Experiencing the death of a child is one of life’s deepest griefs. There are many ways to lose a child, such as custody battles, waywardness, or miscarriage, but the death of an infant provokes a special kind of sorrow over a life that was never lived. Only parents who have gone through such a loss understand its devastating impact. However, grandparents, siblings, and friends wrestle with grief of their own. Arising from the grief comes the question Why? Coupled with that question is often an underlying anger at God for allowing the child to die. For those struggling to accept a baby’s death, please see our article “How Should Parents Handle the Death of a Child?”
Often, the first reaction to unspeakable loss is to ask “why.” However, when we ask “why” in situations that are outside our control, that is often not what we mean. What we truly want to know is whether God is still in control of a universe that would inflict such suffering. Is He punishing us? Is He angry with us? Did we do something worthy of such sorrow? Beneath all the questions, we want to know if this child’s death serves any good purpose.
When a baby dies, we see only wasted potential. We imagine birthday parties we’ll never have, graduations we’ll never see, and baby kisses we’ll never feel. The loss seems pointless, and the perception of meaningless suffering can fuel anger, depression, confusion, denial, and other negative reactions. But, when the first waves of grief pass, we may be ready to ask the real question: God, does the death of this child and the accompanying pain serve any good purpose?
Psalm 131 is a go-to passage when life slams us with events too heavy to bear, such as a miscarriage or the death of a baby:
“My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.”
Theologically, we can say that the reason anyone dies—babies included—is that we live in a fallen, broken world that bears the effects of sin: “Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned” (Romans 5:12, NLT). The death of a baby doesn’t sit well with us, and it shouldn’t—it’s not how God originally planned life to be.
Birth defects, chromosomal abnormalities, and deformities—all factors in miscarriage and infant death—are results of death’s reign over human life. At times, God may take an infant whose earthly life would be filled with agony. As painful as it is, sometimes the death of a baby is mercy. We can know that, however long the child’s life, he or she fulfilled God’s purpose on earth, so God saw it fit to take the child home.
We can make general statements about sin and death and deformity, but we can’t ultimately know why babies die because we are not God. We don’t have the ability to see into the past and future as God can. We don’t know the purpose behind many things God does or allows, but we find comfort in running to Him like a little child and resting in His superior wisdom. He tells us that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9). And we are glad about that. His insight is not limited by our finite minds. His experience is not confined to a mere 60—70 years on one planet. He is the One who created the planet and the humans who inhabit it, and He knows far more than we do about how life works (Revelation 1:8). He is not indifferent to our sorrows, but He sees the rest of the story.
God is a Father, and He invites us to understand Him as we understand a parent-child relationship. A good parent sometimes allows a child to experience painful events for the long-term good of that child. Likewise, God allows painful events in our lives for the long-term good. A child may grieve over moving to a new city, the death of a pet, or rejection by classmates. Wise parents don’t offer to change those things but work toward a new perspective, comforting and reassuring the child that it will be all right. God does the same with us. He rarely answers our “why” questions but does reassure us that He is still in control and that it will be all right (Isaiah 46:9–11; Psalm 147:3). He also promises that our pain is not wasted if we will entrust it to Him and seek His purpose in it (Romans 8:28).
God created that child and loves that child. We can trust the Creator to deal gently with His human creation and welcome babies into His presence (Matthew 18:5–6; 2 Samuel 12:23). And even though we grieve, joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). Regardless of the way the child left us, we have the promise that all who belong to Jesus will be reunited forever in heaven with Him. Someday, sorrow will be gone and death destroyed forever (2 Timothy 1:9–10; Revelation 20:14).