I’ve been to two funerals in the past two weeks. The differences couldn’t be much more striking. One was a celebration of a life well-lived and a desire to ‘go home’ finally fulfilled. The other was a sadder affair; the grieving of a life which never really began. Death is never an easy thing to comprehend or understand, but even more so when it seems to be so unfair and makes no sense.
The first funeral was my mother’s. It truly was a celebration in many ways. It brought our family back together, if only for a little while. We are the living testimony to the significance of her life. She may not have made a huge impact on the world at large, but she sure did on us. Her death was a merciful relief in many ways. She had become severely debilitated and suffered from a great deal of pain. When we had to move her to a nursing facility she considered it a death sentence, and her only desire was to “come home”, back to the familiarity of her room at our house. In the end she received a much better homecoming than any she could have imagined here.
The other funeral was for the stillborn child of some friends. The mood was very different, of course. Having invested so much anticipated joy into the birth of a child only to have it turn out horribly different is a heart-rending experience that never completely heals. It’s been said there’s nothing worse than having to bury your child, with good reason. It violates the laws of the universe as we understand them. We’re supposed to live a good long life and be buried by our children, not the other way around.
In the first case we may see death as a merciful relief. In the second it’s hard to avoid seeing it as an unfair tragedy. The sorrow of that tragedy sometimes becomes so great we are drawn to anger and blame God for being unfair, of causing it to happen or at the least allowing it. Make no mistake: it IS a tragedy. But deciding on the ‘fairness’ is not our judgment to make. It’s difficult to see beyond the sorrow and the pain, but in the end we don’t have the ability to see or understand the whole picture and all the circumstances which lead to a particular end.
Were you to ask me why God allows such things to happen, I would have to honestly answer you: I don’t know. Life is just unfair, and sometimes how we choose to define “unfair” is determined by whether our desires are met, no matter how selfish or misguided they may be. We tend to complain louder about life not being fair when we don’t get what we want or when things don’t go our way.
There are times when God chooses not to give us explanations for what happens. His only response is, “trust Me.” Faith in Him is built that way. The only way faith can grow is by being put to the test. It’s walking through an unknown door, into a dark room, trusting the One who’s holding your hand will lead you through it back out into the light. It’s knowing He understands your pain, and His tears are larger and more real than yours. But it’s also knowing that He promised to never abandon you when life gets dark and tough.
We often repeat the phrase, “the Lord will never give us more than we can handle.” I’ve never been able to find that idea anywhere in the Bible. He does tell us we’ll never be tempted beyond our ability to resist (1 Corinthians 10:13). But there are times in our lives when we get a truckload more than we can handle. When the doctor tells us, “it’s cancer.” When we suddenly lose our job. When our spouse tells us they no longer love us and want a divorce. And yes, when we lose a child. I stand by the statement that NONE of us is strong enough to handle any of that by ourselves.
What God does promise those who submit themselves to Him in faith is this: “I may give you more than you can handle, but it’s never more than I can handle.” When life caves in, God steps up. It may be on a timetable different than ours, but if we answer the question, “Do you trust Me?” with “Yes, absolutely”, God will begin to work His will and design in our lives in ways that will leave us breathless.
Yes, the death of an unborn child is a tragedy that brings pain and sorrow. But for those whose faith and trust is in the Lord there is comfort in knowing that death is not final. We shall see them again one day, and we will rejoice together.