Yesterday, a friend of mine lost a son. What makes it, in his words, “almost unbearable,” is that this is the second child he has lost. There are no words to adequately express the empty, aching hole a child leaves in the months and years that follow that loss. Is it any wonder then, that at some point, so many of us ask God “Why?”
C.S. Lewis, in agony following the death of his wife, wrote,
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’ … Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.1
I have not found a way whereby we can find swift healing from the death of a child or loved one. I infer from this that the death of a person created in the image of God is by no means a trivial thing. We can only throw ourselves in the arms of God for healing, and use this life to prepare for eternity ourselves.
A cautionary thought before we proceed
I have often been astonished at the assumption we can so easily make — that we should be able to understand the mind of God so well that we can expect to answer questions like these to our satisfaction. C.S. Lewis wrote,
If we make mental pictures to illustrate quantum physics we are moving further away from reality, not nearer to it. We have clearly even less right to demand that the highest spiritual realities should be picturable, or even explicable in terms of our abstract thought.2
When we ask why God permits the death of children, we are not wondering why some imaginary god, invented in a human mind and entirely explainable and predictable, might allow children to die. We are talking about the real one — the Trinity, the one who is the origin of quantum physics, of beauty, of flawless purity, of the universe, and of every other created thing. It would be absurd to expect to understand the mind of God when we struggle to even explain the Trinity.
I mention this to caution us against the tendency to think that our mental capabilities and level of knowledge are even close to that of the Creator of the Universe, the Father of Lights from whom comes “every good thing given and every perfect gift”.3 There are, however, some glimpses given by God that are relevant to this question.
What is death?
It is helpful to reflect on God’s perspective of human death. For many people in our culture, death seems as if it is the end of everything … of life, potential, identity, and happiness. From our limited human perspective, there is a huge difference between whether one lives for 2 years or 85 years, but from God’s perspective (and remember, we are asking here for God’s perspective on the death of a child), our life is “just a vapour that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”4 If we are truly interested in even beginning to understand God’s answer to the question of why he permits the death of children, it is essential that we understand that our life is like a dream which, upon awakening, “vanishes away”. Death is the door through which every one of us must walk; it is the entrance into eternity. Our primary mission in this brief life is to prepare for eternity and help others do the same.5 For those who have accepted the gift of eternal life from God's hand, death is the most wonderful moment of our entire, mortal life. God says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.”6 This life is not all there is, and that one fact alone can make all the difference in the world when we grieve the loss of a child.
Every person is known by God
Every parent fears the loss of their child’s identity. Who will remember their child when they are gone? It can be of great solace to know, therefore, that every person who has ever lived is known by God. God’s primary name, at least as revealed to us, is I AM... the one who is. Past, present, and future are all, in some way, present for God. From that perspective, God knows every child, and even every unborn child who has died.7 For those who have eternal life, their names “were written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.”8 Your child is not forgotten. We cannot say with certainty that all small children spend eternity with God, but we can infer from the Bible that at least some do, and there is a possibility that they are all in eternity with God, although we do not know this.
The case of Jeroboam’s son
There is a fascinating account in the Bible of the death of a little boy named Abijah, the son of an evil king named Jeroboam. The boy took ill and his mother went to the prophet of God to find out what to do. God spoke through the prophet and told Abijah’s mother that as a consequence of the evil of Jeroboam and his family, he and all of his sons would be slaughtered, eaten by dogs and birds, and literally become feces on the land … except for little Abijah. She was told that the moment she entered her house the boy would die. He would be mourned, and buried “because in him something good was found toward the Lord God.”9
Let us think about this for a moment. If what God says about life in eternity with him is true, then this life is a nightmare by comparison. Of course, we know nothing different and we are used to it, and some of us even find happiness in it, but when we compare it to what eternity with God is like, he states,
“Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him.”10
The sobering implication: Like Abijah, there may be young children who are ready for eternity even though they are mere infants or toddlers or are still in the womb. To spare them the pain and suffering of this life, God takes them into eternity, even though it means enormous sorrow for the parents who remain.
Of course, there is still the problem of the sin of Adam through which physical death is both their reality and ours. But Christ’s victory over death means that those who are now with God will rise from the dead someday in an immortal body that is far beyond anything we can imagine.
The case of David’s baby boy
King David slept with another man’s wife, she became pregnant, and David had the man killed as a (badly failed) solution. He then took her as his wife. The prophet Nathan informed David that there would be terrible consequences for his actions and that the baby would die. The child died shortly after birth. David prophetically stated, “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”11 The implication that the repentant David would join his infant son after death suggests that the infant would have eternal life. One might think that a child conceived under such immoral conditions might be in pretty bad standing before God — but he was innocent of having ever committed a sin. Still, Adam’s original sin did confer death on that child, but that consequence of the original sin was taken by Christ when he paid the penalty for sin in full and conquered death by rising from the dead.
The problem of ‘potential’
I knew a girl who died in her teens. She had such potential! But it is now gone. From our perspective, the loss of a young life means the loss of all the things that person could have accomplished, all the talent that she was gifted with, all the lives that would have been blessed by her beautiful spirit, and all the happiness she could have brought to her friends and family. There is no glossing over the fact that death is a brutal reality of this fallen world. But … we must remember that from God’s perspective, our real potential is in eternity, not here. Our mission in life is to prepare for eternity and help others do the same. We have no idea of the day or the hour when our mission is complete and we can enter into eternity, where our real potential lies. There are many, it seems, who are ready for eternity at a very young age; their mission in this life is complete. From God’s perspective, it would be wrong to leave them here any longer in this world of pain and sorrow.
A sobering possibility
People who have lost children and babies are all around us — you might be surprised how many, as most do not speak of their silent pain and the empty ache they bear for the remainder of their lives. It forces one to think deeply about this often. On one such occasion, it occurred to me that angels are freewill creatures as well, who can choose to serve God or to fall. There are implications in the Bible that about a third of all the angels have fallen. Of course this means that two-thirds of the angels have freely chosen purity and service for God for all eternity.
As I reflected upon this, the thought suddenly struck me — could it be that there are human beings conceived who would always choose purity provided they were never permitted to live in this fallen world? For such people, they must be taken while still in the womb, or while still too young to be aware of moral choices. But from our perspective, this would entail the death of an enormous number of unborn children or infants throughout history. They are ready for eternity. Of course, the problem of their own death, brought about by Adam’s sin through which death entered this world, must still be dealt with through Christ, but Christ has done that.
It goes without saying that if this is true (and I must emphasize that this is only speculation based on David’s son, and Abijah, coupled with some knowledge of the angels) then it does mean there will be countless grieving parents throughout history. From God’s perspective, however, it may be more important to save that child that child from experiencing this fallen world. There is also another implication … the mere fact that you and I have survived childhood implies that we are not among those humans who would always choose rightly for all eternity. I find that very humbling and am enormously grateful for God’s plan of salvation for us who live, sin, and suffer in this world. God has put us in this world for a reason—to prepare for eternity and help others do the same.
One last thought — God has experienced our grief
“Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the entire Bible, but it is one of the most powerful.12 The one who is I AM wept — and it wasn’t because Lazarus was dead, for he was about to raise him back to life in a few minutes. Rather, it was because he experienced the grief of Mary and Martha. And even now, he experiences the grief of all humanity as we face the loss of our dearest and closest loved ones.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.13
In the words of some good friends of ours who lost their daughter,
We will never know why or what purpose there was in her death. In order to keep on living we needed to get to the point of choosing to believe that God is Sovereign and doesn’t make mistakes, God is good and God loves us and loved our daughter even more than we do. We also needed to choose to believe that He is with us in our grief and that He will give us the comfort and strength to walk through our pain.14
Article originally published on Kirk's blog, Quest, January 28, 2020.
For further reading:
- From Parents who Have Lost a Child Some good friends of ours who have lost a daughter consented to contribute their own thoughts for this post, about how they continue to live with the sorrow of her parting — what has helped and what has not.
- A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis: C.S. Lewis wrote a short book about his own experience in the loss of his wife. Even though this is not about the loss of a child, thousands have found it to be enormously helpful
- I have another article I’ve written that you may find of some help, Finding healing in the face of overwhelming grief.
- If you would like to understand more about how to receive the gift of eternal life, you may find my own story helpful, Life After Death.
- If you would like to connect with a real, online person to talk further about this, you can do so here.
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.
- C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, ch. 5, ‘The fall of man’.
- Bible, James 1:17.
- Bible, James 4:14.
- See my own story here, Life After Death.
- Psalm 116:15.
- There are two places in the Bible that speak of a miscarried child as experiencing the same situation after death as a person who has had a long and successful life. The implication is that a child who is miscarried is still a person with an eternal soul. See Job 3:16 – 19 and Ecclesiastes 6:3 – 6.
- Bible, Revelation 13:8.
- Bible, 1 Kings 14.
- Bible, 1 Corinthians 2:9.
- Bible, 2 Samuel 12:23.
- Bible, John 11.35
- Bible, Hebrews 4.14-16
- From Parents who Have Lost a Child