What could be more devastating and inexplicable than the death of an innocent child! Why? How could a loving God allow such a tragedy?
One morning last November a shocking photo flashed up on my computer screen. A little English girl lay in her hospital bed, her face and body clearly wracked by excruciating pain and agony.
Four-year-old Jessica Whelan suffered from a rare form of childhood cancer—neuroblastoma. She had been diagnosed with her cancer at age 2. Her father, Andy, posted her photo on Facebook not to sensationalize or exploit his daughter’s terrible condition, but to hopefully bring about worldwide awareness of the disease and perhaps encourage more research for a cure.
Just a couple of weeks later, the night before Jessica died, her dad wrote on Facebook: “Every day has been a battle to … keep her comfortable using pain relief and sedatives.
“Through all the pain relief and sedatives she has still not had the comfort to allow me to do anything more than rest my hand upon her, perhaps hold her hand and occasionally kiss her dried pale lips.
“Last night however we managed to get her body to absorb enough of the medicines that this time when changing her bedding, instead of having to merely move her onto our bed, Jessica actually let me and seemed comforted to have me pick her up and rest her on myself for around twenty minutes or so.
“I can honestly say it was probably the best and most cherished cuddle we have shared in a long time.”
The next morning he wrote again about his “princess”: “I feel both sadness and relief in informing you all that Jessica finally found peace at 7 o’clock this morning. No longer does she suffer, no longer does she feel the pain of the physical constraints of her body.”
Why … oh, why?
When we see (and feel) such tragedies, which happen all too often, we may ask ourselves “Why?” Why would God allow this to happen? And we try to find comfort amidst the terrible pain associated with losing a child, or anyone. We often identify with others, around the world, who also suffer immeasurably, perhaps losing their lives in the most untimely, cruel or inexplicable ways.
Jessica had the potential of a full lifetime ahead of her. Her parents loved her, cherished her, supported her. Some 100,000 people were following her struggle for life on Facebook. But none of that was enough. Despite all human and medical efforts, the fact remains—a small child died from a terrible illness.
God and children
How does God feel about children? Is it really His desire that they suffer?
God encouraged Adam and Eve, the first human beings, to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In other words, He wanted many, many children to be born, to eventually populate and fill the earth. God gave the same command to Noah and his family after the Flood (Genesis 9:1).
Later, King Solomon wrote, “Children are a heritage from the LORD” (Psalm 127:3). Parents love and cherish their children, from their birth onward. They are irreplaceable. God Himself gives us our children. They are intended to be a source of great joy.
In New Testament times, Jesus Christ viewed children very positively, noting that their humble nature and attitude reflected His own way of life and His Kingdom (Mark 10:13-15). He took them into His arms and blessed them (verse 16). He prayed for them, knowing that little children need divine comfort and protection, physical provision and all good things in life.
The apostle John wrote this remarkable passage about the people of God:
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! … Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:1-2).
The Bible says that faithful, obedient servants of Jesus Christ are—today—the children of God and one day will be like Him, in His family. We will be spirit as He is and inherit eternal life.
However, despite all this positive news, we also find examples in the Bible where God permitted children to die. In fact, the death of children is an ongoing topic in the Bible. In a terrible attack by Satan, all 10 of Job’s children died in a great calamity in one day (Job 1:19). Can we even begin to imagine the grief Job and his wife must have felt?
In this world, under the sway of Satan (1 John 5:19), children die from disease, during childbirth, by murder—some have even been burned as human sacrifices. All of these tragedies are recorded in the Bible. God allowed them. What are we to think?
All destined to perish
First, we must consider a baseline for all humans who have ever lived. Thousands of years ago Solomon wrote that all “go to the dead” (Ecclesiastes 9:3), and “the living know that they will die” (verse 5). The apostle James asks, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
Over the years I have served in the ministry, I have visited many sick people, many of them terminally ill. I’ve performed funerals for the young and the old, for those who died suddenly and painlessly and for those who suffered at length. Some had been good people; some had not.
There’s one clear fact: eventually this human life will end somehow, one way or another. And it’s never easy or simple for the living to fully understand or express what they feel in such circumstances.
God lost His Son too
Stop to consider that fact. During Jesus’ 33½-year human life, God the Father knew that He would watch His only Son—Jesus Christ—die a cruel, horrific death on earth.
Jesus Christ is returning to set things right and give hope to everyone who has ever lived, including Jessica and her dad.Why? Why did Jesus have to die? His death and sacrifice were the only way to pay the penalty of sin that hangs over the human race. Jesus Christ was willing to give His life so humanity can ultimately be freed from the trap of sin, death and so much suffering that Satan has laid for us throughout time.
As a result, our Heavenly Father deeply empathizes with human parents who lose their children, whether they are small children, teens or adults. Jesus also understands everything that we go through and cares every bit as much as His Father does (Hebrews 4:14-16).
So what is God doing?
To our limited, physical, human minds, death seems so final—the end of our relationship with a loved one. But God does not view death the same way we do, and He does not leave us hanging, without hope or solace.
The apostle Paul noted: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep [died], lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. … Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 18).
God also has a plan for all who were too young or never truly understood the message of the Son of God. Many of these died untimely and tragic deaths.
We may never know in this lifetime why many children, including little Jessica, died when or how they did. And to us, that may seem terribly unfair. However, don’t despair. Consider another reality in the story of human history.
God has allowed Satan to exert his influence over the entire world (Revelation 12:9)—ever since the first humans rejected God and His way in the Garden of Eden. Prompted by Satan, mankind has acted in opposition and disobedience to God ever since. Jesus described our adversary Satan (1 Peter 5:8) as “a murderer from the beginning, and … a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
The “god of this age,” but not for long
As the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), Satan wreaks violence, death, wars, disease and mayhem in the affairs of men. Humans, exercising their free will in rejection of God’s ways, have made harmful choices over thousands of years that have led to the dangerous, disease-ridden world we see today. These choices have cut short far too many innocent lives. But it won’t be this way forever. Jesus Christ is returning to set things right and give hope to everyone who has ever lived, including Jessica and her dad.
Death is not the end for mankind. God promises a resurrection of the dead—of all the dead (Revelation 20:5, 12). In fact, His own Son described Himself, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
Paul wrote that there is a time order of resurrections: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:22-26).
All will live again and have an opportunity to learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ and the wonderful future of the Kingdom of God.
The end of sorrow
There is a time coming when no children, not a one, will die. Neither will adults. The apostle John wrote these comforting and powerful words: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
To understand more about what happens after this life, read our free downloadable booklet The Last Enemy: What Really Happens After Death?