2 Samuel 12:15–23 Of all deaths, that of a child is most unnatural and hardest to bear. We expect the old to die. While that kind of separation is always difficult, it comes as no surprise. But the death of a young child or a youth is a different matter. Life with its beauty, wonder, and potential lies ahead for them. Death is a cruel thief when it strikes down the young.
In a way that is different from any other relationship, a child is bone of his parents’ bone and flesh of their flesh. When a child dies, part of the parent is buried.1 So writes Joseph Bayly, who had the sad duty of burying three of his children.
When we lose a child, the effect is widespread. It not only touches the parents, but it can involve siblings, grandparents, friends, and caregivers in a unique way. In the Scripture there is a story that offers us some insight and comfort as we share in this grief. David and Bathsheba’s little boy lived only seven days.
I. Reminder That All of Us Can Be Recalled
Life, when it is brief, is a reminder that all of us can be recalled at any time. Life is transitory. “Each man’s life is but a breath” (Ps. 39:5). Since we have no guarantee of how long God chooses to grant life, we must maximize the opportunities God gives us. Count every day a blessing. Bless every day by counting.
II. Respond in Grief Until We Find Relief
The illness and death of David’s child teaches us how to respond in grief until we find relief. There must be the expression of grief. It must do its work. He did not try to bury his feelings. Grief is a felt response. It must not be smothered. David made a mistake in his grief. He tried to grieve alone. A grief shared is a burden divided. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15 KJV).
Time will bring some healing, but it will not heal all the wound. Billy Graham wrote, “Time does not heal. It’s what you do with the time that heals … a long life or a short life are of equal importance to God.”2 If we bury our grief, it is like a toxic waste. It will surface again, and the contamination makes for more trouble. Time alone doesn’t overcome sorrow, because sorrow is neutral, a vacuum. Therefore, we turn to the only one who can enable us to deal with our grief: God. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). Faith in Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, gives us unexpected strength. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope.
When he was told his child was dead, David made a statement in his grief that has brought comfort to people for generations: “He is dead … Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). David recognized there was a distinctive line between this world and the next. The child would not come back, but he would go to the child.
How can we be sure that an infant or child has gone to heaven since they may not have accepted Jesus Christ? Because they were too young to have chosen sin, to have reached an accountable age, to have known about sin and salvation through Jesus Christ. The saving work of Christ has reversed sin’s curse and covered this little one.
David felt assured of his child’s presence in heaven and also that he would be there as well. David had sinned. He was accountable. Why did he have hope? Psalm 51 is the eloquent expression of David’s confession of sin and guilt. He sought God’s forgiveness, and he received it. The Scriptures are clear: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13 KJV). This child is in the Lord’s presence by God’s grace. And through Jesus Christ we will get there, too.
III. Recognize the Sovereignty of God
The death of a child is a time to recognize the sovereignty of God. That growing awareness brings rest to our spirit. God loves children. Scripture clearly illustrates this. Hoping that Jesus might touch them, people brought babies to him. When the disciples saw this, they tried to send them away. But Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in” (Luke 18:16–17 The Message).
When a child dies, all of us struggle with the purpose and will of God. Every person has a purpose in the divine design. Marshall Shelley and his wife lost a child shortly after birth. In writing about that brief life and their grief, he said, “Why did God create a child to live two minutes? He didn’t. He did not create Mandy to live two years. He did not create me to live forty years (or whatever number he may choose to extend my days in this world). God created Toby for eternity. He created each of us for eternity, where we may be surprised to find our true calling, which always seemed just out of reach here on earth.”3
IV. Release This Child Until We Are Rejoined
Finally, we ask God to give us peace as we seek to release this child until we are rejoined. David said, “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). David’s response and insight carries penetrating truth for us. The Scriptures tell us that he went to the house of the Lord and worshiped, comforted his wife, and returned to the business of life (vv. 20, 24, 29).
This child has brought joy and taught us so much about the precious gift of a child. Though grief hammers at our hearts and the memories will always be cherished, we realize, because of Jesus and his victory over death, that there will be a reunion.
Kenneth McFarland told of an item he found on the obituary page of the newspaper in a small southern town. It read, “Billy, it was just a year ago today that you left us and the sunshine went out of our lives. But, we turned on the headlights and we’re going on … and Billy, we shall keep on doing the best we can until that glorious day when we shall see you again.” It was signed simply “Love, the family.” No names, just a simple testimony to the kind of faith that enables a person to go on in the face of sorrow and death.4
Until we come to that day when all mysteries, purposes, and plans of God are sorted out for us in the day when we shall see God face-to-face, let us be thankful that this life has enriched us and made us the better because of it.
Nathaniel Timothy Kuck was a beautiful child, who spent most of his four and one-half years overcoming physical obstacles. When he went to be with the Lord, a neighbor, blessed by his life and the comments of his father at the memorial service, wrote these words as if the father, Tim, were writing:
As I look back on what the years did bring,
I wouldn’t change a single thing.
He taught me how to appreciate life,
He taught my girls, and taught my wife.
Now he dances with David and fishes with Peter;
I can’t imagine a life that’s neater.
When I look back, the conclusion I draw
’Twas me who got the longest straw.5
This child belongs to God. Today we release his hands as God has grasped them over there, and he will never let them go. “The key to your child’s casket is not in the hands of the keeper of the cemetery. But the key is in the hands of the Son of God, and he will come some morning and use it.”6 “ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” ’ (Rev. 1:8).
1 Joseph Bayly, The View from a Hearse (Elgin, Ill.: David C. Cook Publishing, 1973), 65.
2 Billy Graham, Facing Death (Minneapolis: Grason, 1987), 79.
3 Marshall Shelley, “Two Minutes to Eternity,” Christianity Today (1994), 25.
4 Quoted in Paul Powell, Death from the Other Side (Dallas: Annuity Board of the SBC, 1991), 27.
5 From a letter sent by Paul Kuck to friends. Author of poem is Walter Ketcham, Orlando, Florida, December 2001. Used by permission.
6 Erwin Lutzer, One Minute After Death (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 76.
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