I yearn to pour the oil of comfort upon every wounded heart suffering the loss of a baby to miscarriage, stillbirth, or death in infancy, or reeling in remorse over an abortion. If you carry this pain, the forgiving Lord himself, “the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles,” longs to console you, regardless of whether your past has been vandalized by willful sin (and whose past hasn’t?).
I will strive to miss no morsel of comfort that might be gleaned from insight into the eternal destiny of one’s baby but neither will I limit myself to this. Deep issues associated with the loss of a child stretch far beyond the matter of the baby’s eternal destiny. Although Christians “don’t grieve like the rest, who have no hope,” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) one would have to deny many other parts of divine writ to twist this to mean that Christians don’t grieve. In fact, to counter this distortion of biblical truth, I have an entire webpage titled, Real Christians Grieve. Our tender Lord has much more with which to soothe those who are hurting than simply assurances about a loved one’s eternity.
From where can I retrieve the words and insight to apply healing balm to hearts sick with grief? The Bible inspires me to seek help from the ranks of Christ’s elite – those who know both God and the grief of losing a baby. Scripture implies that Christians seasoned by heartache are the heroes most likely to be entrusted with the divine grace to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
In the next life reside wonders that the Bible says little about. Later in this webpage I will carefully plumb Scripture’s depths for pearls of hope, but for the moment, let’s peek at what comfort God has given grieving Christian parents. Many have received personal suggestions from God that their offspring taken in infancy, or earlier, are with him.
The Bible alone is our final authority and yet the Bible itself makes a remarkable promise about additional confirmation from God. It is a fundamental belief among Christians of all persuasions that since the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost, we have been in the age of the Spirit, the era in which the atoning work of Christ’s powerful sacrifice, resurrection and ascension has been sealed by the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon “all flesh.” God proclaimed, and Scripture confirms, that the era in which we now live, ushered in by the coming of the Spirit, is one characterized by ordinary Christians personally receiving divine insight through dreams and visions (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17). Lest this opens the floodgates to anything unscriptural, we are rightfully extremely cautious, but to be too wary is itself unscriptural.
A friend of mine used to be sure that God never communicates except in writing – from between the covers of the Bible. Now he is sure he has seen his babies in heaven. Here’s what he says about his former doubts and present caution:
Sometimes my wife would say that the Lord had spoken to her. I used to reply that God does not and cannot speak to anyone except by his Word. Visions, dreams, voices, impressions and such are most likely from the enemy, I would declare.
Once, when I was about to touch something, I felt the Lord telling me not to. Investigation revealed that hidden inside was a black widow spider. That shook my theory. Slowly I moved from emphatic denial, to being exceptionally cautious about indications that God might be speaking, interspersed by times of blatant skepticism.
If ever I have heard from God it has always come with Scripture to back it up, just to assure me that it is God who is really speaking to me. Whenever I hear his voice and or see a vision or dream, I always ask this voice, “Who is Jesus Christ?” The response has always been, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
I always question where the divine encounter is leading me. Is it taking me to a deeper relationship with the one true God? Is it inspiring me to live more holy and pure? Does it line up with God’s Word, and has it come with God’s Word? Then I check myself to ensure that my desire is not to chase after exotic experiences but to run after the living God and have a closer relationship with him.
Sometimes the Lord has graciously provided powerful confirmation that I am truly hearing from him. For example, when I was recently seeking to encourage a distressed friend, the Lord gave me a vision about her. To her amazed joy, what I saw was identical to a vision about herself that she had received more than twenty years ago. Not surprisingly, she was profoundly encouraged.
Now let’s see what God has shown my friend that is of special relevance to this webpage. People call him childless. He knows differently. Let’s hear his story:
I have babies in heaven. My wife suffered two miscarriages and Father God graciously showed them to me, on two occasions. They are so cute. They looked about two years old. Their eyes were bright and full of life. I could see the joy on their faces. Once I saw them sitting on Father’s lap. The other time they were in the Throne Room. The experience was as real as greeting someone at the door. At times when I recall their faces I weep tears of love and joy.
I grieve the loss, but I know that they will never have fear or pain. Not subject to the faults and frailties of human parenting, they thrive in the love of the Perfect Father. He cares for them and holds them. They will never know earth’s peculiarities, but neither will they know the pain of isolation and loneliness. Instead, they experience things far beyond our imagination in a place continually filled with joy and music.
My arms long to hold these babies. My heart longs for them. As King David said of his baby who died, they cannot come to me but I shall go to them (2 Samuel 12:23).
Before sharing more of my friend’s beautiful words, I offer encouragement to those who fear their sin might have disqualified them or their baby from divine compassion. The baby David said he would go to, was born of a shamefully adulterous affair, and died because of the judgment of God. Moreover, of all David’s sons, many of whom were older, the one chosen by God to succeed David as king was Solomon. After the death of the baby born to adultery, “David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in to her, and lay with her. She bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. The Lord loved him . . .” (2 Samuel 12:24). Solomon, divinely chosen above all his brothers to be king and ancestor of the Messiah (Matthew 1:6), was born to the woman David should never have married; the woman with whom he had committed adultery and whose husband he had murdered to cover his disgraceful act.
My friend also lost another baby, as a result of an ungodly relationship when he was young. His partner aborted his child and did not tell him until years later. Encouraged by David’s attitude to the death of his baby conceived in adultery, my friend believes that this baby, too, is in heaven. He also takes comfort concerning his aborted baby from Scriptures expounded elsewhere in this webpage.
Later in this webpage we will mention someone else’s vision of children in heaven who arrived there through abortion. However, let me right now calm the fears, both of those racked with guilt over past involvement in abortion and those concerned that teaching that aborted babies go to heaven encourages abortion. If aborted babies have a pleasant eternity, it no more makes abortion right than a Christian’s eternal destiny makes murdering a Christian right. In fact, it means that aborted fetuses are not mere tissue but have eternal souls and infinite value. Nevertheless, the compassionate Lord died to forgive all who fuse themselves to him, entrusting their entire lives and destinies into his care. The forgiving, cleansing, life-transforming power of the crucified Lord embraces those sorrowing involvement in abortion. His body was broken to mend their broken hearts. He bore our grief and sorrows, suffering in our stead, bearing what our sins deserve, to turn our mourning into dancing.
Safe in the Father’s Arms
When it comes to words, I’m a compulsive meddler. I was so moved that I added lines and fiddled a bit, but the following was originally my friend’s work. This entire webpage owes its existence to how deeply his words touched me.
Far away from fear and death Do my children play; Never to know the sting of sin On their spotless soul; Never to know a single tear Nor stab of searing pain. In the Father’s arms are they, His face do they behold. In arms of tender comfort They rest in loving cheer; Salty taste of tears Never to crease their face; Not burned by scorching sun Nor chilled by thunderous storms. Untouched by earthly shadows And haunting pangs of night, They giggle in golden warmth And snuggle in contented glee. Lifted higher than dreams can go, They soar above The failings of earth And thrive in the love Of the Father Whose tender grace sparkles And wondrous ways smile With endless delight. Yet my arms feel empty. With painful chest I long to hold them To my breast; To see their smiling faces And ease my painful fears. Yet this I know: They are safe In the Master’s care. And I shall see them face to face And hold them when I’m there. They’ve breezed their way to Paradise. How smooth their getting there; So free from blame and shame. More pain than them I’ve known, Yet our destiny’s the same. Their journey there was easy; Long and hard is mine. But whether quick or long, We will meet again. Till then, my loves, rest easy. Behold his face and rejoice Without a single fear. I shall come to you some day And you shall dry my tears, As I weep in joy To see your cheery face. And even now at times I think I hear your giggles, But rest, my loves, in his arms, Till I am with you there.
(For one way this poem has been used, see A Place for Reflection for those Grieving Miscarriage)
“Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4)
We will soon explore biblical reasons for believing babies whose earthly lives have been brief are in a happy place. I would be robbing you, however, if I listed only reasons for celebration and failed to mention the healing benefits of grieving.
Writes Helen, a mother of six living children:
I suffered two miscarriages between the birth of my first living child and my second living child (a span of twenty-five months). That second miscarriage allowed the birth of my next living child. Had I still been pregnant, I could never have conceived the child I have and love today. Moreover, I was so inexperienced with babies that I would have felt overwhelmed at having babies so close together.
So I confess that part of me felt a sense of relief that neither of those pregnancies proceeded, but on the other hand, my husband’s attitude upset me. He never let me grieve. At my every attempt to cry in his arms he would tell me, “You should be grateful, not sad. Nature obviously realized she made a mistake and so she scrapped this one. We can have another go later.”
In an attempt to lessen one’s grief, it is tempting to fall into a callousness that is dishonoring both to the baby and to our own humanity. It can leave us scarred instead of healed.
Many of us do not realize that grieving is as thoroughly biblical and as essential for wholeness as is praise and rejoicing. A biblical understanding of the role of grieving is so important for the healing and Christlikeness of everyone facing sorrow that I have devoted a webpage to this subject. You’ll find a link to it as you keep reading.
Bible Insights into Where Babies go When They Die
Later in this webpage I’ll share other encounters with God that Christians have had about babies and young children in heaven. Many readers, however, will be hungering for biblical evidence for believing that babies go to heaven, so let’s examine this critical matter before returning to the encouraging experiences of modern Christians.
Although it is true that babies are conceived tainted with original sin (Job 14:4; 15:14-16; Psalm 51:5; Proverbs 22:15; Romans 5:12) – and it is because of this that all of us suffer physical death – it is also true that Scripture recognizes that little children have a degree of innocence that distinguishes them from those of us who live longer (Scriptures).
Despite the Bible’s teaching on original sin, it also says:
Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. (Related Scriptures)
Other Scriptures speak of us being judged according to our own misdeeds (Scriptures). And still others speak of being judged according to the light one has been given (Scriptures). Obviously, the very young would breeze through this judgment.
It is a divine principle that to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48; John 15:22). Again, the very young do superbly by this spiritual measure. The contaminating effect of original sin is real but Christ died to undo that curse and to save not only those able to put their faith in him, but equally to save some who died too early to specifically believe in him. Let’s see what makes this a scriptural certainty.
We know by biblical revelation that salvation is through no one but Jesus (Acts 4:12) and no one can come to God except through him (John 14:6). We also know that the spiritual power of Jesus’ sacrifice is so mind-boggling that it reaches both forward and backward in time (Hebrews 9:25-27; Revelation 13:8) and extends beyond those able to consciously place their faith in him. The crowning proof of this biblical truth is that Old Testament saints will be in heaven (Luke 13:28; Hebrews 11:5) despite never specifically placing their faith in Jesus, nor knowing the details of his atonement. Does the atoning power of the cross likewise extend to those too young to consciously reject Christ or put their faith in him? Was Jesus hinting at this when he said of little children that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14 and the other synoptic gospels)?
Jesus uttered the words just quoted when the disciples had tried to prevent mothers and fathers from bringing their little children to Jesus for a blessing. In the original Greek, Luke 18:15 specifically states that those brought to Jesus were babies and Mark 10:16 also indicates how small they were by saying he took the children “in his arms.” In commenting on this incident, John Calvin said that when infants who were too young to desire Jesus’ blessing were presented to Jesus, he tenderly received them and dedicated them to the Father “by a solemn act of blessing”. Calvin concluded, “It would be too cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption. It is an irreligious audacity to drive from Christ’s fold those whom He held in His bosom and to shut the door on them as strangers when He did not wish to forbid them” (Source).
It would be nice to make much of Jesus saying little children have angels (Matthew 18:10). Whilst this is quite possibly true from the moment of conception, in this particular instance Jesus seems to be speaking of those old enough to have at least rudimentary faith – “ . . . these little ones who believe in me . . .” (Matthew 18:6).
In his famous Systematic Theology, Angus H. Strong concludes that since Christ “died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14,15 – see also Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2), no one is exempt, no matter how young. And since salvation is appropriated by faith in those old enough to do so, there must be some other way in which the saving power of Christ’s death is transferred to those too young to have personal faith.
This is consistent with another line of evidence: the Holy Lord relates intimately with babies:
Psalm 22:10 . . . from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (NIV)
Psalm 71:6 I have relied on you from the womb. You are he who took me out of my mother’s womb. . . .
Isaiah 46:3 Listen to me, O house of Jacob, . . you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth.(NIV)
God’s covenant with the Israelites was ratified by circumcision, which usually focused not on those old enough to believe or commit themselves to God, but on eight-day-old babies (Genesis 17:10-14; Leviticus 12:3).
If the Old Testament speaks of tiny babies having a special relationship with God, we find something even more startling in the New Testament. Of John the Baptist we read:
Luke 1:15 . . . He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
Luke 1:41,44 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. . . . For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy!
Yes, John had a special call on his life, but he was still human. For most of us, God is embarrassingly bigger than our theology. How could the Holy Spirit of God remain in someone not cleansed from the stain of original sin? For baby John to be Spirit-filled while still in the womb, God must have some way of counteracting the effect of original sin in those too young for saving faith. Let’s not forget that all salvation is underserved and by grace.
Babies Conceived by Christians
Further on is encouragement for those who at the time of conceiving were not Christian, but we will start here. If the curse of Adam’s broken relationship with God can extend to unborn babes, could the blessing of a restored relationship with God extend to one’s babies until they personally break that union? We know both from Scripture and from the science of infection control that when the clean (or sterilized) and the unclean touch, the clean becomes unclean. In the words of Job, “Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!” (Job 14:4, NIV). But true Christians are clean. So we could reverse this question: who could bring what is impure from the pure? Or we could put it this way: a mother with HIV (the precursor to AIDS) could give birth to a baby with HIV, but how could a mother without HIV give birth to a baby with HIV? The child might contract HIV later in life, but at birth it would be free from the disease if the mother is disease free. Can this principle be applied to the spiritual condition of babies conceived by a Christian parent? There is a tantalizing Scripture that might hint at it:
1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.
This seems to mean there is something spiritually special about children who have at least one parent who is in union with Christ. (Some theologians see this as an aspect of the Romans 11:16 principle: “If the root is holy, so are the branches,” or as Matthew 7:18 puts it, “A good tree can’t produce evil fruit.”) Since it is spiritually essential for everyone who has reached the age of accountability to make his or her own decision to follow Christ, the holiness that passes from a Christian to his or her offspring would seem to apply to children of such tender age as to be too young to decide for themselves.
Nevertheless, from what we saw earlier, there is still hope for the offspring of non-Christians. If it were possible for any babies to be defiled in the sight of God, it would be those born to pagans who dedicated their babies as the supreme act of worship to a god that repulses the one, true God. However, the Lord calls such babies, sacrificed to demons (1 Corinthians 10:20) “innocent”:
Psalm 106:38 They shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan. . . .
Savor the following Scripture:
Psalm 139:13-16 For you formed my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. . . . My frame wasn’t hidden from you, when I was made in secret, woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my body. In your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them.
From that last powerful sentence, Luis Palau draws the wonderful thought that since the loving Lord of the impossible knows precisely how long each person will live, “every life is a complete life” (Source). There is such beauty in that thought that it is hard to let it go, and yet we are rightly repulsed by the thought that the sickening grief felt by parents is caused by the God of compassion.
We must never lose sight of the fact that death is by no means the divine ideal. We would know no death, had all of humanity adhered to God’s perfect will.
Just as sin breaks God’s heart, so does death, the tragic consequence of sin. The good die “young”. No matter how old they are when they die, we always seem robbed of them too soon. Even when physical death is but the beginning of a perfect eternity, the temporary tearing of human connections – that can hurt us more than physically being torn in two – pains God as much as it pains those left behind. Yet despite it all, we serve a God so powerful and loving as to be able to reverse the evil chain of events set off by anti-God behavior. Can the God of Romans 8:28 transform chaos and tragedy and into purpose and beauty?
Until relatively recently in human history (and it still is in many part of the world) infant mortality has been heart-breakingly high. Even in the U.S. today, up to twenty percent of pregnant women miscarry each year. As wonderful as God is, can he really turn this tragedy into purpose and beauty?
Events on planet Earth move God, but the eternal Lord of the galaxies has much higher dreams for humanity than what happens in the fragment of time that we call human history. The divine plan is to populate heaven. What heaven’s citizens will then do – rule galaxies, or whatever – we don’t know, except that it will be glorious.
We immediately think of two classes of beings in heaven: angels and humans. Angels have no parentage but God, and they are denied the privilege of joining God in creating life through procreation. In addition to angels, however, it seems that God has an eternal purpose for two classes of humans: those who, like angels, have known no personal sin and little or no consciousness of living in a world stained by sin, and those who through Christ have suffered and overcome the consequences of sin. Rather than create more angels who have had no experience of sin, he has given humans the privilege of conceiving these people.
Paradise, not this place of shadows and pain, is home. Those of us still on earth are in a war zone; fighting on foreign soil. What soldier feels sorry for those who return home early?
As a child, I used to watch Mr. Squiggle on TV. He was a puppet with a huge pencil for a nose. Children would send him ugly, meaningless lines they had drawn. Mr. Squiggle, always up to the challenge, would ingeniously add more lines, transforming the original chaotic, useless squiggles into a clever drawing. God is like that. When presented with the challenge of what looks like a twisted or tragically shortened life, he goes to work, transforming it into an exquisite work of art that will leave us gasping in awe for all eternity. On our side of death we see little more than the chaos, but people of faith will one day have the privilege of gazing upon the completed masterpiece.
Moving Experiences with God
Rob Harms has been a Net-Burst.Net Prayer Coordinator for many years. He shares the following:
In 2001 I attended a Christian conference. We arrived just in time for the evening meeting. The next morning the host pastor asked if anyone had a testimony from the previous evening. A young mother waved her hand from the back of building, and was invited to the platform to share.
She told how during the worship in the previous meeting she apologized to the Lord for not being able to give him her undivided attention because she had to watch her two small children (apparently the nursery was full). Jesus told her not to worry; he would watch them, The two little children immediately walked over to a nearby corner and started playing quietly by themselves. So the mother turned her full attention to God in worship, and had a vision.
She saw multitudes of children of all ages playing on a beautiful grassy hill on a comfortable sunny day. They were leaping and dancing in worship with the Lord. Then Jesus appeared at her side and asked her if she knew who these children were. She didn’t know, so he said, “These are children who have died. They are here with me, and do this all day long. So please go tell their parents that they are here with me, and do this all day long!”
A wail arose in the gathering of about a thousand people. So the host pastor said, “If this touches your life, please stand and let the people around you pray for you.” The man right in front of me was among those who stood up. We who were sitting close to him prayed for him. After several minutes a great grin broke out on his face, and he declared, “I am free of my sorrow for the first time in thirty years!” I talked with him later, and learned that he was a pastor. He said he felt that his healing from sorrow would revolutionize his congregation.
While she worked in her kitchen, Pastor Chris Pringle played a video in which a preacher said that in the 1980s he was granted a heavenly vision. Having always thought of heaven as a place just for adults, he was taken aback to see children there. The Lord told him that some of the children being raised in heaven were unwanted babies who had been aborted and rescued by God. Others in angelic care had been miscarried and were looking forward to meeting their mothers.
How credible you find that I will leave to your judgment, but Chris’s mind flashed back twenty-seven years to the awful time of her miscarriage. She had happily told everyone she was pregnant. Then came the crushing tragedy, followed by all the guilt and pain. Should she have prayed harder? Should she have done something differently? She recalled the tongue-tied people whose well-meaning but off the mark attempts to console her were as comforting as a sword in the heart. And then there were the devastating questions about the progress of her pregnancy from people who hadn’t yet heard of her miscarriage.
Tears flowed freely. She had not thought of her miscarriage for ages. Had it been a boy, they would have named him Jesse if he had lived. Her painful recollections were suddenly interrupted. Chris saw in a vision a tall, fair-haired man laughing freely as he walked. As she wondered about who he could be, the Holy Spirit spoke into her heart, saying, “It’s Jesse!” She was particularly surprised because, despite the passage of time, Chris had always thought of him as a baby.
Chris recalled how her husband had felt sure the Lord had told him that their first child would be a boy, and how mystified they were when she gave birth to a daughter, the child conceived after the miscarriage. Now she knew that her first child was indeed a son, and was now a vibrant young man. Her heart filled with joyous warmth. The powerful experience changed Chris and her husband, and their children are now looking forward to one day meeting their brother in heaven. It was as though, after all these years, the revelation made their family complete. Their eldest daughter had always secretly wished for an older brother.
In Chris’s words:
He is no longer a lost baby but a real living member of a family, found in heaven. . . . He has been raised and educated in the courts of heaven . . . tutored by angels, saints and, I am sure, has walked and talked with Jesus. Now that’s an education! (Source)
Chris has used her experience to bring comfort to large numbers of people. This is probably why it was given to her. I remind readers that is rare for God to grant such an experience and that trying to contact the dead by mediums, séances, or any other occult means is offensive to God.
An adult friend of mine spent considerable time as a child in heaven. It was God’s way of helping her heal from severe trauma. You can say what you like about her experience, but she does not lie and few of us would be envious of her heavenly experiences if, in order to have them, we had to suffer as she has. She calls heaven a place of laughter and felt so loved of God there that she is convinced that not only do children have a special place in God’s heart, there is something about them that he delights in more than adults. She found that angels were charged with looking after heaven’s children but the angels lost all control whenever Jesus arrived. The children would go wild with delight, playing with him and enjoying his presence.
In a video clip, worship artist, Terry MacAlmon, tells of a vision he once had of heaven. After describing the arena, the choir, the people, and the instruments, he says:
I looked over to the right part of this arena. I saw thousands and thousands – even millions if you can imagine – of little children with white robes. They were dancing.
Someone leaned over to me and said, “Those are all the aborted babies of the earth giving praise to their Rescuer – dancing for joy to their Rescuer!” (Source)
Todd Burpo, a pastor, devotes a book titled Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back to the experience of his four-year old son, Colton who, during emergency surgery, went to heaven. One of the many features of Colton’s experience that has confounded skeptics is that he spoke of meeting his sister. No-one had told Colton prior to this experience that he had a miscarried sister.
Pain & Blame
We humans feel a huge need to assign blame for devastating events, and with the death of a baby there is a seductively vast assortment of candidates. Just one seething mass of possibilities is that nowadays medical science formulates a confusingly long and burdensome list of things a woman might possibly do to manipulate the chance of a child being carried full term and surviving infancy. The list is virtually limitless because many shadowy suspicions are yet to be convincingly confirmed or have only a very minimal affect. No matter how oppressively long and tenuous the litany of dos and don’ts, it can never reduce the chance of tragedy to zero. The upshot, however, is a terrifying assortment of brutal instruments with which the grief-stricken can torture themselves, should they let themselves sludge down that sewer.
Other set of possibilities for self-inflicted torture revolve around the practical reality that any conception carries certain dangers and huge responsibilities and disruption of one’s future lifestyle; rendering it natural for one or both partners to have mixed feelings about the conception. The death of a child can inflame such natural qualms to unnatural levels of guilt.
Yet another, though similar, source of guilt is having initially felt relief over the pregnancy not continuing.
Others can feel guilt over the very conception. Tracey, a Christian, has graciously allowed me share her story with you. She let her non-Christian future husband pressure her into having sex. She conceived twice and each time miscarried. Later, they married each other and had a child without further miscarriages. Twenty-five years after her first miscarriage, she writes:
People assume that miscarriage is easy to get over. One nurse actually said to me, “It’s okay, you can just try again.”
My husband did not even acknowledge to me their existence. I believe he was just glad that “the problem” had been solved and that they could not interfere with his plans.
My own feelings were of total guilt, since both of my children would have been born out of wedlock. Though they were completely unplanned, I would not have considered doing anything but carrying them both to term.
Every day I live with that guilt and the what ifs. I live also with the knowledge that for the few months they lived inside me, they were loved by God and by me and that I trust their lives are in his eternal care.
How tragic that for twenty-five years guilt has been haunting Tracey. Guilt is clearly a significant factor in hindering healing from loss.
Tracey read an early version of this webpage and was herself profoundly helped even though she was seeking something that might comfort others. After us exchanging e-mails, she wrote to me:
I was seeking to help other people, not myself, but I cannot even to begin to thank you for your webpages. I thank God for the effect they had on my life.
I was taken aback by you calling my guilt “tragic.” I thought to myself, I’m not a tragic person. I’m a happy person. I have very much to be happy about – a wonderful Christian daughter, a job I like, a home, a faith. Nevertheless, you wrote the truth: I have been haunted by guilt for twenty-five years, and it is indeed tragic. What a waste of my life and my Savior’s love! So I was determined to do something about it. I read the link you provided about overcoming guilt [Forgiving Yourself and the pages it leads to] and I was so touched that I cried for the first time in a great many years.
Thank you. I’ve finally found peace.
We could go on and on about the ingenious ways we manage to attribute blame, but, as carefully explored in a webpage you should probably read (Serious, Do-It-Yourself Healing of Inner Pain, Anger Or Distress From Trauma, Bereavement, Abuse, etc.) the bottom line is no matter who we decide to blame – ourselves, someone else, or God – it only ends up magnifying our torment. Our one source of peace is to let humanity’s only true Innocent bring to fruition in our own lives what he died for. The spotless Son of God took upon himself the full blame for all of humanity’s woes and suffered in his own tortured frame all the horrific consequences until they were fully extinguished in the brutalized body that was sealed in the tomb.
A dear woman miscarried at 16 weeks due to her older child accidentally running into her. Around the time of the baby’s due date she found this webpage. She wrote thanking me, saying that it brought her some peace and mentioned in passing that she was “having a hard time letting go of the guilt.” In my reply I explained what I have just written, saying:
We can decide to blame ourselves, or other people, or God, but eventually we will discover that each option ends up achieving nothing but the perpetuation of our pain. There seems no alternative, but Christians have a fourth option – to let Jesus be the scapegoat and bear all the pain and blame.
Real guilt is utterly unforgivable without Jesus, but with him it is wondrously simple: one prayer and you are totally cleansed and made as if you had never sinned (for help accepting this staggering truth, see Forgiving Yourself and the pages it leads to). The complicating factor, however, is that feelings can be exceedingly strong and convincing and have nothing to do with spiritual reality.
Guilt is a most peculiar thing. Because I have webpages highlighting it, literally hundreds of forgiven Christians write to me because they are riddled with guilt, and in their case, it is usually simply a symptom of an anxiety disorder (also known as clinical anxiety and sometimes called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Anxiety happens to feel like a nagging guilty conscience.
As you know, it is fairly common for new mothers to suffer from depression. Depression and anxiety are so closely linked that doctors prescribe the same medication for both. So there could well be a hormonal factor in the irrational guilt feelings that had been tormenting this woman.
Anxiety acts as an alarm that goes off within us indicating that something is seriously wrong and causing our brain to keep seeking the reason so that it can be corrected. Clinical Anxiety, however, means that the anxiety is driven not by a rational reason for concern but by a chemical imbalance.
When, for example, a fire alarm goes off, it sounds the same regardless of whether it was triggered by an actual fire or by a technical malfunction. Since a false alarm sounds exactly the same – highly unpleasant – as when it is triggered by genuine danger, it is very tempting to feel disturbed about the alarm continuing, even when you have checked and confirmed that there is no danger. So it is with anxiety. Unfortunately, for as long as a person suffers from this anxiety (for some people it can last for years) the person will just have to keep reminding himself/herself that it is a false alarm and get used to it blaring and being unpleasant and refuse to treat it as if it were real.
When anxiety is a false alarm it is not only unpleasant, it can confuse us spiritually. Anxiety feels like a torturously guilty conscience that keeps nagging away, no matter how utterly we are divinely forgiven, cleansed of all sin and made holy by faith in Jesus. God has promised to forgive all the sins of everyone who puts his/her faith in the forgiving power of Jesus’ sacrifice. Since anxiety is far too incessant to be ignored, however, it is hard not to slip into believing the persistent, overwhelmingly strong feeling, rather than keep stubbornly believing God’s promise. Add to this the fact that anxiety keeps telling us that something is seriously wrong when everything is actually fine, and the foundation to our entire relationship with God – believing that through Jesus our past failings no longer hinder our relationship with God – is under attack. The spiritual confusion can be serious if we cave in to believing our powerfully deceptive feelings, rather than resolutely clinging to raw faith in both Christ’s eagerness to secure our full forgiveness and his ability to do so.
Anyone suffering this way will be wracked with guilt and anxiety but the key is to learn to live with such feelings and neither fear the feelings nor believe them. This will be a tough battle because the person’s feelings will be very intense and seem so real, but all of us are called to live by faith and not feelings.
For those with clinical anxiety, living by raw faith is much harder to do than for other people, but it is like a coach making his star athlete engage in much heavier training than others – it will end up making him stronger than others, even though during tough training sessions he will seem much weaker than those who are lazing around. It is like a runner lugging heavy weights on his back – it feels as if it is weakening him but it will actually make him stronger as he keeps struggling on.
If clinical anxiety has been hounding you, my suggestion is that whenever the feelings come, gently remind yourself that they are simply feelings. Like a false alarm that seems identical to the real thing, they are triggered not by a real cause for alarm (guilt before God) but by a chemical imbalance which, in your case, would most likely have been further accentuated first by pregnancy and then by grief.
For much more help with this, see Scrupulosity: Tortured by a Guilty Conscience.
Right from the beginning of this webpage, I have emphasized how unbiblical it is to assert that deeply spiritual people do not suffer intense grief. It is likely, however, that a loving couple will misunderstand each other’s reaction to grief. Sadly, they can even find each other’s natural, heart-felt responses not only annoying but hurtful.
At first thought, one might expect it to be deeply bonding and immensely comforting to have the companionship of someone you love who is suffering the very same loss as you. The heart-breaking reality is that the very opposite is normal. It is the cruelest of blows that the death of a child – regardless of age – typically puts enormous strain on a marriage. In fact, some marriages do not survive. Understanding the reasons for this will significantly help the couple, reduce their pain and lessen the chance of it adding to the tragedy they have already suffered.
The loss of a child is not only horrific, what adds to the devastation is that anyone who is hurting is highly vulnerable both to receiving unwanted advice and for people’s attempts at comfort to end up having the opposite of the intended effect and actually inflaming the pain. We readily understand that people with open physical wounds are unusually sensitive. The slightest touch, no matter how well-meaning, can send them reeling and even cause them to involuntarily lash out in pain. The same applies to inner wounds but because this source of pain is invisible and less tangible, the confusion escalates, causing much misunderstanding. This is such an issue that I have devoted an entire series of webpages to How to Comfort the Hurting. It is not that people are not appreciative nor that advice-givers are insensitive. It’s simply a sad fact of reality that at such critical times in one’s life, people’s most loving attempts to comfort another often miss the mark.
An even bigger factor in marital stress at this critical time is that it is natural for people to respond very differently to upsetting events.
When King David’s baby was dying, he was so inconsolable that he refused to eat. He continually grieved, fasted and prayed. Almost as soon as the baby died, however, he dried his tears, regained his composure and resumed his everyday duties. Those closest to him were not only mystified, they thought it so abnormal that they dared question the king about his behavior. David provided a logical explanation for his emotions (2 Samuel 12:22-23) but we need to take seriously the undeniable fact that feelings rarely submit to logic. This means that the emotions of someone just as spiritual and intelligent as David could take an entirely different path.
Consider how some people detest certain foods that other people love, and in some cases digesting what for most of us is nutritious food can make them seriously ill. Just as people’s reaction to food varies enormously, and it has nothing to do with how godly or loving they are, so it is with the death of a baby. In fact, to help make this matter less emotive, let’s for a moment consider another food-related example to see how the wide natural variability in how people cope with distressing situations extends far beyond the loss of a loved one.
During World War II some pacifists agreed to act as lab rats in certain experiments. One instance involved not eating for many days while scientists studied their physical and psychological reactions. Some of those subjected to this coped by devoting hours a day to thinking about food, talking about it, reading cookbooks and so on. Some in the experiment, however, went to other extreme of doing everything they could to avoid all thought of food. Imagine putting such people together. Likewise, some people seek to dull their pain of bereavement by fixating on their loss, whereas some seek to do the opposite. It is not that one way is right or more godly; it is simply that people’s ways of coping differ, and when people with opposed coping strategies are in close proximity to each other, they can unintentionally inflame each other’s inner torment.
Another common instance of opposite responses to grief is in the area of marital intimacy. Some feel they need the comfort and bonding of sex more than ever; feeling it necessary to counter both their deep pain and what can feel like a widening gap between the couple due to their differing reactions to grief. You might be tempted to dismiss this attempt at solace as carnal but you will recall from earlier in the webpage that King David not only did this very thing, it is even recorded in Scripture (2 Samuel 12:22-24).
This was not an act of male selfishness but a tender outpouring of sensitive compassion. David was not seeking his own comfort but to comfort his heart-broken wife. This expression of love clearly had divine blessing because, as already mentioned, of all David’s children, it was not even his firstborn but the baby conceived at this time that God chose to rule on the throne and be the Messiah’s ancestor.
Not only does God’s Word record David using sex as way of comforting his wife and himself after bereavement, Genesis 24:67 is similar in that it says that Isaac was comforted over the death of his mother through marrying Rebekah. As already noted, however, just because something is recorded in Scripture does not mean it is the only possible human reaction to grief, nor even the only spiritual response. At the very moment that some people feel an intense need for the comfort, bonding and reassurance of commitment that typically accompanies marital intimacy, equally devout people could be overwhelmed with the feeling that circumstances render sex grossly inappropriate. Such feelings are an understandable natural response to the shock of the loss. On the other hand, it would be mistaken, and perhaps even arrogant, for anyone to think that feeling this way renders him or her morally or spiritually superior to someone who feels very differently. What is particularly spiritual is selfless love and compassion for others, not whether or not one feels randy.
Earlier I mentioned how inner wounds make a person super-sensitive. There is another aspect to this. Some people might seem fine but can have buried within them unhealed inner wounds from before their current crisis. This can make the latest blow far more devastating than for other people.
Some people get impatient with others, insisting “you should be over it by now.” There is no one-size-fits-all timeframe and it is cruel to imply there is.
Some people work hard at being stoic and burying the grief, whereas others can freely express grief and spend long dwelling on the magnitude of the loss. The sad downside to this is that it can make it very hard for one person to understand the other’s reaction and too easy to misread the person.
We must at all cost avoid imagining that someone else is weaker or less godly or more callous or weird, simply because his or her reaction to tragedy differs from our own. With God, love is paramount and, to paraphrase a portion of 1 Corinthians 13:7, love chooses to believe the best of a person. Love labors to exalt the other person. It seeks not to condemn but to view the other person in a best possible light. This very attitude diffuses tense situations. Moreover, love is patient and kind. We must give our loved ones permission to cope with their pain in whatever way they can, without degrading ourselves by feeling judgmental or superior.
To stray slightly from Paul’s words but stick like glue to his heart:
Though you manifest astonishing spiritual gifts and thunder earth’s most moving sermons, unless you love those who irk you, you are empty noise. You might have stupendous, miracle-working faith coupled with mind-blowing theological knowledge and spiritual revelation but unless you can keep on lovingly forgiving your annoying neighbor, you have failed. You might sell all your possessions to feed the homeless and give your body to be tortured to death for Christ but if you don’t love the person whose behavior torments you, you’re a spiritual loser. (inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
As torturous as it is, staying close to someone whose response to pain aggravates your own, is a rare chance to grow in Christlikeness. Seize this priceless opportunity to soar beyond hypocrisy and wishful thinking to actually becoming like the glorious Lord who selflessly endured agony to secure our forgiveness and comfort.
Just as it is impossible to get physically stronger by merely seeking it or reading about it but only by the discomfort of exercise, so one grows spiritually stronger not by merely praying for it or reading the Bible about it but by arduous effort, such as continually exercising patience and forgiveness and thinking well of someone who keeps on inflaming one’s own pain. In neither the physical world, nor the spiritual is there a lazy alternative. It is an immutable law built into the cosmos.
To paraphrase Paul (1 Timothy 4:8), embracing the pain of physical exercise is of some value, but of eternal value is embracing the pain of spiritual exercise – daily dying to self, loving one’s enemies, blessing those who curse you, forgiving seventy times seven, and so on. One can fool everyone – even oneself – in claiming to want to shine with the beauty of Christ, but this is where the rubber hits the road.
This is spelled out in many Scriptures but this is crystal clear:
Romans 5:3-4 . . . we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.
Turning hard times into an opportunity to act like Christ is a critical key to spiritual achievement. As already stated, God has no Plan B. It is so essential that we grasp this that the Lord led an entirely different inspired writer to express the same principle in another part of his Word:
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIV).
And yet again, a third divinely inspired writer comes close to saying this: