Every now and then a theological question pops up in my brain like flash fire and the only way I can put it out is if I write about it. My apologies if the Christian worldview offends you but here it is anyway…
Sorry about the disclaimer but my blog site is a bit like what we Kiwi’s call a Lolly Scramble, we do them at kids parties (or used to when I was a young lad, now days they’re just dangerous) where someone throws a handful of assorted candy into the air and yells, “Lolly Scramble!” and then a million kids come stampeding into the throw zone like piranhas fighting over a cow who chose the wrong part of the world to take swimming lessons. Sometimes, you get lucky and pick your favourite sweet, other times you might get something you don’t like – my blog site is a bit like that.
However this brief tackling of the question above is for my readers who do like this sort of thing and for those of you who just might be curious enough to read on…
Often one of the biggest gripes anti-Christians have about my faith is that if God is a God of love why does he allow children to die?
That’s a good question and deserves an answer.
I too have wrestled with this conundrum and will try now to explain why my faith is still not shaken regardless of the many people out there who regard this pickle as enough evidence to prove the supposed evil nature of the Christian God…
I think the problem for most people is their basic assumptions about the Christian faith. I heard a doozy the other day by the late George Carlin who summed this up perfectly when he said:
“Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.”
He seems to have nutshelled most people’s view of what Christianity is all about, and yet I could go through this statement point by point and show that all of the above is an assumptive view of the Christian faith… I’ll tackle that another time perhaps.
The assumptions I would like to address with relation to this topic are the ones that atheists make about life after death.
If you assume that there is no life after death then any death of any person is a genuine tragedy, because what a waste, what a pointless existence. Therefore there can’t be a God because why would he allow such and such a child’s life to be extinguished?
If there was no life after death then I’d completely agree. What an undeniable and tragic waste.
The other assumption that non-believers make is that Christians believe that all people who die without first accepting Christ go directly to Hell.
Uh oh, I can hear my Christian readers gasping and mistaking me for another Rob Bell…
If you bear with me, I will clarify the above bomb shell shortly.
But first, I would have to agree with the atheist who would point to the tragic story of an 8 year old who has been in hospital her whole life just to die and then suffer for all of eternity. To that atheist the Christian God is evil and therefore can’t be real.
But that’s a horrible assumption and in my opinion (opinion!) a tragic misunderstanding of the Bible.
In my view, and most likely my limited understanding, the only way to make sense of the tragedies of Human life is if there actually is an afterlife, because if there is an “eternal state” then there is also a completely different perspective on life and death apart from our linear view of it.
To us here in 4D land, a child dying is horrible, and believe me when I say as a parent that the very notion terrifies me so please don’t mistake me for flippancy, however we can only take the view of the person who has just lost a child and won’t see them again forever (if you’re an atheist) or at least until you die (if you’re a Christian), either way, we have to learn to cope for the rest of our lives without that child.
If there’s not a God this is purely tragic.
If there is a God the tragedy is only at our end.
Let me show you why I believe children go to Heaven.
I’ve been meditating on Matthew Chapter 18 for a while now. Let me give you the gist of what it is all about…
The disciples come to Jesus and ask him who the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is and he takes a small child and says, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven…” (Matthew 18:3) He goes on to say that whoever humbles himself like that child will be the greatest in the Kingdom.
He then goes on to point out the terrifying consequences for the person who causes a little child to sin. I love this passage because it clearly shows that God is NOT blind to child abuse and cruelty and that there will certainly be consequences for the offender – “it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
We might never see that justice in our life time against such people but God will make sure of it whether it is in this life or the next. So please don’t use child abuse as proof against God, the Bible is clear, they’ll get what’s coming to them.
But before I go on that tangent let’s get back on track…
The most fascinating part of this chapter for me is when Jesus says, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in Heaven always see the face of their father in Heaven, what do you think, if a man owns a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the 99 on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth he is happier about that one sheep than about the 99 that did not wander off. In the same way your father is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost...” (Matthew 18:10-15)
This might not seem like such a mind blowing revelation to anyone who didn’t grow up in church but this is one of those passages that evangelists use repeatedly but not quite in context.
You see, whenever I’ve heard this parable preached the emphasis is always on the Lost Sheep, how you and I are the Lost Sheep that God goes out of his way to seek and to save, and that is totally true, but remember, in context Jesus is STILL TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN!
Who are the 99 on the Hills? Who else could they be but the little children?
Why does the Shepherd leave them on the hills? Because he’s not worried about them! His main concern is for the lost sheep that wanders off.
In other words – the 99 sheep, the little children, ARENT lost!
The more I meditate on this passage of Scripture the more convinced I am that little children somehow have a special exemption from damnation. As it says above, he is NOT WILLING that any of these little ones should be lost.
Elsewhere, also in Matthew, we’re told of a time when parents brought their children to Jesus for prayer and the disciples tried to get rid of them, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:13-15)
But let me go back to Matthew 18 and interpret the parable as I understand it.
The 100 sheep are children who are happily under the Shepherd’s care until such a time as one of them grows up or rather reaches a fallen state of conscience when he feels he can rebel against the Shepherd and do his own thing. The Shepherd then leaves the 99 children on the hills to find the one that wandered off. The Shepherd, or Jesus, is not worried about the 99 because they already belong to him, the sheep that wandered off however is of more concern because unless he returns to that childlike state and submit to God then he’ll be lost forever, that’s why the Shepherd is happier about that one sheep than about the 99 that did not wander off, he saved that grown up sheep from a fate far worse than what the 99 sheep on the hills would.
I’ve never heard this passage interpreted this way, please don’t mistake me for a heretic, I’m still learning and I’m still growing and the more I study the Word the more I’ll understand whether I am right or wrong.
For the time being I genuinely hope this has comforted anyone who has lost a child. But I believe, based on the above parable of Jesus that your child is in a place that explodes the boundaries of happiness beyond the limits of our comprehension. I hope that you will realize that you are that lost sheep and if you return to the Shepherd, Jesus, you will join your child again, with the 99 that did not wander away..
Just to tie up that loose end, what has any of this got to do with why would a loving God allow a child to die? Well, I believe that taking the eternal perspective, that children are safe in God’s hands; death “loses its sting”. I would say to the Atheist that the child who spent their whole life suffering only to die, goes not to punishment but an to eternity of wonder with the God who loves them.