Why Do Babies Die?

Periodically I am asked questions in my pastoral capacity and over the years this one has come up several times, so I thought I would share the way I answer. If you read history you will know that infant mortality was incredibly high in the past, but with the advancement of better medical practice the current rate for the US is 5.9 deaths per 1000 healthy births (up to age 1). In a way this makes the loss of a baby even more poignant as the experience may not be shared by as many people and the loss seem so preventable.

When people ask me to speak to this tragedy, I know there are a lot of possibilities as to where they are coming from. They may have a holistic grasp of the Bible and know that death is the punishment for sin, so they may just be looking for comfort through the hope of the gospel. On the other hand, they may think that God just wants everyone to be happy and so they cannot reconcile their loss with their concept of God. I’m sure there are a variety of other thoughts and emotions that these dear people may be experiencing based on their own personalities, relationships, and circumstances. Based on this, I try to speak truth that is helpful across different spiritual maturity levels and even applies to those who are unbelievers. Here it is:

Most parents would do absolutely anything and give up absolutely anything to prevent the death of their child. But God gave His Son up freely to death. He knows what it is to lose a child, but He also knows that there is hope beyond that loss. His Son died so that our sons and daughters could have eternal life. God gave up His child so that we could have hope for our children. So I don’t know and can’t tell you exactly why this has happened to you, dear friends, and not happened to others. But I do know that your prayers of grief do not fall on deaf ears and a stony heart. The Father only has to glance over to see the nail scars of Calvary’s cross in the hands of His Son to remember what that terrible time of separation was like. But just as the eternal Father and Son have been re-united, so will every parent and child who put their trust in the Son.

Obviously, I don’t have that paragraph memorized and say it quite the same way every time. There are several reasons I choose this approach. First, it is the kind of truth that I imagine I would want to be reminded of if I were enduring such a loss. Systematic theologies and sentimental bromides would both seem out of touch for such a moment in life, but the reminder that God is a Person and not a force, the gospel is a story and not a formula, and loss is a prelude to a greater salvation all seem like sweet and tangible truths to the hurting.

Second, it defuses any anger towards God without calling grieving parents out on the carpet. Truth is always truth, but we can be wise and gracious in how we handle truth, especially with those going through terrible grief. Anger towards God is always unjustified, but a polemic attack on grieving parents lacks the seasoning of grace. By reminding these parents that we do not serve a God who stands aloof from our suffering but has Himself entered into our suffering, perhaps we can prevent any tares of bitterness from finding soil to root in their hearts. I imagine that if I were to have to endure the loss of a child, these would be the kind of thoughts that I would want to have about God’s nature and God’s love and God’s salvation.

Third, it is full of the hope of the gospel. It is hard for me to sit back and think about the fact that my children are destined to die. We brought life into the world, but the life we gave is not eternal in nature. Only God can bestow life eternal. Recognizing that God is not the culprit but the Redeemer is hugely hopeful in the midst of suffering like this. This may also offer an opportunity to share the hope of the gospel. I recently found out that my grandfather’s relationship with the Lord changed dramatically and for the better after the death of my Uncle John, who passed away as a child. I don’t know for sure what his spiritual condition was like before that, but I know that in that loss he recognized his need for the Lord. If we are wise and loving, we may find that during these times of sorrow there is an opportunity to share that same hope.

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