When a Child Dies

Yesterday, Ainsley Higgins, a girl almost 7 years old, died as a result of a mitochondrial disease. Our family has known too many children who have died because of this disease. We are involved with this didn’t-want-to-join-but-had-to community because our eight year old daughter Gwendolyn also has a mitochondrial disease. In addition to the anguishing grief, Christian parents may wonder what happens to their children after death. The Scriptures are clear that all have sinned and deserve condemnation and an eternity without God. But what about children who didn’t have a chance to choose Jesus? I believe the Scriptures do offer real comfort to families dealing with the death (or likely death) of a child. There is good news about their eternal destination.

David’s Confidence

The classic  text on this issue is King David’s response to the death of his first son with Bathsheba from 2 Samuel 12:22-23:

He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me. (NIV)

David, a man commended by God (except in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah), is confident that he will see his son in some future afterlife. His surety is not rebuked by anyone, priest or prophet. Thus it stands out as evidence that children who die young have eternal life with God. It is shaky, though, to derive a full-blown theology on such a critical issue from one man’s declaration that is not explicitly echoed by God.

Jesus’ Example

However, Jesus, who is God, does seem to echo this declaration, in opposition to His disciples and the prevailing view of children in His day. Read Mark’s account:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)

Jesus blessed the children. He didn’t condemn them or send them away as unimportant. Mark’s placement of this account is also very telling. It occurs just before Jesus’ encounter with a rich man who asks how to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response, which challenged the man to sell everything, astounded the disciples. If this man, who claimed to follow the law, cannot be saved, who can? Mark’s inference is clear: children will inherit the kingdom even when the rich and “good” turn away from it. The last will be first (Mark 10:31).

God’s Character

Finally, there is comfort in knowing God’s character. He is just, righteous, and good.  Even if the Bible doesn’t describe the “mechanism” of salvation for those unable to make their own decision, we can trust that God’s decision are just and good. His demonstrated goodness and mercy are enough to convince me that He will do what is right and good. If He would give up His own Son for us, wouldn’t he do everything for our children?

Because of Gwendolyn’s condition, I have thought about this often. Even if she has a long life, we do not know how much she understands. What if she (and others) can never make that decision for Jesus? (Infant baptism to deal with original sin is one tool that some Christians use. As a Baptist, I know that baptism is a sign for believers, not infants.) In Gwendolyn’s case, we often wonder if she has her own communication with God. Sometimes she just laughs for no apparent reason. We have decided that God is telling her jokes. Maybe Gwendolyn and God have a better relationship together than He and I do. No matter what, I trust God with my daughter’s eternal life. David’s confidence, Jesus’ example, and God’s character are enough for me. May He give you encouragement and hope if you are facing those darkest days when your child dies.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. Matthew 11:25-26 (NIV)

More:

How we have hope when there is no cure for our daughter

Brighter days: an interview with Gwendolyn’s mito doctor about the state of mito medicine

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13 thoughts on “When a Child Dies

  1. ansuyo says:

    I know a three yo with his problem. I’m glad you offer hope ( God offers hope). To those struggling with the loss or possible loss of a child.

  2. linneann says:

    Gosh, Sean, this is beautiful. I have read the Bible over and over but I have no gift for memorization. I am convinced, however, that my understanding from reading is that children who die go immediately to heaven and have no reason to fear judgment. While Erik is 18, he is, and always will be, childlike. If I were to look up specific scripture, I know I could prove that he has an automatic pass. Children may choose to disobey their parents because they are still seeking right from wrong. That’s not deliberate sin. Deliberate sin must be a mature response to God’s word whereby we know what he expects and have the capacity to obey. I pray with all my heart that your daughter will live long beyond her expected years, but if she doesn’t, you can rest assured that she is with Jesus. I’m rambling a bit because I am emotional but I think you know what I mean. I have a stillborn so I don’t speak from zero experience.

    • Sean Durity says:

      We had a miscarriage, so we dealt with this at that time, too. Thanks for reading and commenting. I know this is a “heart issue” for you, too.

      • linneann says:

        My doctor expected my second pregnancy to end in a miscarriage. (It didn’t) I knew then that losing a child at any stage is the same thing; the difference lies in the amount of memories we have stored up. My first daughter’s birthday is coming up in three days. It’s been twenty-two years yet I have already shed tears at her memory. I will be posting a story about her on the 16th. I think you will be able to appreciate it in a way many people cannot. Take care, Sean. Bless you and your family.

  3. Tavia says:

    A friend of mine is burying her 6 month old granddaughter tomorrow. I am going to send her this link.

  4. This is really really good, Sean. I have had two grandbabies born with smooth-brain condition. I believe you are right on with this article, and it should bring comfort and hope to anyone who reads it.

  5. chris9911 says:

    Can you at least tell us if she grew up in a loving home?

  6. Rad change says:

    Children are not supposed to die before their parents yet many face this every day. May this post provide great comfort to those concerned with the eternal souls of their beloved children.

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