Perhaps one of the worst reports we can hear is that of a baby unexpectedly passing away overnight. As a parent of a three year-old, I don't want to even consider what it would mean to tuck my tike into bed one evening and then find he's no longer breathing in the morning. Can anyone argue with Theoden in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" when he says, "No parent should have to bury their child"?
Especially when that child is only 20 days old.
And the death of an infant leads to many questions. Perhaps the most common type can be summed up in a single word.
If there is no God, the answer is painfully simple. The same random chance that resulted in us sentient self-aware creatures also deposited us with defective bodies that, even when relatively healthy, are unable to cope with all the life-threatening factors our planetary biosphere provides. Void of providence driving our design, we are left with no chance of avoiding tragedy, whether it be our own or that of someone we are close too. There is no divine being to mourn (or even observe) our suffering. Here on Earth all there is is an innumerable bunch of atoms being reconstructed into various forms until, billions of years from now, our dying sun expands into a red dwarf and the statistically improbable existence of life is forever snuffed.
With no one left to remember a single tear or smile, let alone care about them.
Even if one does believe in the supernatural, the answer to "Why?" can be disturbingly uncomplicated. Greek and Roman God's are equally (if not more) capricious and cruel than we are, and either don't care, derive enjoyment out of our suffering, or have no more concern for their impact on us than we do stepping on small anthills while hiking woodland trails. We suffer because we are inconsequential and our highest purpose is to entertain (or to placate or to serve) beings who flip from tempestuousness to boredom (and back) in a heartbeat.
We don't fare much better in other belief systems…
However, there is one major religion that has the audacity of claiming there is a God who truly cares for us (1 Peter 5:7)—a God who purposely created us and did so in His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). That same religion goes even further with the very straightforward statement that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).
Yet it is almost impossible to think of an omniscient (all knowing) and omnipotent (all powerful) celestial person who looked down from heaven last Friday evening, saw the precious face of a less than three week-old child, knew what the next morning held for his doting parents, and…in a caring and loving manner…allowed that newborn to die.
There is no explanation I can give to newly grieving mothers or fathers that could satisfy. Their wound is understandably too fresh…too exposed…and the most I can hope to do is show them how their God, as displayed in the form of the Son, weeps with them (see John 11:35). However (for the rest of us), as I mentioned in a sermon, "Why? Why? Why?," thousands of years ago our original parents, Adam and Eve, trusted a serpent more than their creator and ceded control of this planet to the "prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Additionally, they didn't hand the reigns to some benevolent dictator, instead it was to the "father of lies" (John 8:44), a powerful fallen angel who "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour"1 (1 Peter 5:8).
And lest we question the fairness of billions of humans through history suffering for the mistake of two individuals, we personally confirm our allegiance to that prince…that ruler…that god…repeatedly with our thoughts and our words and our actions. In that same talk I noted that "the earth is a huge dark alley where we can be mugged at any location and at any time."
However, Scripture also teaches that God has not given the Devil carte blanche. Our Divine Protector puts limits on what the dragon can do.
So…God…why don't you at least make babies off limits?!?!?! If you could put a hedge around Job (Job 1:10), couldn't you at least keep a hedge around the young until they have had the opportunity to make the same decision Adam and Eve did?! Why won't you protect the innocent?!
But if we think about it, we really do want our cake and to eat it too. We want God to step in as long as that doesn't step on our freedom. I would posit that the vast majority of the suffering infants endure is at the hands of fellow humans, not nature. Are we really willing to have the Lord silence our vocal cords when needed…or short-out our television every time something is on that little eyes shouldn't see (or when we should instead be spending quality time with them)…or prevent any and every negative thing that we can inflict on the innocent ones in our care?
Perhaps we want to be able to decide what is too much. Protect them from the murderer and the pedophile and the abuser…since we aren't any of those. Our neglect or misdirected anger or thoughtless words aren't harmful enough to warrant a hedge. Just stop the really, really bad stuff God.
Clearly we could run God's universe far better than He does…
It was our desire to become like Gods that got us into this mess in the first place (see Genesis 3:5-6) and history constantly confirms, even at the individual level, that our behavior makes us more likely to have evolved from monkeys than been created in the likeness of God. We can't even competently run our own lives.
No…I can't explain why babies suffer and/or die in a way that will ever satisfy a grieving parent, but I do know why we are in this mess…and I also know that God will clean it up. God really does care for us. God truly is love. God did weep with us while He was on earth.
And I will weep with Him until He wipes "away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore" (Revelation 21:4).
Finally, let's not forget that our sin cost Him His Son too. And the Father and the Son chose for that to happen so that at the Second Coming every child in heaven will live forever. "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20)
1 All Bible quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.