When A Child Dies

Later some mothers brought their children to Jesus, seeking his blessing (a typical custom with a visiting, famous rabbi). His disciples “rebuked those who brought them” (Matthew 19:13), so Jesus rebuked them: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (v. 14).

Why does God allow children to die?

Why, then, does this God allow our children to die?

The Bible explains why God allows death itself in these simple words: “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). In the Garden of Eden there was no disease or death. But now God permits physical death so we can step from our earthly bodies into heavenly ones. As much as we despise death, can you imagine living forever in your fallen, diseased, sin-plagued body?

This biblical concept makes sense to us when the one who dies is elderly, having lived a full earthly life. Or when his death is the direct result of his own decisions, as when a person chooses to drink and drive, and dies in an accident. But why does God allow death for children? They are innocent of any wrongdoing, and have not yet lived long enough to justify their homegoing.

If the only text we had in Scripture on our question was the passage before us, we might conclude that children die for the sins of their parents. I’ll admit that this text troubles me more than any other in Scripture. I understand that God had to redeem his name among the nations. But I don’t understand why he had to use an innocent baby to do it. I wish he’d found another way. I don’t like what this text says, or understand it.

But I am glad to say quickly that this is the only place in God’s Word where such a tragic event occurs. And that its circumstances are unrepeatable today. There can be no king of the Jews today, the leader of God’s only people, a man whose sins could bring disrepute on the Kingdom of God across the pagan world. This event cannot happen again.

Note that the text nowhere states that God deals with other children as he did with David’s son. This text is descriptive, not prescriptive.

Here we judge the difficult in light of the clear. And the Bible clearly states, “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4; cf. 2 Kings 14:6). For our sins, not those of anyone else. Today children die from diseases which are part of this fallen world. Or they die in tragic accidents which occur in this fallen world. Or as victims of tragically misused free will, a common occurrence in this fallen world. But not because God ends their lives.

And when a child dies, it is clear that he or she is with the Father in heaven.

The Bible does teach that we inherit Adam’s fallen nature, so that we all possess an inherent tendency toward sin (Romans 5:19).

So then, if a child dies before reaching an age when he or she can understand the gospel and respond to it by faith, what happens? To claim that inherited original sin places a child outside the possibility of eternal life is to reject Jesus’ clear affirmation of the children brought to him.

Our Lord made children his best example of faith and the Kingdom of God. It is clear that a child who has not yet rejected the gospel will not be judged by God as though he has. Instead, he will be with his Father in heaven.

Even as the Father is with those who lose such a precious child. In heaven there is no such thing as “time,” so it will be only a moment for children before they see their parents again. They know nothing of the pain, the separation, the sorrow we feel. They know only the joy of paradise with God. As will we, with them, for eternity.

Conclusion

So, what are we to do when a child dies? David chose to trust God with his son. We have wrestled with the most difficult sentence in the life of David. Let’s close by claiming the most hopeful sentence he uttered. Speaking of his deceased newborn son, the king said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (v. 23). David knew that his son was safe with God. He knew that he would see him again one day. He knew he could trust his child into his Father’s arms, and himself as well.

David chose to serve God, to continue life in the call and will of his Lord.

He had spent seven days fasting for his son, praying that his life would be spared. He spent the evenings in prayer outside the palace, lying prostrate on the ground. But when his son was taken home, “David got up from the ground.” Then “he washed, put on lotions, and changed his clothes” (v. 20). He could have spent the rest of his life in grief. Instead, he moved forward with hope.

His life would never be the same again. Losing a child is not a broken bone which heals and leaves no scar. The rest of his story would forever be different from that which had gone before. But his life could still be good. There would be Solomon, not to replace the son who died, but to continue life. There would be a nation to lead, people to defend, a legacy to continue. A life of service to offer.

And David chose to worship God. He went into the tent where he had located the Ark of the Covenant, where he “worshiped” (v. 20). Where he honored God despite his questions, his pain, his grief. He didn’t turn from the One he most needed, when he most needed him.