This week's question comes from Debi, a mother in a great deal of pain. She writes, "I lost my eight year old son to cancer four years ago. Is he growing up in heaven? I haven't found anything in the Bible about this subject."
Actually, there is rather a great deal about the relationship between heaven and children in scripture. The most lengthy single passage about children and heaven is found in Matthew chapter 18. From this passage we can make several observations.
First, heaven is full of children, and adults who are child-like. "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). It is the innocence of children that has long been touted as the single most needed attribute to be childlike. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, thirteen has long been accepted as the "age of accountability," that is, the age when one loses their "innocence" and becomes accountable for both their deeds and misdeeds. Granted, this is an arbitrary age (and one which most parents of eleven-year-olds and often even younger would take issue with), but gives us some standard to go by. Certainly, an eight-year-old is not yet fully accountable for their deeds.
Second, the children of God are so precious that they are guarded by angels. "I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:10). However, note that the power of angels is limited. Angels do not seem to have power over disease, rather they are assigned the dutiful task of protection and comfort for their little ones, and even in this they are limited. However, that God has assigned angels to each of our children bespeaks of God's concern and care for them.
Finally, Christ promises that children are so precious to God, that they cannot be lost from the almighty. "It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost" (Matthew 18:14). Indeed, the preceding verses use the metaphor of God as a shepherd who searches until the last lamb has been found and brought to safety to indicate just how serious God is in receiving and protecting these children. So it is, that we may confidently say that children are in the heavenly realm with God.
However, Debi asks if her child is "growing up" in heaven. To this, the answer must be no. Eternity is not like earth where time is linear. Eternity is the everlasting "now," that is, it has no past, no future, no beginning, and no end. It just "is." This doesn't mean Debi's son is caught in a time-warp and will always be an eight-year-old in heaven; rather, it means her son has become the perfection of the nephesh chaya (Hebrew), meaning living being or soul, that God intends for all creation.
All God's children are special to God. They're so important, God's assigned each an angel to keep a special "eye on" them. And though the loss of a child makes no sense, whatever the cause, we can take some comfort in knowing they have already achieved what we must yet strive for--perfection and the perpetual presence with God.