of whose good will we are assured. God already has our souls in His almighty hands.

More to the point, “Now I lay me…” aside, Christians have, since the beginning of the movement, been encouraged to pray upon arising in the morning and retiring at night.

What better than to wake and give thanks for another day in which to live and move and have our being? “We give you thanks, heavenly Father, that you have protected us through the night from all danger and harm…”

What better than to crawl into bed at night saying: “We give thanks to you heavenly Father, that you have this day so graciously protected us…”

While we work as best we can to mitigate the consequences of our neglect, our bloody-mindedness, the sinfulness that leads to the death of us all, it behooves us to acknowledge that we’re not, ultimately, in control. God is.

God wills life for us – and everyone else. He will ensure that we get not what we deserve, but what He wills. The “last enemy” to be defeated is death – the point of Jesus’s resurrection from he dead.

The enemy that refuses to be defeated is our fear: Our fear that God cannot/will not defeat death; that we cannot be moved to be better than we are; that the morning will not come.

Makes “Now I lay me…” seem tame, doesn’t it?

Pastor Doug Campbell is a retired Lutheran pastor and a member of Faith, Wilmington. He currently is supplying pulpits in the Southern Ohio Synod. He was formerly Deputy Wing Chaplain for the Civil Air Patrol in Ohio. Before seminary he worked for the Chillicothe Gazette, and as the editor of the Chanute AFB newspaper in Rantoul, Ill.

Doug Campbell

Contributing columnist