Coping With The Loss Of A Child

Neal Pollard

I have never lost a child and pray that I will precede them all in death.  Imagining the difficulty of that situation in no way equips me to feel the grief involved in such a loss.  Yet, the Bible is the answer book on this, as with any, situation.

In 2 Samuel 12:18-24, the Bible says, “And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?   But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead.  Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.   Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.  And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?   But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. And David comforted Bathsheba his wife….”

The occasion of the death o a pre-born, newborn, infant, or young child must be a peculiarly difficult burden to bear.  It is untimely.  It is filled with the most painful of mysteries.  It is a most intense reminder of the ultimate end of all humanity (Hebrews 9:27).  Yet, it offers a ray of hope and comfort like no other funeral can.  Even as tears stain the cheek, there can be rejoicing in knowing the child is eternally safe.  It will never know the heartache, pain, disappointment, shame, guilt, fear or betrayl through which we routinely go simply by virtue of earthly life.

The Bible says that other parents lost small children.  An unnamed woman lost a son to death at the age of three days old (1 Kings 3:16-27).  1 Kings 14 tells of the death of Abijah, son of Ahab and Jezebel.  All we can tell from the term “child” in that text is that he was anywhere between infancy and adolescence; thus, a small child.  In the New Testament, Jairus lost a “little daughter” (Mark 5).  From ancient Job to the New Testament widow of Nain to today, parents have endured the difficult, unnatural task of burying their children.  Yet, there are special lessons to be learned in the account of David and Bathsheba’s little boy.  Consider four things, from the above text, to be gained when dealing with the loss of a little child.

Do not forget your relationship with God (20).  When David hears news of the child’s death, what is the first thing he does?  He arises from the dust of dejection and goes to church!  He had been praying to God all the time the child was dying.  It is natural that David continued his relationship with God.

It must have been a test of David’s faith.  Read the Psalms and you find the man after God’s own heart (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14) often asking God “why?”.   In Psalm 10:1, he said, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”  He later says, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.  O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2, NASU).   Remember that David cried seven days and nights over the child he lost.  Certainly, he knew that God was near, God cared, and God loved him, but he was hurting and things surely seemed unfair.

You may very well feel the same way when you lose a child.  Remember that this is natural, but do not forget your relationship to God.  Know that God is near, cares for you and loves you, too.  An oft-quoted but appropriate saying goes, “Where was God when my child died?”  “Exactly where He was when His Son died.”  Tragedy and suffering can always serve to build spiritual strength.  It can cause us to realize our dependence upon God.  It can help us sharpen our focus on heaven.  It can lead us to count our blessings and remember what we do have.

Remember that your lives must resume (20-22).  No, not today… or tomorrow.  In an unavoidable way, life could never be exactly the same.  Grief is natural and necessary, and it has no exact timetable.

Yet, look to David.  He got back to daily life.  When he received news of his baby’s death, he got up, went to worship, ate a meal, and resumed his work affairs.  As painful as such a loss has to be, one can be thankful and mindful of all that remains that is to be lived for and the many loved ones with whom one has left to live.  As hard as it is to imagine in the midst of grieving such a peculiar loss, you will laugh again and enjoy life again when the time is right.

Let a heavenly reunion motivate you (23).  To me, these are the most impressive words of the story.  David says, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”  We know where the baby was, so we know where David wanted to go.

Those who lose a little child have an extremely powerful motivation to go to heaven.  Not just that heaven is infinitely better than the awful alternative.  Not just the excitement of seeing God “face to face.”  There is a little child up there waiting for the arrival of his/her parents.  Imagine what a sweet reunion that will be, to see it there.  Each time such parents sing, “Won’t it be wonderful there…?,” they will have an extra measure of appreciation of those words.  Parents grieving this loss can live the remainder of their lives determined to “go to him.”

Find comfort in one another (24).  There is something in the text easy to overlook.  David goes and comforts his wife, Bathsheba.  Didn’t David need comforted, too?  Yes, but Bathsheba had a bond and relationship with the child that David did not.  Her emotional makeup and needs, in such loss, were different from his own.

There is a special need for a wife and mother at such a time as this.  As this tragedy can bring parents closer to God, it can also bring mutually aggrieved mates closer to one another.  It is a time when you can better appreciate Ecclessiastes 4:9, that “two are better than one….”  Thessalonica was going through tremendous heartache and even loss, and you will notice that at least seven different times Paul admonishes them to “comfort one another.”  God knew there would be times when we would need support.  There is special support available from one’s help-meet and companion.

When a little child dies, there is grief because of that tragedy.  There is also cause for rejoicing because of the assurance that can be had concerning the baby’s soul.  The sun will shine again through the clouds of sorrow.  The brightness of God’s love will break visibly before the dewy gaze once more.  Thank God for the comfort possible only in Christ.

Disturbed

Neal Pollard

The ISIS beheadings so frequently in the news and readily available on the internet are terrifying to behold and consider.  If terrorism is, as the Mac Dictionary defines it, “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” such would be terrorist activity.  The latest spectacle, involving 21 “Coptic Christians” (Egyptian Orthodox religion), seems to show the Islamic State organization is eager to isolate and persecute those seeking to follow Christ.

Do you ever wonder if there will come a day where New Testament Christians in this country may face the threat of death for standing up for Christ?  It has certainly happened to God’s people in the past, especially when the church was first established.  We read about the persecution that started with Stephen then extended to the saints at Jerusalem in the book of Acts.  We read of individuals like Paul, who suffered for Christ on many occasions (2 Cor. 11).  Then, there are the statements made to encourage Christians who might be rattled or scared at the prospect of such treatment.  Twice, writing the Thessalonians, Paul was concerned they would be disturbed by trouble (1 Th. 3:3; 2 Th. 2:2).  He wrote about how persecution was, at times, inevitable (Ph. 1:29; 1 Th. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pt. 3:14).  Of course, Christ showed us His way includes suffering (1 Pt. 2:21ff).

The Bible also gives us great encouragement in the face of the disturbing prospect of suffering for our faith.  Consider a few highlights:

  • We can rejoice if counted worthy of suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41).
  • Those who suffer with Him will be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).
  • Suffering can give one a clearer perspective and priority (Phil. 3:8).
  • Suffering is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that we’ll be counted worthy of His Kingdom (2 Th. 1:5).
  • It finds favor with God if we are faithful through our sufferings (1 Pt. 2:19).
  • It is better to suffer for doing right than doing wrong (1 Pt. 4:17).
  • We can entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pt. 4:19).
  • The God of all grace will comfort those who suffer (1 Pt. 5:10).

I don’t think any of us relish or welcome the thought of suffering under any circumstances.  Yet, God has communicated these truths to us to help us decide in these potential trials.  Perhaps it will help us be less disturbed and more determined to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).

Our Brethren Are Suffering

Neal Pollard

The United Nations’ very conservative estimate is that well over 2,000 people have died in the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine in fighting between that nation’s government have clashed with separatists.  So many of the towns and cities in the region have congregations of God’s people, many of their preachers trained in our foreign extension school that for years was in Kramatorsk and of late has been in Gorlovka. One of our graduates reports that two gospel preachers have been kidnapped this month, though one of them has since been released.  Our brethren in Ukraine have been facing the terror of daily bombing and shooting as well as fear for their safety when they assemble.

The ebola outbreak is an ongoing health concern and it is not yet contained.  Nations affected include Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and even Nigeria.  One of two Americans on medical missions in Liberia, Dr. Kent Brantly, is a member of the church.  While its not clear whether any of our native brethren in these African nations have gotten sick or died, they certainly feel the threat and concern of a disease that claims between 50 and 90 percent of those who contract it. 

Around the world at any given time, we have brothers and sisters who face health scares, hunger, harm, and hatred.  Persecution, natural disaster, famine, and war are no respecter of persons, and “our people” are often affected.  How they need our constant prayers as well as whatever assistance we can prudently provide.

On our pews in the local church, though without the drama and press coverage, there are always those who are struggling with hurts, heartaches, health, home, and hardship.  They may not trumpet their complaints or even publicly ask for encouragement, silently suffering.  As we interact with each other, let us keep in mind the potential hidden concerns and burdens being borne.  

Paul encourages us, in the spirit of unity, to “have the same care for one another” (1 Co. 12:25). He tells Colosse, “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). He tells Philippi to to look out “for the interests of others” (Phi. 2:4).  Are we busy and bothered by our own concerns? Certainly! But may we ever cultivate greater sensitivity toward the silent suffering of our spiritual family, both near and far.

Members of the Slavyansk church of Christ (including a BVBIU graduate from our first class) holding bomb shrapnel that exploded near the church building. Photo Credit: Jeff Abrams.

“I THINK I UNDERSTAND”

Neal Pollard

As part of the personal evangelism class I just taught in Cambodia, I had the students engage in role-playing for a couple of days.  It was wonderful and memorable.  Some of the students are brand new Christians and have no experience doing personal work.  All of them got into it wholeheartedly. Perhaps the most poignant moment came about purely accidentally.  We had a table set up, with a teacher, silent partner, and student.  The “student” was to come up with the issue or dilemma for the “teacher” to solve. In one particular scenario, the “student” hit the teacher with his true background.  He said, “When I was born, I did not even get to see my parents. They died and I am an orphan. If there is a God, why did this happen?”  His teacher gently and unassumingly said, “I think I understand. I lost my parents when I was young, too, and I am an orphan.” There followed a beautiful lesson on God’s love and pretty good insights on why there is suffering in this world. But the fact his teacher not only comprehended, but experienced his situation made a huge impact on everyone in the room.

We will suffer in a great many ways throughout our short sojourn on this earth.  At times, we may think that not another soul on earth understands.  Perhaps, there will come a time when that is actually true.  However, we will never encounter a single trial but that someone will always understand.  He may not be on earth, but He is ever-present. He is actually omnipresent.  The Hebrews writer says of Him, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).  As we bring our biggest, most debilitating issues into His presence, He gently says, “I think I understand.” Praise God!

What The Blood Of Christ Meant

Neal Pollard

  • To Christ, an expression of love (John 15:13)
  • To God, an appeasement of His wrath (Rom. 5:9).
  • To the Devil, the scribes, and Pharisees, a sign of their supposed victory (Heb. 2:14; John 19:6ff).
  • To the mob, apparent weakness (Mat. 27:42).
  • To the disciples, seeming defeat (John 21:3).
  • To those who lived rebelliously, nothing (1 Cor. 1:17).
  • To those who died in disobedience, an essential but missing element (cf. John 6:53).
  • To those who lived obediently, atonement (Eph. 1:7).
  • To those who died having walked in the light, everything (1 Jn. 1:7).

Untold millions are unaware of the value of the blood of Jesus. You and I must decide what the blood of Jesus means to us. Interestingly, in four different ways, the Bible tells us that what the blood does for us we obtain the benefit of through baptism.
—The blood of Christ sanctifies (Heb. 13:12). We are sanctified by baptism (Eph. 5:25-27).
—The blood of Christ washes away sins (Rev. 1:5-6). Sins are washed away at baptism (Acts 22:16).
—The blood of Christ remits sins (Mat. 26:28). Sins are remitted through baptism (Acts 2:38).
—Jesus shed His blood in His death (John 19:34). We contact the dead of Jesus at baptism (Romans 6:3-4).
The Bible makes clear not just what the blood of Christ means to our souls, but also how we get the benefit of that blood. May we do what God says do to receive the benefits of Jesus’ blood and continue to walk in the light of Christ in order to have that blood continually cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:7).

THE INNER STRUGGLES

Neal Pollard

Marilyn J. Abraham revealed something remarkable that a forest ranger told her about how trees protect themselves.  The ranger said that when a tree’s life is threatened, stressed by fire, drought, disease, or whatever, it twists beneath its bark to make itself stronger. You cannot see this new inner strength on the surface. The bark often looks the same.  It is when the exterior is stripped away or the tree is felled that its inner struggles are revealed.

The ranger’s story tells us several helpful things.  Often, we do not know the depths and extremes of others’ suffering.  Too, usually, no one knows the depth and extreme of our suffering.  But, God is able to help make us stronger even through the struggles through which we go.

Asaph wrote, “My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; My voice rises to God, and He will hear me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; My soul refused to be comforted” (Psa. 77:1-3).  Asaph depicts a mighty inner struggle, one wallowing in the pit of despair.  When things seemed most hopeless, the struggler saw that His pain had changed His view of God.  He had focused on God’s anger and seeming rejection.  But, then, He remembered who God is.  He thought about God’s deeds, His power, His holiness, and His leadership.  Then, he had the help he needed to handle the hurts.

To those who are hurting, remember who God is and what He can do!  Think about the strength and growth God can produce in you through the trials you are enduring.  May all of us understand, as we deal with others, that we may not be able to tell how much others are hurting when we see them.  Let us deal gently with others, since we do not know their inner struggles.

What To Do When The Bull Takes You By The Horns

Neal Pollard

It’s one of those pictures where you are relieved to know that the people captured in a painful predicament survived and recovered just fine.  That way, you don’t feel guilty laughing at them.  In the October 2007 issue of Reader’s Digest (p. 109), there is an incredible picture from the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.  What are the chances that one bull would be lucky enough to skewer brothers.  One either end of this bull’s rack are Americans that were, um, painfully caught.  The bull, literally, took them by his horns.  Even Hemingway would have to call this “poetic justice.”

It would be interesting to learn the etymology of the phrase, “take the bull by the horns.”  We know it is an encouragement to endure the risks in doing something bold, daring, and difficult.  It depicts bravery, bravado, and brazenness.

What happens when risk and daring backfire?  What about when you stick your neck out and your nearly lose it?  What about when your big dreams come to resemble a nightmare?

When the bull takes you by the horns, it hurts.  Though I don’t know this from first hand experience, I have seen the video footage and enough photos like the one in RD to believe it.  It hurts when you take that big risk (to invite a friend to church, to have a Bible study not end in baptism, to hand an olive branch to someone you’re at odds with and have the hand slapped, etc.).  Acknowledge that those who dare and do will sometimes know defeat.

When the bull takes you by the horns, it’s not usually fatal.  I have concluded it is the adrenaline rush of staring death in the face that gets these Type A’s into the narrow streets of Pamplona.  The dread of the goring is felt many more times often than the point of the horns.  If you’ve failed trying something big for the Lord, you may wrestle with being gun-shy.  Yet, ask yourself, “Did it kill me?”  If you are reading this, it obviously did not!  Try again!  Your next attempt may be your greatest.

When the bull takes you by the horns, learn from it!  When it comes to the running of the bulls, I’d say that the lesson to be learned is stay off the streets when angry bulls seeing a lot of red are turned loose there.  Perhaps another lesson is to run at least a step or two faster than the guy beside you.   But, when daring to do great things for God, learn from the mistakes and failures.  Let it instruct you.  Be wiser next time.  Try a different approach.  But, at all costs, do not stop doing your very best for Christ.