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The Age of Innocence: The Loss of Children and the Hope of Christianity

“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, Yahweh may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”


- 2 Samuel 12:22-23 -


I hate saying: "I lost my son." He didn’t wander off at Walmart or hide too long in the garden. I didn’t panic, only to find him and tell him off for scaring dad. No, I did not lose my son. My son died.


My wife and I were smiling, laughing, and listening to the radio as we drove to her 5-month pregnancy checkup. My father-in-law even tagged along for the happy occasion. The ultrasound technician said hello, got to work, but soon grew quiet. She studied the monitor, told us it was a baby boy (almost as an afterthought), and rushed out to find our doctor.


I squeezed my wife’s hand and felt my smile die. We waited in silence, then both began to cry. Our doctor was in tears when she came in. She rushed us across town to a specialist. The news was bad; as bad as it gets for first-time parents. It turned out my wife had gotten sick some weeks earlier and our son’s organs had stopped growing. The next few days were a blur. I felt our son kick once; maybe twice. Tears and prayer came easy and often. By the end of the week, Oliver was dead. I needed answers.

 

John MacArthur insists on the need for closure in Safe in the Arms of God. He writes: ‘When we look into the grave of a little one, we must not place our hope or trust in a false promise, in an unbiblical theology, in the instability of sentimentalism, or in the cold analysis of human logic. Rather, we must look to what God’s Word has to say on the matter. We are called to be faithful to the Word and place our faith in Christ. We are challenged to claim the promises of the Scriptures and live in the assurance of the grace of our Lord. We need words from heaven on the death of a child.’ Thank God I was already investigating Christianity when Oliver died. God had providentially placed the word of truth in my hands. I could know where Oliver had gone.


Death was not a reality for Adam and Eve until sin entered God’s good creation. Genesis 1:26-28 says they were told to “be fruitful and multiply” in a deathless world. The first couple would procreate and fill the earth with children never doomed to die. Man and woman walked and talked with God in the garden, yet they failed His only test. They doubted God’s goodness and ate the forbidden fruit. The information they had left them accountable for their actions, so God banished them from Eden lest they eat of the Tree of Life and forever suffer in sin.



Keep accountability in mind as we turn to Jonah. The reluctant prophet ran from God, only to be swallowed by a great fish and vomited up alive on the shore. Defeated, Jonah obeyed God, preached to Nineveh, and the mighty city ‘believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them’ (Jonah 3:5). When Jonah criticized God for showing grace to repentant pagans, God rebuked His prophet, asking: “Should I not have pity on Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (4:11).


God’s question can feel like an odd ending, but it reveals Jonah’s callousness. God is just and loving, hence He forgave those too young to be held accountable, just as He forgave repentant pagans who until Jonah arrived suppressed the truth of God and conscience in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Paul argues in Romans that ‘since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes…have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that [people] are without excuse’ (1:20). As in Nineveh, infants fail to meet this level of accountability. They may inherit a sin-nature from Adam and Eve, but babies lack the intellect to suppress the truth of God’s majestic creation or their innate morality.


God’s definition of accountability leads us to 2 Samuel and the meteoric rise and fall of King David. Having taken Bathsheba in adultery, the prophet Nathan confronts the king with four coming calamities. God will raise up rebellion from David’s own house, his wives will be publicly dishonored, his enemies will blaspheme God with renewed vigor, and the son growing in Bathsheba’s womb will “surely die” (2 Sam. 12:14). The death of David’s unborn son differs from that of his wicked, older son, Absalom, which helps distinguish the fate of innocent infants from that of accountable adults.



When David’s baby finally dies, the king shocks his servants by bathing, eating, and asking: ‘why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me’ (2 Sam. 12:23). Even in grief, David knew the goodness of God. He knew that unaccountable souls receive consolation in death. Yet when Absalom died later on in battle against God's anointed king, David ‘trembled and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”’ (18:33). David was utterly devastated. He knew there were only two eternal destinies, and Absalom’s rebellious death had secured his separation from God.


But let's end on a positive note with God’s high view of children. Solomon says: ‘Behold, children are an inheritance of Yahweh, the fruit of the womb is a reward…How blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them’ (Ps. 127:3, 5). As Jesus' brother later wrote: ‘every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow’ (James 1:17). While Solomon and James lived millennia apart, both men knew that while children are not sinless, they are indeed a blessing from God.



Christ agreed that children possess a unique purity, so when the apostles bickered over who was the greatest in Christ's kingdom, Jesus ‘called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever therefore will humble himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”’ (Matt. 18:2-4). On a similar occasion, Jesus said: “permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (Luke 18:16-17).


While the entirety of Christ’s teaching shows that not only children enter heaven, His salvation analogy works as there is profound truth to it. Infants possess a singular innocence that guarantees them salvation. Therefore our Savior implored His apostles to aspire to the humility of youth, abandon works salvation, and appeal to the mercy of God. Innocent children are in heaven. My son Oliver is in heaven, safe in the arms of God. And while he will not return to me, I will go to him. This is good news indeed.



All Scripture quotations are from the Legacy Standard Bible

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