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Tough Questions Raised by the Death of a Five-Month-Old Fetus

Background: This is the text of a funeral message delivered for a five-month-old fetus. The mother went for her regular check-up and the doctor found no heartbeat.

It is at a time like this, a time of apparent tragedy and human suffering, that some of the most important questions of life surface. I believe that the Christian can face these questions head-on. The answers are the key, not only to finding comfort in the midst of this tragedy, but also in communicating the message of the gospel, which is our ultimate and only hope in the face of death. I would like to take a few moments to ask and respond to three questions, which many of you are (or should be) considering at this moment:

    1. Why are we conducting a funeral on the occasion of the loss of a five-month-old fetus?

    2. Why would a loving and all-powerful God allow this miscarriage to occur?

    3. What comfort can we find in the death of this unborn child?

For just a few moments, I would like to focus your attention on these questions, and on the answers we believe the Bible offers us. I would hope that these questions and the biblical texts to which I draw your attention would provide comfort in this time of sorrow, and also provide the means for your further thought and response.

1. Why are we going to all this effort in response to the death of an unborn child?

There is no legal necessity to have a funeral, or even a burial, so why should anyone go to all this trouble and expense? The answer is really two-fold. First, sorrow and tragedy are times (there are many other times, too) when men should turn to God. Job worshipped God when he learned of the loss of all his children (Job 1:20-22). David worshipped God when he learned of the death of his first child by Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:20). Many of the Psalms are expressions of man’s worship in a time of sorrow or personal tragedy. Those who came to Jesus in the New Testament Gospels were those who were in trouble (see Matthew 5:1-9; 14:35-36). In Jesus’ words, it is not the well who need a doctor, but the sick (Luke 5:31).

The unborn child is a person, conceived in the will of God, and formed and fashioned in the womb by Him. In Psalm 127:3 we are told that children are a gift of the Lord. As Job observed, “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). It is no wonder that we find God opening and closing the wombs of women in the Bible (see Genesis 18:9-15; 20:18; 21:1-5; 25:21; 1 Samuel 1). From Psalm 139:13-16 we learn that the fetus in the womb is being formed and fashioned by God, and that God likewise determines the number of its days before its birth.

This mother and father, along with their family, have named this unborn child Faith as an expression of the fact that she is a person who is now in the presence of God. In the Bible, God is described as being intimately involved with the unborn child as a person. God chose Jacob rather than Esau while both were unborn children in the womb (Genesis 25:21-23; see also Romans 9:10-13). As an unborn child, John the Baptist leaped in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth (Luke 1:41). Faith, though unborn, was a person, a child that God gave to her parents. God was fashioning her in the womb. It is Faith, the person, whose death we mourn today, as we worship God for giving and for taking her.

2. Why did a loving and all-powerful God allow Faith’s death to occur?

If God is both good and all-powerful (which He most certainly is!), then Faith’s death could have been prevented. Why, then, did God allow it? Why did God allow this kind of suffering for the family of this child? We all want instant answers to such questions, but are not likely to get them as quickly as we would like. This is partly because we are to walk by faith, and not by sight. We were not meant to understand everything now, but in eternity (see 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2). We know God’s reason for allowing Job to be afflicted, but God did not see fit to tell him why throughout his sufferings, and perhaps throughout his lifetime. Job learned that while he may not know the precise reason for his sufferings, he did know God, and that was enough. To know that our lives are in the hands of God is all we need to know for the moment.

The Bible does provide us with some general reasons for our suffering, however. God allows His children to suffer many afflictions and adversities (see, for example, John 15:18-21; Acts 14:21-22; 1 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12-19). Every Christian should know that God uses adversity to bring about our good and His glory (see Romans 8:28). In such cases, we must join all of the Old Testament saints in living our lives by faith, trusting in God and obeying His Word, while we wait for the full and final fulfillment of all His promises. In general terms, we know that our suffering enables us to better identify with Christ and His sufferings (Philippians 3:10), and to minister more effectively to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). It forces us to rely upon God, rather than our own strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In bearing up well under adversity, we imitate Christ and thus represent Jesus Christ before a lost and dying world (1 Peter 2:18-25). Our earthly afflictions enhance our anticipation of the blessings that are yet to come (2 Corinthians 4:7—5:5).

3. What comfort can we find in Faith’s death as an unborn child?

As we reflect of the death of Faith, a five-month-old fetus, what does the Bible say to us that will give us comfort, joy, and hope in this time of loss? There are many things that God has to say to Christians who grieve over the death of a loved one. Allow me to focus on a few of them.

The most comforting thing we can know is that God is a good God, who is all-powerful, and thus in complete control of the things that happen to us. We can therefore conclude, as the Scriptures do, that Faith’s death was in the will of God, and meant for our good. In the midst of his sorrow at the loss of his children, Job was able to worship God, knowing that it was He who had given him his children, and it was also He who had taken them away (Job 1:20-21). Likewise we can worship God, knowing that Faith’s death was God’s will, and it happened in God’s time. There have been no mistakes.

Faith’s death, though painful to us, comes from the hand of God for our good. There is great comfort in knowing and resting in this truth. But there is another truth that also brings us great comfort: Faith’s death, is the will of God for her good. I believe that the Bible teaches us that unborn children and infants go to heaven when they die, and I would like to point out several texts that lead me to this conclusion. Throughout the Bible (the New Testament in particular) men and women are told that they are sinners, rightly falling under God’s sentence of death (see Romans 3:23; 6:23). This includes not only physical death, but also spiritual death by being eternally separated from God. In the Bible, lost sinners condemned to death are informed that Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary to pay the penalty for their sins. They are called upon to repent of their sin and to accept God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on their behalf. To accept God’s offer of salvation in Christ is to be forgiven of all of one’s sins and to enter into eternal life. To reject this gospel is to bear the full penalty for one’s sin (see John 3:16-21).

We know that there are some who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ, and thus have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel, to receive or reject it. Will God condemn them to hell? From the first chapter of the Book of Romans, we learn that while every man may not have heard the gospel, God has revealed something of Himself to all mankind through His creation (see also Psalm 19:1-6). A person’s rejection of this revelation of God in nature (by idolatry and false worship) is sufficient basis for their divine condemnation. But because these individuals have not heard the gospel, their condemnation is not as great as those who have heard and rejected the truth of the gospel (see Matthew 12:38-45; Luke 12:47-48).

There are, then, at least two categories of condemned people: (1) those who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and refused it; and, (2) those who have not heard the gospel, but have received revelation about God from nature and rejected (or distorted) it. I would now suggest to you that there are two categories of saved people. The first category is those who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and have received Him as their Savior. These people believe that they are sinners, condemned to eternal death, and have accepted the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s only means of salvation. The second category is that of all those who have not yet reached the point of being able to grasp the gospel (some would call this the “age of accountability”), and thus to choose whether to receive or reject it. I believe such “little ones” to be recipients of the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically, I am referring to the unborn and to very young children. Allow me to explain this.

We know from the Book of Jonah that God distinguishes between those children who are not yet accountable for sin from those people who are accountable. God sent Jonah to the sinful city of Nineveh, to proclaim that God’s judgment was soon to come upon this wicked city. Jonah very much wanted the Ninevites (the enemies of his people, the Israelites) to be destroyed. When the Ninevites heard the warning of God’s impending judgment they repented of their sins, and God withheld His judgment on this city for a time. Jonah was furious. He not only wanted the whole city to be destroyed, he wanted to watch it burn; no, he wanted to watch the Ninevites burn. In the final verses of chapter 4, God spoke these words of rebuke to Jonah:

9 Then God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "I have good reason to be angry, even to death." 10 Then the LORD said, "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 4:9-11, emphasis mine).

Here, God rebuked Jonah for wanting the entire city to perish. God revealed to Jonah that He had compassion on the innocent, while Jonah did not. The population of Nineveh was far more than 120,000 people. This is the number of children who are under the age of accountability, who are not yet able to distinguish their right hand from their left, let alone good from evil. Jonah was rebuked for wanting to see these innocent children (and animals, whom we surely cannot call sinners) die painfully. Is God not indicating that those who are so young do not yet have the capacity to understand the revelation of God in nature or in the gospel? God does not condemn those who are innocent. Jonah wanted every Ninevite to die, regardless of age or accountability. Jonah was wrong for failing to distinguish the innocent from the guilty.

In the first 3 chapters of the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul seeks to show that all men are sinners, rightly under divine condemnation and the sentence of death, and desperately in need of salvation (see the summary in 3:9-18). But whether it is the heathen in some dark land, who has only the revelation of God in nature (Romans 1:18-32), or the Jews who know God’s law very well (Romans 2:1-29), men are condemned for rejecting the revelation about God which He has made known to them. But what of the unborn and the very young, who have never heard or grasped God’s revelation, in Scripture or in nature? I believe that such people are those to whom God referred as those “who do not know the difference between their right and left hand” (Jonah 4:11).

Are innocent children to be condemned to eternal hell, only because they are ignorant of their sin and of God’s salvation in Christ? I think not. This is why David found comfort in the death of his first child by Bathsheba. Consider these words of Scripture:

19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" And they said, "He is dead." 20 So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, "What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food." 22 He said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' 23 "But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:19-23).

As a result of David’s sin with Bathsheba, the first child of their union became gravely ill. David petitioned God to spare the child, but when the child died, David was comforted. His servants were amazed, and asked him how this could be. David informed them that while the child could not return to him (by coming back to life), David would join the child (by spending eternity in heaven with him). David found comfort in his assurance that he would join the child in heaven.

How can this be? How can anyone be saved without hearing the gospel and accepting it? The only way that this can be is if the blood of Jesus Christ reverses the curse Adam has brought upon his offspring, all mankind. Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is that which saves these little ones. Because they are too young to know about their sin and about God and His salvation, they are not held accountable for responding to the gospel. The saving work of Jesus Christ saves them, before they are even able to know it. Such children who die go to heaven. This is what comforted David. It is what comforts us as well.

I understand the theological basis for David’s comfort and hope to be set down by the apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. Paul’s words in Romans chapter 5 are his answer to the question, “How can men be saved by believing in one person, Jesus Christ?” Paul’s answer is that it was one man, Adam, who brought sin and condemnation upon the entire human race. It is therefore through one man, Jesus Christ (called the “last Adam” by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45), that God has made salvation possible for lost men. Paul’s entire argument is based upon the premise that Christ in His righteousness has outdone Adam in his sin. Whatever Adam has done to bring condemnation upon the human race, Jesus Christ has outdone, making salvation available to the human race. If God were to condemn an unborn child to suffer eternally in hell, it could not be for the willful sins that child has committed. The condemnation of such a child would have to be the penalty for Adam’s sin, not the child’s. But if Christ has outdone Adam, then the death and resurrection of Christ has rescued all mankind from the penalty for Adam’s sin. Any man who comes under divine condemnation is condemned for his own sins, and not for Adam’s sin. Therefore, I believe that Paul teaches that the unborn child and the infant are saved by the work of Christ. Just as the world involuntarily became participants in the sin of Adam, so the unborn and young child becomes the beneficiary of Christ’s saving work at Calvary.

Our sorrow cannot be for Faith. Our sorrow is due to our loss of knowing her, but not in any loss on her part. If Faith’s destiny is heaven, due to the saving work of Jesus Christ, then her death in the womb was the quickest way to heaven. I was impressed as I read two passages in which men of God spoke of their wish to have died in their mother’s womb. The first is Job (Job 10:18); the second is Jeremiah (20:14-18). Now I realize that these men were suffering and in despair. But I also believe that their words were based on the assumption that had they died in the womb, they would have immediately gone to heaven, and thus bypassed all of the sorrows and tribulations of this life. Such was not God’s will for these two men, but it was His will for Faith. Let us rejoice in the fact that God not only has taken Faith in death, but that He has taken her home to Himself, the quickest way possible.

Let me sum up what I am trying to say about the death of Faith, only five months old in the womb:

  • God is the One who gave Faith to her parents and family.
  • God is the One who has taken Faith away.
  • God has taken Faith away to Himself.
  • God has taken Faith way to Himself in the shortest possible way.

What a comfort this should be to a Christian!

So far, I have been speaking largely to Christians, and from a Christian’s perspective. But I must now say this to some of you who may not yet have received God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Faith’s death is a cause for our rejoicing in the midst of our sorrow. Her death has taken her to heaven. This is because she was too young to have heard the gospel and to have responded to it. But you cannot face the certainty of your own death with the same assurance. You are able to understand that God’s Word declares you to be a sinner, having fallen short of His standard of holiness, as demonstrated in His Old Testament Law, and in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith’s death can become an occasion for your rejoicing, if it causes you to come to grips with sin and death and eternal judgment. Her death may be God’s way of bringing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ home to you. I pray that it is.

Related Topics: Funerals