When Babies Die

“When I tell people about the death of my infant daughter, they often respond that she is in heaven. They tell me that she is an angel now. They tell me that she’s with God. But as an atheist, these words have never brought me any comfort.”

That is the opening paragraph to an article written by Priscilla Blossom titled My child is not in heaven: Your religion only makes my grief harder. It was published this past October 24th in the online magazine Salon. I believe grief is a very private and personal matter and would not typically write about another’s experience, but this was published and some points need comment.

There is nothing in the Scriptures to suggest that anyone of any age morphs into an angel in heaven. Humans and angels represent two distinct created orders. The idea that when someone dies they become an angel is merely a sentiment and is not taught in the Bible.

The benefits afforded believers by the Gospel is something “into which angels long to look,” 1 Peter 1:12. Angels “long” to be like us but cannot; we are different created beings.

But the question of what happens to a child or infant when they die remains. Priscilla writes, “I wish I could believe that my daughter is watching over me right now while enjoying a beautiful and eternal afterlife. But that’s just not what I believe.”

The Scriptures do not explicitly say where babies go when they die. There are several passages that infer children go to heaven when they pass, but there is no direct quote. So where does that leave us?

When God tells Abraham He is going to visit Sodom and Gomorrah to see if what He has heard is true, knowing his nephew Lot lives there, Abraham questions whether God will destroy the righteous along with the wicked. Abraham asks God, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Genesis 18:25. Abraham’s rhetorical question is an expression of his confidence that God will always do the right thing. God does destroy the cities, but only after Lot and his family are removed.

The Bible contains mysteries. Sometimes those mysteries arise from what it says and at other times from what it does not say. As believing parents we are understandably concerned when infants and children die. We want to know their eternal welfare is secure. While the Scriptures no not address this matter directly, is it difficult to entrust the future well-being of babies and toddlers to our heavenly Father, just as we have with ours?

Like Abraham, I trust God is holy and will always do the right thing despite what Priscilla or I believe. While this view may concern those who would like a more concrete promise, I take great comfort in trusting the eternal welfare of infants and children to the care of a holy and loving Father.

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Rochunga Pudaite

I recently learned Rochunga Pudaite died on October 10 of this year. His life is a remarkable testament to the transformative power of the Bible. Here is a part of his story.

In 1904-05 a revival broke out in Wales. Watkin Roberts was spiritually transformed by it. In time he believed God wanted him to take the Gospel to India. In 1910 without any theological training he traveled to India armed only with a New Testament. When asked by Indian authorities about the nature and purpose of his visit he said he had come to preach the Gospel to those who had never heard it.

When Indian immigration learned he had not been commissioned by any denomination or missionary organization, they warned Roberts it would be dangerous, untrained as he was, to try to evangelize the primitive people he felt led to reach and should consider returning to Wales. Roberts ignored them, hired a guide, and struck out for the northeastern jungles of India.

When the Indian authorities discovered what Roberts had done they immediately dispatched a rescue party to get him. After an arduous journey Roberts and his guide came across two young men about fifteen years of age who were members of the Hmar tribe. The British government had labeled the Hmar as “the worst headhunters” because they were responsible for beheading more than 500 British soldiers.

Roberts shared the message of Christ from the Gospel of John in his New Testament. Both these young men converted to Christianity. One was named Chawnga. Before he could do more the Indian authorities caught up with Roberts and forced him to return and be deported back to Wales. Those two converts began to proclaim the message of Christ to their own tribesmen based solely on the spoken word of Roberts.

Though illiterate, Chawnga and his companion converted many of their family and friends to Christ. But Chawnga had noticed Roberts New Testament and hungered to know more about this book. When his son Rochunga was born in 1927, Chawnga believed God had shown him his son would be the one God would use to bring His Word to their people. So while Rochunga was still a young boy Chawnga told him he must go, get an education, and bring back the Bible.

Surviving a perilous journey through the jungles of India, Rochunga eventually acquired an education and would travel to America and attend Wheaton College, where Billy Graham graduated. Just one generation from a clan of headhunters, Dr. Rochunga Pudaite translated the Bible into the language of the Hmar and returned to his people with Bibles. He would go on with the help of Billy Graham to found Bibles for the World an organization that distributes Bibles around the globe.

I do not have the space to share the scope of how Rochunga’s life work has radically changed his people. But I am convinced Rochunga has already heard the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” Matthew 25:21.

A Traitor Named McKenna

Reverend Scott McKenna a minister at the Mayfield Salisbury Parrish Church in Edinburgh, Scotland, says the orthodox teaching of the Church, that Jesus died for mankind’s sins, is wrong and “an obstacle because it depicts God as a potentate who demands blood for offenses he has suffered…I’m almost embarrassed explaining this theology because it is well past its sale date, and in some sense is quite immoral.”

In the Scriptures we read, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit,” First Peter 3:18. When it comes to the doctrine on the Atonement of Christ, I will not trade what the Scriptures teach for McKenna’s doubts that constitute a direct attack on the trustworthiness of the Bible.

This is not the only passage of Scripture that declares Jesus died for our sins. There are others. There are many. The point here is the doctrine of the Atonement, that Jesus Christ died for our sins and in our place, is not a marginal teaching of the Church; it is a foundational Christian doctrine and fundamental biblical truth.

To question biblical truth on any point is to question it on every point. If one cannot trust what the Bible says about the Atonement, why should one trust anything else the Bible says about anything?

McKenna tries to bolster his view by saying, “In the Gospels, Jesus was killed by the Roman authorities because he was deemed to be a threat to the state.” Certainly that was Pilate’s motivation, but Pilate’s reason for what he did does not preclude God working through the events of human history to accomplish the fulfillment of His will. The Bible clearly teaches “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,” Second Corinthians 5:19.

Seeing the human actions surrounding the crucifixion of Christ as merely the execution of a common criminal, or viewing it as the redemptive hand of God saving mankind, is the difference between faith and unbelief.

McKenna may be “almost embarrassed explaining this theology,” but all Christians should be embarrassed by one who claims to be a believer but is actually an infidel, claims to be a minister but is a traitor to the faith.

The Christian does not serve God any more than he serves His Word, he does not obey God any more than he obeys His Word, he does not trust God any more than he trusts His Word, he does not love God any more than he loves His Word.

The one who claims to be a Christian, a follower of Christ, is a liar who does not emulate the faithful example of Christ who in the midst of sore temptation told the seducer, “It is written, man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,” Matthew 4:4.

Another Madman

Around 10:30 a.m., this past October 1st the Roseburg, Oregon Police Department began receiving calls about a shooting in progress on the Umpqua Community College campus. A 26-year-old madman had begun a bloody rampage and managed to kill nine people and wound several more, before a shootout with police ended the violence.

Another community in our nation is left reeling in shock and grief because an angry young man thought the world owed him a better life, and thought killing as many innocent people as he could before being killed himself would somehow settle the score.

We are left trying to answer the question why such senseless tragedies happen. Indeed, evil is so profoundly so because it is senseless. If evil made some sense we might find something good in it, but its senselessness leaves it without merit.

During the melee the murderer was charged by an unarmed student in an effort to end the violence. Though shot seven times and finally incapacitated by his wounds, this army veteran survived, but his heroic intervention interrupted the carnage and gave police a chance to respond and engage the suspect and end the shooting spree. The time it took for the gunman to stop this hero probably spared the lives of others he would have killed.

What causes a madman to kill innocent people he does not know, or another to risk his life for the same?

The Scriptures teach that God “created man in His own image,” Genesis 1:27, but then man transgressed the only command he was given and now “all have sinned,” Romans 3:23. Though created in the image of God that image has been tainted by our fallen sin nature. We have a divine image to live up to, and a nature that inclines us to do evil. We may never fully know why one chooses to do nobly, and another chooses to do wickedly, but we will be held responsible for our decisions and actions. As our Father warned Cain “sin is couching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it,” Genesis 4:7.

The several survivors said the shooter is reported to have asked a number of his victims if they were Christians and when they answered in the affirmative he is claimed to have said, “Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second.” Then a bullet from the gunman ushered them into the presence of their Savior forever and an eternity of everlasting joy.

Within seconds, a bullet would also usher the murderer from this life and into the next. He may not have thought about it or planned on it, but he too met God that day. We read, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” Hebrews 9:27. I do not think that meeting was as cordial as the others, nor as long.

The Issue Is Not Mercy, It’s Justice

In the early morning hours of last Wednesday Kelly Renee Gissendanner, the only woman on Georgia’s death row, was executed for her role in the stabbing death of her late husband Douglas Gissendanner. She was pronounced dead at 12:21 by a lethal injection of pentobarbital at Georgia’s State Prison in Jackson.

Referring to Pope Francis’ recent address to the joint session of Congress, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the pontiff’s diplomatic representative in the United States, sent Georgia’s State Parole Board a request for commutation of Gissendanner’s sentence “to one that would better express both justice and mercy.”

Pope Francis is opposed to the death penalty, because as he told Congress, “every life is sacred; every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity.” Pope Francis’ remarks are guided by the belief that every life is sacred because it is created in God’s image.

Cases like Gissendanner’s bring into specific relief the tension between the scriptural principles of “justice and mercy.” Specifically, what bearing should the biblical teachings of forgiveness and mercy have on criminal sanctions meant to promote justice?

It surprises some that it was God who instituted the death penalty. The principles of justice had been lost before the Flood when man had become wicked and “the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5. When Noah and his family disembarked from the Ark, on the brink of a new civilization it was necessary to reintroduce the principles of justice that were lost before the Flood.

God commanded Noah, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man,” Genesis 9:6. Our Father’s reasoning here is that the murderer having destroyed the image of God in another, forfeits the right to bear that image himself, and it is society’s responsibility to execute justice on behalf of the one murdered.

The very reason some think the death penalty should be abolished, life is sacred because it is created in God’s image, is the very reason God gave for instituting it. When offended Jesus tells us to forgive to guard our hearts from the spiritually debilitating and consuming emotion of vengeance. But it is biblically incumbent upon society to establish and maintain justice. Society would collapse into anarchy without the sure expectation its governing authorities are committed to the furtherance of justice.

The irony here is that Gissendanner’s lover, Gregory Owen, with whom she conspired to kill her husband is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole. He was the one who actually stabbed Douglas Gissendanner to death, but she is the one who died for it. That to me is an injustice in a criminal justice system meant to promote justice, and is the sort of thing that needs to be remedied. But justice should not be abolished because it is flawed; it should be corrected.

The death penalty is indeed a punishment, but it is in a greater sense justice.