Tag Archives: early infant loss

Pastoral Q & A: Early Infant Loss and Salvation

One of my congregation members submitted this question:

What happens to miscarried babies/stillborns or little children that die too young to profess their faith?

The question has to do with Christians and early infant loss.  This something many of us (including my wife and I) have experienced.  Many of us have lost covenant children before they ever took a breath outside the womb.  Some of us have lost covenant children after they were born, too.  All these losses are painful.  When you have a child in the womb, or a newborn in the crib, you have hopes and dreams for him or her.  An early infant loss is often difficult, both for mothers and fathers.
        What happens to the souls of these babies?  What will happen to them at the resurrection when Christ returns?  Christians ought to remember that God has a covenant of grace with them — this covenant includes our children.  The Holy Spirit says in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the child of even just one believing spouse is holy.  That is covenantal language (cf. Deut. 7:6).  When such children are taken out of this world in their infancy, Christian parents need not doubt their final destiny.  We ought not to doubt their election and salvation.  In fact, we can and should be confident like David in 2 Samuel 12.  When the little child died who had been conceived in that adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, David expressed his confidence that this child went to be with God.  He said in 2 Samuel 12:23, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”  David was sure that when he died, he would be reunited with his son.  That solid confidence comes from the covenant of grace that God makes with believers and their children.
          The Canons of Dort speak to the issue as well.  This is what Reformed churches confess from the Scriptures:
We must judge concerning the will of God from his Word, which declares that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents.  Therefore, God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy. (Canons of Dort 1.17)
To be clear, we do not teach that salvation is an automatic thing for all the children of believers.  Under normal circumstances, a covenant child grows up and reaches an age of accountability (which varies from child to child).  They then become responsible for believing God’s gospel promises for themselves and, if they do not, they will face God’s covenant judgment.  Canons 1.17 is speaking about the (for us) exceptional circumstance where a child does not grow up and is never faced with the personal responsibility to repent and believe.  In that circumstance, because of God’s covenant mercies, we believe that the faith of the parents covers for the child.
          What a comfort that gives us when we face the tragedy of early infant loss!  Our children belong to God and if they are called out of this life in their infancy, in his grace he takes them home to himself.  That little child you lost is now in the presence of God, praising him with his angels and waiting for the day of the resurrection.  When Christ returns, that child will be raised perfect and glorified, to spend eternity in the new heavens and new earth.  God took your child directly to himself, sparing him or her from having to bear the brokenness of this world under the curse.  It was a loss to you and it hurts.  Death is an enemy and it does not belong in this world.  Yet here too we can say that Christ has conquered death and removed its sting.  We can and will grieve, but we ought not to grieve as those who have no hope.  Our hope is in God and in his gospel promises for us and our children.
        Recommended readingLittle One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, Glenda Mathes, Grandville: Reformed Fellowship Inc., 2012.

Pray with an Eye on our Father and His Love (Lord’s Day 46 Sermon Excerpt)

This is an excerpt from last Sunday afternoon’s sermon at the Providence Canadian Reformed Church.  The catechism lesson was Lord’s Day 46 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

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Having God as our Father is a basic Christian teaching.  We have a Father in heaven, because we have a Saviour who came to earth.  We have a Saviour who reconciled us to our Maker, and because of that reconciliation, we are in a relationship of fellowship with God.  That relationship is described in terms of a Father and his children.  God is our Father, and we are his children.  It’s a beautiful gospel reality.

Our Master teaches us to open our prayers with an eye on God as “our Father.”  Right away, we need to be clear about what that means.  There are those who say that Jesus is referring to the Father as one of the persons of the Trinity.  They say that we are then to pray only to the Father as that person of the Trinity.  The conclusion is that Jesus is teaching us only to pray to the Father, as distinct from the Son and from the Holy Spirit.  However, brothers and sisters, there is another way of looking at this, and it is a better way.

When Jesus said, “Our Father in heaven,” he was not introducing something new to Jewish ears.  In the Old Testament, the word “Father” is found several times in reference to God.  When it’s found in the Old Testament, the word “Father” refers to Yahweh.  The word refers to God in himself, not as the person of the Father distinguished from the Son and the Holy Spirit.  A good example of this is in Malachi 1:6.  God is rebuking his people there.  He says, “A son honours his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am a father, where is my honour?…”  God is a Father to his people.  There, the word “Father” is being used in connection with Yahweh’s relationship to his people, not to the relationship between the persons of the Trinity.  This is the pattern of the Old Testament usage of the word “Father” for God.  It refers to Yahweh.

Our Master continues in that pattern with the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus is not speaking about God the Father as distinct from the Spirit and the Son, but God our Father as distinct from the creatures who call upon him.  This is not a reference to the Trinity, but to God as One.  Therefore, we cannot conclude that our Master is teaching us to address one particular person of the Trinity to the exclusion of the others.  That’s not in the picture here at all.  This is confirmed by other prayers that we see in the New Testament.  For example, when Stephen was being martyred in Acts 7, he prayed to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Paul uses the prayer, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus” and other examples could be added.  We have the freedom to do likewise.

With the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, Christ is simply teaching us to look up to Yahweh as our Father and call upon him with an attitude of childlike reverence and trust.  We need to trust that our God loves us and will take care of our needs.  This is laid out beautifully in Matthew 7, further in the Sermon on the Mount.  There too, Christ is speaking about our Father in heaven, Yahweh, as he relates to his children.  Jesus makes a comparison between earthly fathers and our heavenly Father.  Earthly fathers will normally take care of their children and provide for their needs.  A child who asks for bread is not going to get a stone from his dad.  Or even worse, if a child asks for some fish, his father is not going to throw him a cobra.  People are evil and yet they still give good things to their children.  But then there is God.  He is perfectly good.  So, what would make you think that he wouldn’t give good gifts to those who ask him?  So, the conclusion:  ask your Father in heaven for good things, and because he loves you, expect that he will follow through and provide you with what you need.  We have a Father in heaven who loves us and it’s to him that we need to pray expectantly.

But that’s a lot easier to say than to do, isn’t it?  Trials and difficulties can easily muddy this teaching in our minds and even make it sound glib.  For example, one of the hardest things in life is to lose a baby.  My wife and I have gone through that and many of you have too.  You have hopes and dreams for that baby in your womb and then the Lord decides otherwise.  It’s hard to take.  Glenda Mathes is a sister from the United Reformed Churches and she has a helpful book on early infant loss.  It’s called Little One Lost.  I highly recommend it.  In the book she tells the story of Brad and Stephanie.  They were pregnant with their second child.  Caleb would be only fifteen months younger than their firstborn Joshua.  They had dreams of the two boys playing together and they planned to homeschool both.  Stephanie had an induction scheduled, and the day before they did an ultrasound and everything looked normal.  The next day they came in for the induction and there was no heartbeat.  They were devastated.  Later a medical examination revealed that there was no discernible reason why Caleb died before he was born.  Brad and Stephanie struggled with that.  “We had prayed for a healthy baby,” they said, “why had God chosen to answer us with a dead baby?”

That’s a tough question to answer.  In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “your Father in heaven will give good things to those who ask him.”  The Catechism paraphrases that in QA 120.  Isn’t a healthy baby a good thing?  Why would God withhold that from Brad and Stephanie or from any of us who have gone through this?  It’s easy to understand why tragedies like that would make you question our Father’s love.  Stephanie did that.  She says that, after losing Caleb, she questioned God and found prayer and Bible reading to be extremely hard.

Yet, in time, Brad and Stephanie came to peace with what God had done with Caleb.  Through this tragedy, they came to closer fellowship with the believers in their church.  Their brothers and sisters surrounded them with love and encouragement.  They came to see that their little baby boy was spared the heartbreak of sin.  Because of the covenant God has with believers and their children, Caleb is enjoying perfect blessedness.  Stephanie says, “There is peace in knowing that Caleb is safe, that God is taking infinitely better care of him than I ever could.  Though we never knew our baby, it is assuring to know that he was and is known by God.”  In time, this couple came to see that what happened was not inconsistent with what we confess about the love of our heavenly Father.  He does know what is best for each of us at any given moment.  It’s sometimes difficult to acknowledge that, but yet this is what the Scriptures teach.

One of the keywords in QA 120 is “childlike.”  When it comes to prayer, we have to be like children, because we are, well….like children.  We are not the equal of our Father, nor are we anywhere close.  We don’t have the understanding of our Father.  We don’t have the comprehensive knowledge of our Father.  We don’t have his wisdom.  We are finite, he is infinite in every way.  Really, we are like little children before him.  He has the full picture and full plan of our lives in his mind.  He knows everything from its beginning to its end, and we know very, very little. We have ideas about what is good for us, but they don’t always line up with what he knows for certain to be good for us.

Loved ones, we need to trust what Scripture says about our Father.  We need to believe his promise that because of Christ, he loves us and will provide what we truly need.  If we struggle with that, we can and should pray about that too.  We can pray and be honest with God and say, “I’m having a hard time believing that you love me because of all these trials – please help me to trust your Word.”  Even that would be an expression of childlike reverence and trust, the kind of thing taught to us by our Master.


Book Review: Little One Lost

Little One Lost

Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, Glenda Mathes, Grandville: Reformed Fellowship Inc., 2012.  Softcover, 139 pages, $10.00.

I’ve encountered it many times as a pastor.  I’ve also experienced it personally together with my wife.  Miscarriage or “early infant loss” is a common enough phenomenon.  Though it is so common, we are hardly adept at dealing with it in a Christian way.  People don’t know what to say, they don’t how to act, and they don’t how to give comfort.  So, more often than not, people say nothing, pretend as if it didn’t happen, or undermine it.  Those who’ve experienced it may themselves be reluctant to tell others – many times a couple who have lost a baby early on won’t feel free to tell their pastor or elder either.  This book has a huge potential to change the way we view early infant loss and the way we deal with it in our Reformed churches and families.

Readers of Christian Renewal will be familiar with the author since her writing regularly appears there.  She’s a member of a United Reformed congregation in Iowa.  Little One Lost grew out of an article written for Christian Renewal some years ago.  Mathes was contacted by women who had experienced this kind of grief and their encouragement led her to write something more substantial.  In the book she draws on the experiences of others, and also that of her and her husband.

Little One Lost is written from the heart and it shows.  She writes at the end of how this book was difficult to write.  I believe it.  But just as the best sermons are those preached from the heart, so also the best and most powerful books are written by authors who care passionately about what they’re writing.

Mathes covers every aspect of this subject and does so with sensitivity.  This book is not only about miscarriage, but also about still births and sudden infant deaths.  She notes how early infant loss affects not only mothers, but also fathers, siblings, and grandparents.  She draws our attention to how abuse or abortion can complicate the grieving process.  There’s a helpful and compassionate discussion about funeral planning in these instances.  I also appreciated the way in which she identifies infertility also as a loss.  Towards the end of the book, Mathes includes a section on things that are and are not helpful to say to grieving parents (including the infamously uncompassionate “Get over it!”).

This is a very practical book.  Moreover, the author offers her practical advice and wisdom based on the teaching of Scripture and its summary in the Reformed confessions.  She has excellent chapters on biblical, covenantal, and confessional comfort.  There was only one concern that I noted.  Chapter 8 deals with the grief of fathers.  Mathes writes, “God the Father gave up his one and only Son.  He knows the pain that fathers as well as mothers feel in loss” (49).  While I’m sure that author does not subscribe to the heresy of patripassionism, these words could be misunderstood as pointing in that direction.

Little One Lost is the best book I’ve read this year – no exaggeration.  It’s highly recommended for pastors, elders, and anyone who wants to help those grieving the loss of a baby.  Those who are working their way through such a loss will also benefit.  It can sometimes be hard to work through a book of this nature, which is why I think grieving parents will really appreciate the short chapters – each one is only three or four pages.  You can work through it slowly if you have to.  This book needed to be written and I commend Glenda Mathes for writing it and Reformed Fellowship for publishing it.  I plan to keep several copies on hand.