I love books. Books help me to learn and grow. Likewise, I like to make book recommendations. Today I am making book recommendation for anyone who has ever suffered through a miscarriage, a stillborn, or the death of a young child.
One of the most devastating, tragic events we can experience is the untimely death of a child. Filled with emotional agony, many questions flood the mind of those suffering, namely the question “where is my child now?” In his book, Safe in the Arms of God, John MacArthur approaches this emotionally-filled question with the mind of a Bible scholar and the heart of a pastor. Yes, pastors and church leaders are called upon to offer hope and comfort to those who are suffering, but they must do so in a way that faithfully reflects God’s word. MacArthur’s attempt at this balance is beautifully achieved in this concise book.
MacArthur shares an experience he had with a woman whose baby had just died. MacArthur offered comfort to the women by assuring her that her baby was in heaven with God. Afterwards, he questioned himself, “Had I spoken to her what could be supported by God’s Word? Or had I spoken to her only what I thought would calm and comfort her in the emotional desperation of that moment?” This experienced spurred MacArthur to study what the Scripture truly taught about the death of children.
MacArthur affirms that in the midst of depression caused by tragic events such as the death of a child, what individuals need is the truth of God’s Word. Followers of Christ must be adamant that our beliefs come from the Bible. The Bible must be the lens through which we view that world, even tragedy and suffering. MacArthur writes, “Those who are grieving deserve a compassionate answer rooted in the truth of Scripture.”
Believing that life begins at conception, MacArthur offers six truths about every baby that is true regardless of the amount of time they live: 1) God knows everything about you before your conception, 2) God is actively involved in your life, 3) God will never cease to have knowledge of you, 4) God is never limited in His understanding, 5) God is your personal Creator, and 6) God personally planned your destiny. Each of these ideas is true of every living soul ever created. Since infants are truly people, whether or not they make it out of the womb alive, God has a purpose for them. He explains, “God created your child. God loved your child and continues to love your child. God’s purpose and destiny for your child are fulfilled perfectly, even if the child dies.”
MacArthur’s desire is that parents would understand that God makes claim on all children. Speaking explicitly about the children sacrificed in Baal worship, MacArthur affirms, “The sacrificed children of Baal worshipers were not cursed or held guilty along with their parents for evil rejection of the true God. Though the parents were guilty, the little ones were innocent. God is just and will not punish the innocent.” (cf. Jeremiah 19:4-7)
At the same time, MacArthur recognizes he must remain consistent with other portions of the Bible and his theological understanding of salvation. Little children are not righteous in and other themselves. Nor should the term “innocent” be misconstrued that children are born without the stain of sin passed down from Adam (cf. Romans 5:12, 18) Using the infant son of Jeroboam as an illustration, MacArthur explains, “Whatever [the reason for God saving him], it was nothing that was meritorious for salvation (Romans 8:7-8); but God, being gracious, set His favor on the child and preserved him from the dishonorable death that represented divine judgment.” MacArthur reaffirms that salvation is only possible only through Jesus Christ. “God has chosen those who will be saved, including those who die in infancy. They are not saved not on their own initiative, but by His sovereign choice, through grace alone.” MacArthur is not claiming that babies who die in infancy go to heaven because they are somehow perfect; rather, they are among those whom Christ redeems through His sacrificial work upon the cross.
“Why did my child have to die?” MacArthur points out that the world is fallen and broken as a result of sin. Yet Christians can be sure that God is working in every circumstance and is bringing about good even when good is difficult to discern (cf. Romans 8:28). He concludes, “I do not know the precise reasons God allowed your baby to die, but I do know that if you will allow Him to do His work in you and through you, you will learn some eternally valuable lessons and grow in ways that are spiritually and eternally beneficial.”
At the emotional plea of a parent asking if they will see their child again, MacArthur doesn’t try to flood the moment with mere emotion but wants people to find hope in objective truth. He implores readers to examine their own hearts to discern whether they truly have faith in Christ. He writes, “Your child will greet you in eternity one day only if you have believed in and received Christ Jesus as your personal Savior.” While other writers may be tempted to address this question differently, MacArthur does not want to give a false sense of security to anyone. Instead, he leads those who are suffering right to the cross of Christ.
The many accounts of people who have suffered the loss of a child make this book an approachable tool for those in such a situation. However, the strength of the book lies in the solid biblical foundation and astute theological reasoning. MacArthur not only offers biblical examples, but he applies solid exegesis to rightly understand what the text is saying and how it applies to the topic at hand.
This short book is packed full with biblical truth and pastoral comfort. MacArthur does an exceptional job at finding the balance between truth and peace. In fact, MacArthur correctly shows that truth brings peace. While the pain and suffering that people go through after the loss of a child may seem insurmountable, knowing Christ and His Word will guide those going through the healing process. MacArthur’s contribution to this difficult subject is a welcomed and needed resource to the church.
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By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ