My dear friend Catherine has graciously volunteered to do a four-part guest post entitled “Who is God when a Baby Dies?” Exactly eight years ago to the day that our baby Charlie died…Catherine and her husband also experienced the greatest sorrow of their lives when their baby Abigail was born without a beating heart. Though Catherine and I have never even met and live 2,000 miles apart, over the last five weeks she has written me an email every single day which we affectionately call “Letters on Grieving.” I like to think that our letters are kind of like C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters.” Only instead of fallen angels we are one child of God, encouraging another child of God how to make it through this broken world. I am so very thankful for Catherine, and I pray you will be as encouraged as I am by her story and her testimony of who God is in the midst of the suffering of this world.
Who Is God When A Baby Dies? By Catherine Arnsperger
As you listen to my story, I ask that you reflect on the story from the book of John where after Jesus healed the blind man, the disciples asked Jesus if the man was blind because of the man’s own sin or his parents’ sin. What they were really asking was, “Who’s sin was it that caused this bad thing to happen?” And the very core of their question seems to be, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Jesus’ reply is for me the most poignant verse in all of Scripture in answering the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” He says in John 9:3: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” It is my conclusion, from my own tragedy, that God allows bad things to happen to good people to showcase His work in that person’s life. It is our job to allow Him to work in and through our pain so that He may be glorified.
Now for my story…
January 2005, the 28th to be exact, started crisp and sunny. There was a chance of snow later that day, which I loved because I love snow. I was 41 weeks pregnant with our first child, one week overdue, and my husband Dan and I were up early to go to the hospital to induce delivery of this long-awaited baby girl. We’d already named her Abigail Grace. Dan wanted to name her Abigail and when he found out it means “a father’s joy,” Dan hijacked the naming process and Abigail was final. We had given her the middle name Grace because where would we be without God’s grace?
We went up to Labor and Delivery and checked in. I settled in on the big bed and the medical assistant looked me over and then went to do a quick listen of Abigail’s heartbeat. The assistant was having trouble finding the heartbeat, so she left to get the nurse. The nurse came in and couldn’t find the heartbeat either, so she left to get the doctor. I think my mind at that very moment was so foggy that I don’t remember feeling anything, including not feeling fear. Sweet Dr. Pickhardt rushed in and when he couldn’t find the heartbeat either, he struggled with disbelief. I wasn’t yet emotional. I said to him in a deadpan voice, “You know what you are seeing, right? She’s gone.”
After it was clear that she had died and all three ultrasound machines all told the same story, one and only one thought came to mind. “To whom much has been given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).” My own mother’s mantra to me my entire life. I said out loud…and I honestly don’t remember who was in the room at the time…Dan, surely…too hazy to remember, “God has given me everything. Abigail was His to take back. She is His to take and not mine to keep. This is His right and I can be OK with it.” I believe I said that out loud because my doctor said, “You do not know what you are saying.” And though I didn’t reply verbally, I said to myself, “Actually, that is the only thing I know to be true right now. That is the only thing I know.” Somehow that was great comfort to me and in the darkest depths of all of my pain – and grief does get dark, very dark – I knew He was who He said He is and it was my only rock. The only Rock I could cling to in the hurricane of my grief (Psalm 18, 62).
The following hours were a blur. We delivered a beautiful 6 pound 3 ounce baby girl via cesarean section around 1 in the afternoon. She had a perfect amount of hair and she had my hands. Everyone commented on how beautiful she was and she really, really was. We held her, loved her, took pictures. We had a funeral a few days later with a huge showing of people who loved us. Our church was full. Then we buried a baby girl we loved and knew only from her life in the womb. What do you do with THAT? What do you do with such a tragic and life-altering event? What do you do with a loss that is pretty hard for people to understand, mourning a person you never really knew? And who in the world was this God that I had claimed to have loved much of my life? Wasn’t He supposed to be good??
I love C.S. Lewis. Love his work. Actually, I have a mad, wild love for Aslan. Somehow, I can worship and cling to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in that form so deeply. C.S. Lewis writes in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe a most poignant conversation between the little girl Lucy, her older sister Susan, Mrs. Beaver and Mr. Beaver about King Aslan, the great lion who is the Jesus character in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia:
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.”
Safe? Who said anything about safe? Or tame? Or predictable, for that matter? ‘Course He’s not safe. But He’s good. What do we do with that kind of “good?” Especially when it may have felt virtually impossible to get out of bed this morning, do the mundane tasks of dressing and then to tend to a young family! What in the world is that kind of “good” where suffering happens and babies are buried and mothers and fathers are bereft and siblings are bewildered?
Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14 NLT)