Handling The Death of Innocents

[this message was given at the Children of the Heart Remembrance Ceremony, Dec 4, 2016, Glendale YMCA, Arizona]

I suspect that most of you here would agree with me that when there’s a death of an infant, it just seems that the universe is out of sync. Right? That something just does not seem right when there is a death of an innocent.  It seems that something is very wrong about an innocent child who is about to begin an adventurous life and then that life is cut short through abnormal genetics, accidents, or illness.

Don’t these situations shock our equilibrium?  It goes against everything we see life supposed to be.  And I now that to some of you here, the death of innocents may even seem like shear evil.

After a death of someone very close to him, C S Lewis wrote that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain” Lewis states that pain is used by God as a “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (Lewis, Problem of Pain p. 91)

The pain of loss, the pain of grieving, the pain of not be able to parent and raise your child…that is emotionally and spiritually overwhelming.

You may be in a dark spiritual place right now. No one would blame you. If not you, maybe a friend or family member is in spiritual or moral distress.  You might be asking yourself, “What does one do?  Why this? Why MY baby?  What do I do to make meaning of all of this?  How can I go on with life?”

Some Theology for Hope

While we may not know the meaning of why innocents have to die, I do want to briefly share with you some faith principles which can give you hope.

The first principle is that innocents are just that, INNOCENT. They are innocent before their Creator and therefore, when they pass away, they are in God’s presence. Let me repeat that:  your child is in the presence of God.  The length of your child’s life while brief in our earthly standards was virtually indistinguishable from the length ours will be from God’s eternal perspective. As scripture states, “For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) Please understand that your child’s life was just as valued and precious to God as your life is.

A second principle is to know that your child is happier today than the happiest person on earth has ever been. Being in God’s glorious presence with pleasures evermore greatly outweighs what is here on earth (John Piper, Funeral Meditations for Owen). Your child is in heaven, with God, and is gloriously happy!

And a third principle I’d like to share with you, and for you to really hang on to… is that your child was a divine gift to you. The Lord ordained life and gave you your child. And Yes, your child was taken away too soon, but that does not change the fact that your child was and still are, a gift to you and your family.  You conceived your child. You still have your child – “not in your arms but in your memory; not in your home but in your heart; not on earth but in heaven.” (John Piper, Funeral Meditations for Owen)

Always remember that your child was created by God, is highly valued by God and now is safe and happy in God’s presence.

Emotions

But even knowing and understanding these faith principles, I know your grief still exists. Your loss strikes you at the core of your soul which dredges up a host of emotions.  Emotions of agitation, anxiety, anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness, depression, fear, shame, and maybe even some guilt.

Why do you believe these emotions hurt so much? These emotions are normal reactions to an abnormal event, a major crisis in your life. These are normal thoughts and normal emotions about the situation which happened to you and your baby.  The irony of love is that the more we are capable of loving, the more hurt and grief there is when that person is gone from us. You would probably agree that you were created for relationships, but it becomes deeply emotional and painful when your relationships are torn away.

But One person asked me this once, “How can I use these emotions for good?”

For me, as a minister in the Christian faith, I believe in an all-powerful Creator God, who is a life-breathing, star-speaking, Universe Creator. But also my God can be very personal and all-knowing. A God who knows our every need, our every hurt, our joy, our frustrations and our sorrow.

And my God can be a comforting friend in times of great need. Maybe that’s what you are in great need of right now? A divine friend who cares for you, who listens and understands your hurts, but a God who also is a great comforting peace giver for a deeply aching heart.

Please know that God does react to our suffering. God does not delight in our suffering, but He weeps with us in our pain and grief (John 11). Your suffering will be not in vain. Through this journey that you’re on right now, your pain can allow you to see the world differently, maybe even live life with a whole new perspective, meaning and purpose.

There’s an Ancient story (2 Samuel 12:15-23) about a couple who had an infant who got severely ill. You can imagine the angst and helplessness the couple felt.  You have been there yourself. The couple possessed a deep spiritual faith. They prayed and prayed for their Creator to work a miracle, but over time the child’s illness lingered and their baby died. I can imagine that this couple felt the same any other couple would feel… a great deal of sorrow, grief, frustration – maybe even guilt of “did we do enough for our child?  Was our faith not great enough for God to respond?  maybe even pleas of Why God, Why?”   This couple grieved like anyone else does. This couple grieved just like you are grieving.

But after a while the baby’s father emerged from his isolation of grief. He cleaned himself up and he began to re-orient himself back into a normal schedule with the rest of his family, his friends and his work. I’m sure he thought life would not ever be the same, and we would agree with him.  But through his actions, we can see that there had been time for this parent to pray and plead to his God during his son’s illness, there was a time to appropriately grieve and then there came a time where God gave him the strength to continue remembering and honoring his son as he moved forward in life.

This couple did eventually have more children, who I would imagine the younger children heard stories from their parents about their older brother who had died.   The story goes that one of the younger sons grew up in his daddy’s footsteps and over time became a very powerful and wise leader. The name of this man’s son was Solomon and Solomon left many writings and wise sayings for us to read, ponder, receive strength from, as well as comfort for our souls. These 3,000-year-old writings stemmed from his vast experiences, but also from his own personal ups and downs of life. Solomon discovered there was a certain harshness of life and that despite our greatest efforts, true peace on this side of heaven will not be obtained unless it comes from God Himself.

As I close, please let me share a few lines by Solomon, as he reflected back upon his own life and the life of others, He discovered that there are appointed times or one might say there are seasons in our life, for everything under the sun which comes our way. Solomon wrote (Ecclesiastes 3:2, 3b-4) that there is:

A time to give birth and a time to die,

A time to plant and a time for harvest.

A time to tear down and time to build up.

A time to weep and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn and a time to dance….

My prayer for each of us here today is to know that everyone we are honoring today is dancing in God’s presence… you are mourning today, but through God’s rich mercy and grace, one day you’ll be celebrating and dancing with them as well.

May our great God bless you and keep you;

Make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you

And may He lift up his countenance upon you and give you PEACE. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen.

  • Chaplain Keith Evans
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