Scene from "Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Paterson, contributed by Sara Manning (2021)
The passage below, from pages 147-148 of Katherine Paterson’s 1977 novel Bridge to Terabithia, serves as a reminder that when worrying about a deceased loved one’s fate after death because of that individual’s faith, keeping a sense of perspective is crucial. I hope such a reminder is comforting, especially to people of faith who do worry about lost loved ones of another faith. For context, Bridge to Terabithia follows fifth-grade students Jesse “Jess” Aarons and Leslie Burke, who are close friends with each other. Tragically, Leslie passes away upon drowning in a creek. Jesse, while grieving, grows concerned that Leslie will go to Hell, given earlier comments from his sister May Belle that Leslie would be “[damned] . . . to hell” for not “[believing] the Bible.” His father then consoles him and reminds him to keep a sense of perspective, and that one’s faith is not the only factor in God’s decision of whether or not to send someone to Hell:
[Jesse] was crying now, crying so hard he could barely breathe. His father pulled Jess over on his lap. . . . “There. There,” he said, patting his head. “Shhh. Shhh.” . . .
His father stroked his hair without speaking. Jess grew quiet. They both watched the water. Finally his father said, “Hell, ain’t it?” It was the kind of thing Jess could hear his father saying to another man. He found it strangely comforting, and it made him bold.
“Do you believe people go to hell, really go to hell, I mean?”
“You ain’t worrying about Leslie Burke?”
It did seem peculiar, but still—“Well, May Belle said . . .”
“May Belle? May Belle ain’t God.”
“Yeah, but how do you know what God does?”
“Lord, boy, don’t be a fool. God ain’t gonna send any little girls to hell.”
He had never in his life thought of Leslie Burke as a little girl, but still God was sure to. She wouldn’t have been eleven until November. They got up and began to walk up the hill.