(read pt. 1 here) I saw a man lighting a cigarette at the side of his raggedy old pickup truck. He didn’t know I was watching him from a window several stories up. It was the wee hours of the morning. The sun was just starting to peak through the trees surrounding the rear parking lot of Bloomington Hospital. Behind me my wife was giving Nicaea her first and only bath. She lovingly wipe the blood and vernix from our daughter’s body. I didn’t participate. I just stared out the window and wondered if the man was like me. Was he overwhelmed by some tragedy? Was he escaping to his Chevy and cancer-stick to gather himself? A cigarette didn’t sound bad. All I had was a flask of whiskey. So I took a swig. Was he asking, “Why?”
I turned around and sat down on the couch. Why? Why did this happen to us? Why did my only daughter have to die this way? I let out a long sigh. It was loud enough that one of the nurses cocked her head as if to say, “Can I help you?” I said nothing. The fog in my brain was clearing. I knew that these weren’t the real questions for me. You see, I knew why it had happen. At least I partially knew. I wasn’t really asking why. I was saying, “How dare you God!”
The Christian God–the one and only true God–has absolute authority and control over all events of history. Nothing happens outside of His plan. God is sovereign over everything. Even the death of my little girl. He called her home before I could walk her down the aisle. This was His doing.
Verses swirled in my mind as I angrily grumbled against my Redeemer.
Who has spoken and it came to pass,
unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come? (Lam. 3:37-38)
In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will. (Eph. 1:11)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
I knew these verses well. I had taught them to others many times. Now these verses were a source of anger. However, the more that they tossed over and over in my mind the more the Spirit confronted me. He showed me how stupid I was being. I was isolating the fact of God’s sovereignty from the goodness of His character. God is so good. He works all things together for good. So, it is true. God did take her. It was His doing. But she wasn’t stolen from me. She was never mine to begin with. Nicaea, like everything I have, was on loan. I was just an undeserving steward of the blessings of God. He gives and takes away according to His good plan.
How dare God? No, how dare I! How dare I question His goodness! He has filled my life with gifts. A gorgeous wife. Three strong boys. Food, friends, money, good health, and a thousand joy-stuffed memories. He snatched me from the miry pit. He has even used terrible things from my past to be blessings. My life drips with the honey of God’s goodness. My anger melted into sadness mixed with faith just in time to take photos with Nicaea. Em sat next to me on the couch holding our little girl. I stared at her tiny face. The little bit of color she did have was quickly fading. The answers to the “whys” started to unfold in my heart.
Why did she die? Here are a few answers that have brought me some comfort…
She died for the same reason we all will die. Man is fallen. Our father, Adam, rebelled against God in the garden. At that moment, we all fell under death’s reign. In Romans 5, Paul puts it succinctly, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” All daughters of Adam die. How is this answer comforting? It reminds us that death is unnatural. Death wasn’t part of our original state. The godless materialists cannot say this. Death is the tool of evolution. Sorting out the most fit or some nonsense like that. Thankfully, that is a lie. Death had a beginning in Adam and has an end in Jesus, the second Adam. Jesus’ victory over death gives me the hope of seeing my little girl again.
She died so God might display His works. Jesus’ disciple once asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” His answer: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The same can be said of Nicaea. God ordained that my daughter be stillborn to display His works through her. What works are we talking about?
First and foremost, the work of taking the child home to heaven. How is this a comfort? Consider this passage from Joseph Bayly’s The Last Thing We Talk About:
My mother put it this way, “If Jesus were here on earth and told you, “I’d like Danny to be with Me; I want to take over his teaching and his training,” you’d gladly give him up. And He’s done that, by taking Danny to heaven.
Nicaea is in good hands. And, yes, I believe babies go to heaven.
Second, God used Nicaea’s death to strengthen and expand His church. Her death opened the door for the proclamation of the gospel to unbelieving friends, family, and outright strangers. Time does not permit me to tell you the stories but there are stories. Lots and lots of evangelism has happened. There are also stories of how God used Nicaea’s death to strengthen other believers. I found out after the fact that she was the subject of several sermons at three different churches. Weird, right? No. God doesn’t waste death. He uses it to purify His people and glorify Himself. It is a great comfort to know that Nicaea’s life and death meant something not just for us but for others. Praise God!
She died to perfect her parents’ faith. Before going to the hospital, Emily and I prayed, “God help us face this as Christians.” He answered that prayer big time. More on this in future posts.
Nicaea’s body had grown cold. Her mama was finally ready to let go. She looked at me with disturbed eyes and said, “Let’s get out of here.” I had been anxious to leave for the last few hours. I hadn’t seen the boys in over a day. I needed to hold them. They cleared us to leave. I got all our stuff together as the nurse helped Em into a wheel chair. It was time to say goodbye to our daughter. They had laid Nicaea in a cradle. This was the last time we’d see her. Our departure wasn’t dramatic. We just left.
We made a b-line for our boys. How do you explain the death of a sibling to little children? How would they react? How would we react? How do you pick up the pieces?
There will always be questions this side of the resurrection. In Deuteronomy 29:29, Moses reminds us that, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” We don’t need all the “whys” to be answered. If you just turn to God’s Word, you’ll find that the revealed things go a long way in soothing the pain. You’ll soon find your broken heart in tune with the words of that great hymn:
“Man of Sorrows,” what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
P.S. I know many of you don’t track with a lot of the things I say about God’s sovereignty and may be wondering how I resolve the “problem of evil.” Here is what I think is the best approach.
Read pt.3: A Painful Blessing