While watching Mass this morning an analogy to help understand heaven occurred to me, one that is based on obvious scriptural statements as made by Jesus, but with a modern context so that even the very young can understand it.
This analogy will help everyone understand heaven, faith and the issue of sins better, but it will most especially help young people, particularly little children, thus I want to teach this to parents. Young people, especially as you go into the world (school, college, etc.) this understanding will be an enormous help to you too.
Heaven is like your home that you leave before going on a long journey. It can only be opened with one key and you carefully guard that key, which you must take with you, as you travel from place to place. At the end of your journey you put the key in the lock, open the door and return home forever.
Now, here is why this analogy is so scriptural and illuminating. First of all, the key is your soul, given to you when you are conceived, as your soul is made by God in heaven. So God makes every person their individual "key" to "return home," after death, to heaven.
You can explain this to very young children very easily, as soon as they are able to understand that they are watching mommy or daddy use a key to open the family house or apartment. You can explain that God has given to you an individual, but invisible, key that allows you to open the door to your place in heaven when it's time for you to go there.
As children grow older and they begin to be exposed to other children of unbelieving parents, and are put in increasingly unbelieving places, such as school, you can explain it as this. If mommy or daddy allowed the key to be lost or bent, it will no longer allow the family home to be opened (don't traumatize your kids about actual lost keys, LOL). Explain that just like if the parents were irresponsible about the house key, a child who is tempted to do bad things by other kids is risking making their key dirty, bent or lost. So they need to feel sorry for kids who don't understand that they have God given keys, and who put their keys at risk, but do not be tempted to do the same. That is how you can start to explain sin (in addition to the traditional way of it being a bad thing), by putting it in an absolute God context, but one that is lovingly oriented rather than punishment oriented.
Young people, as you become preteens and teenagers, college students, drop outs or new to your first jobs, (Hi again, always happy to know that many of you read my blogging! ;-) you can now really relate to how I am describing the key. This key is not a computer generated key, easily duplicated, like keys to dorms or many hotels. There's not a locksmith who can duplicate based on the shape or number of your God given key another key if you lose it. This is an individual eternal key, only for you and irreplaceable.
So when you are tempted to sin by your posse or by the many opportunities around you, understand that you are giving your key a whack, or getting some serious dirt on it, that may rust or bend it, especially over time. That's the risk of lots of "little sins," as Neil Young said, "rust never sleeps." It's not just the big one time sin that one must worry about, but continued abuse of your key resulting in it being so abused it no longer fits in the lock, or it is lost, in the sense of only opening a door to hell, rather than opening the door that has been prepared for you and is your birthright in heaven.
No one who is human is perfect, but Jesus Christ, even as he was incarnated in human flesh, he alone was both perfect and perfected by God. Jesus was perfect and sinless from the moment of his conception, but he was also perfected in a process by God in order to be the Messiah and Savior. The analogy is that if perfection is gold, Jesus was born as pure gold, and then shaped into a form that all human beings can wear. That's how something that is already perfect, and in this case only Jesus was perfect, can be "perfected" by God. That's what the scripture means when it says Jesus "learned." It's not like he didn't "know" everything that was God's will, but he was being shaped in his perfection to be accessible in his public ministry and also ultimately as fulfilled Savior to be accessable to all who seek him and believe.
Thus there is a continual balancing act of knowing that one is not perfect and is increasingly surrounded by an increasingly sinful and imperfect people with recognizing that God is forgiving and merciful. If you understand the key analogy you understand how you can sin and be forgiven, but you can also have a bad surprise that you have pushed it too far and your key is lost or ruined when you die. This will help you to better discern what temptations are "worth" taking, such as they are. Little children who hit other children, for example, in addition to getting traditional parental discipline and behavior formation by their parents can also have it explained to them that when they hurt someone like that, it is as if mommy or daddy used the key to their house to hit someone. Not only is it wrong and it hurts but it also risks damaging the key.
Now, here is where this analogy can help you to understand the difference-the very dire difference-between a sin that is of the usual sort and a sin that leads others to sin. When you sin you damage, rust, and otherwise put at risk your key's condition, one that, thankfully, can be forgiven and restored by God if confessed and repented sincerely by you, and that path of sin is totally abandoned. However, what if you are a false prophet who leads others to sin and/or to false beliefs about God, including the occult and the denying of Jesus Christ and the one true God? You are damaging other people's keys, and you can never restore them again. People you lead astray from the faith go through their lives with damaged keys, and you cannot ever repair what is done to their keys (only God can do that, but if these people do not believe and repent, and become pure again to God, and not tainted by the false beliefs and sin you have led them to, and they've now adopted, how will they ever avail themselves of God's ability to forgive and "repair" them and their keys).
That is why Jesus warns that it is better to pluck out one's own eye or cut off one's own hand if that is the limb or organ being used to sin. Jesus is warning you that it's better to have only one hand than two if you still have your key intact. (This is not a pagan self mutilation formula by the way, but an ANALOGY by Jesus. Anyone but an ego maniac and/or drug or booze addict would understand that one is not expected to body mutilate in reality, I mean, duh). This is why I think my analogy supports the scriptures in a modern context. Even a blind man can find the lock on his house and insert the key if he (or she) had kept the key safe and intact.
This is why Jesus issues too a most dire warning to those who lead children to sin (saying they might as well put a heavy stone around their necks and throw themselves into the water). Jesus is warning that even worse than leading one's own self to sin (and thus one should symbolically cut off that eye or that hand), one's entire life (and key) is lost when one encourages and leads children to lose their keys to heaven. I tell you, you should shudder, as this is not the imaginary hippy groovy Jesus who thinks smart mouth unbelieving drug taking mean and sexualized children are a product that you should be honing and developing in any way shape or form. Those who not only lose, bend, rust and profane their own keys but also lead other, especially the children, who have no choice, to do so are truly totally doomed. Trust me, hell is packed with both false prophets and also those who lead children to sin (and thus put them on sinful paths that destroy their own keys as adults when they grow up bent).
OK, that's the dark but truthful side, suitable for adult/teenager discussion. Let's go back to the light filled and hopeful side, which is to use this gentle, but totally scriptural, analogy of the key to help your children know, love and serve God better, and preserve their own places in heaven, more easily, in an increasingly poisoned and difficult world.
As an aside, I've mentioned before that young children need to be told about the reality of God, particularly, for Christians, through Jesus Christ, from the earliest age. This is usually done by mentioning God daily (such as saying Good Night to him, particularly as parents do nightly prayers with their kids). I've mentioned that a traditional way is to have a picture of Jesus and have the very young kiss Jesus good night, or at least tell him good night :-)
What I wanted to mention is that, sadly, those of you who are married to military service people, who are away on duty, have much experience with children remembering their parents through pictures, while they are gone. Kids get messages from their on duty parents through the computer, videos, phone messages and calls, and also photographs. Just as that works and is very helpful, you young people can now understand the wisdom of the traditional believers several generations ago, who used to have their kids know and love Jesus through even perhaps only one faded picture in the Bible or on the wall. It's just as if a modern child has the comfort and continuity of a picture of their in service parent. Again, it is crucial that, both new parents and those of you who have neglected this but still have kids you can talk to, you regain these traditional ways of making God part of your child's life from the very beginning.
It's not "up to them" or even is it up to your Church or Sunday school to do that, because if you do not tell them about their key in the home, they have no context for understanding God as a part of their real life, rather than later where God is an abstract set of rules, to be "believed or not." I mean, would you let your kid decide whether his father serving in Afghanistan "is real or not?"
I hope that this has helped.