When a Child Dies

26/02/09 | Posted by Poppy

When a child dies the world ends. The sun still rises, the birds still sing and other people’s children still play in the park but the parent’s world has ended. How can God let that happen?

 Young child

Yesterday’s headline news was the death of the little boy, the disabled six year old son of the conservative party leader David Cameron. He had Ohtahara Syndrome, a rare mixture of cerebral palsy and epilepsy and his short life was full of hospital admissions and pain, but he was very much loved. No one who watched the scenes on television of young Ivan at home with his parents and siblings could be in any doubt about that.

So why does God allow children to be born so damaged?

I don’t have an easy answer. I watch friends with their disabled children struggle with hospital visits and the sheer tiredness of coping day to day. I watch their pride in small achievements and the big ones as well. I worry about illnesses that healthy children shrug off with a cough and sneeze. The same virus can be life threatening to a vulnerable child who ends up with a hospital admission and long nights of worry and prayer for family and friends.

Where is God in this? I will happily admit that there are times when I shout at God that it isn’t fair.

My emotional side is hurt and angry but I do still try to understand what is happening. The only sense I can make of it is that we live in a world where there is genetic diversity. This is what allows us to adapt to our environment. That is why I have very pale skin as my ancestors moved out of Africa thousands of years ago and needed to be able to metabolise vitamin D which is hard if you have dark skin in a sunless climate. Genetic diversity is useful in helping the tribe survive and adapt but sometimes the mechanics go wrong and there are mutations which lead to all sorts of things from red hair to inherited illness to cancers. This is the world we live in and most of the time it makes sense, but when a child is in pain or dies due to a genetic fault then it doesn’t seem right or good. But genetics has no value. It is just DNA breaking apart and reforming in unique combinations. And sometimes those combinations don’t work properly. Then there is pain and hurt and sometimes early death.

Jesus cared for children. He is reported to have said ‘suffer (allow) the little children to come to me.’ This was really counter cultural. Children at his time didn’t have much value until they were old enough to contribute to the family business. So many died as babies or infants that it seems that there was less emotional commitment to a child. Maybe caring less was a survival mechanism for parents who could loose all of their children to diseases brought about by dirty water, childhood diseases or simple infections. But Jesus did care.

Does that make the death of a child any easier? As I believe that Jesus is in some way also God I have to believe that it does even if I don’t understand how. It stretches my faith when I see children hurting but I don’t and can’t know the full story this side of the grave. I have to trust that Jesus is with those who suffer and he walks with them through the dark and difficult times. 

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